​Singapore maintains a stellar track record in many areas – it has the second most powerful passport, is rated one of the smartest cities, and maintains a strong economy. Earlier this year, Singapore topped the charts once again, but not for anything positive.

Instead, the island state was named “the most overworked country in the Asia-Pacific region” by workspace innovation firm The Instant Group. Singaporeans worked an average of 45 hours per week, according to the Group’s study. Elsewhere, Hong Kong is faced with a similar trend, coming in third with an average of 41 hours per week.

Motivations between the two, however, seem to differ slightly. A recent survey by DBS and Singapore Management University found that many Singaporeans are actively prioritising their livelihood over life, with the ratio being 3.3 between the former and the latter.

Hong Kong, however, seems to be witnessing changing sentiments. A study by Laws of Attraction finds that nearly two-thirds of employees believe in taking public holidays when they’re supposed to, and sticking to a five-day work week. This is in contrast to the generally-accepted norm of working over the weekends and past normal hours.

The similarities that underlie both countries in terms of their poor work-life balance may stem from the two countries’ statuses as economic powerhouses. As metropolitan cities, life is generally more fast-paced and employers demand a certain level of commitment and drive from their staff.

Importance of work-life balance for employees and employers alike

However, such high demands are unsustainable and may prove counterproductive for both employees and employers alike.

Chronic stress is one of the most common health issues in the workplace, according to Forbes. Over time, stress can lead to physical ailments like hypertension, digestive issues, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. It can even lead to heart-related problems, according to a study by the University College London, which found that white-collar workers who worked overtime had a 60% higher risk of such ailments.

Long working hours without giving employees a chance to catch a break is also one of the key reasons why employees face burnout. This is a phenomenon where individuals feel chronically exhausted from being overwhelmed by demands in the workplace or otherwise. Not being able to separate work from home can easily increase the chances of a burnout, wrote The Happiness Index.

And such physical and mental health ailments spell despair not just for individuals, but for the economy at large. The Harvard Business Review found that the psychological and physical problems associated with employee burnout costs an estimated US$125 billion to US$190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the United States.

For individual employers, the costs may be less tangible, presenting in ways such as reduced productivity and engagement, a more disillusioned workforce, and higher turnover rates.

Balancing work and personal time

With some of these considerations in mind, it is thus crucial for employers to take the lead in promoting work-life balance in the workplace.

Some steps are easy to implement, but can make a world of a difference. Managers can, for instance, avoid messaging or emailing their staff outside of office hours. This alleviates the mental load of employees, allowing them to properly enjoy their time outside of work without having a nagging concern at the back of their mind.

Managers can also take the initiative to communicate regularly with their team members, to better understand how they are coping with their workloads. If there is a consistent pattern of overworking in the team, perhaps it is time to look at reviewing workflows or bringing in new hires to spread out the load.

Another initiative that can make a difference in promoting work-life balance is offering flexibility. This could mean acknowledging that there will be busy periods calling for overtime work, but to later compensate the workers with time off once the busy season is over. It could also mean flexible working hours or remote work to save employees the commuting time, and trusting them to complete their work in their own time.

Employees, too, have a part to play in ensuring they are not overworking themselves. After all, no one will be responsible for your own health except yourself! Taking time off when needed, communicating with their managers if they are feeling overwhelmed, or just learning to indulge in some self-care activities can all make a difference to an employees’ mental well-being in the workplace.

Ultimately, work-life balance isn’t just about one individual treading the fine line between work and personal life, it is also an intricate choreography involving both employers and the employees. With mutual respect and communication, however, work-life balance is not just a far-fetched dream, and can actually be made into reality.