Finding that balance

Many expats cite a better work/life balance as a critical factor in their decision to move abroad. But every job has its stresses, and it’s just as easy to fall into the trap of working too hard or too long no matter where you are on the globe. Here are some things to think about to help you achieve that elusive balance.

Plan ahead. Having something to look forward to can make even the most stressful day seem better. John, an American software engineer in Hong Kong, always has something fun happening at the weekend. “I play Ultimate, and we often go abroad for tournaments,” he says. “I work harder and smarter when I know I’ll be away at the weekend.”

Veronica works in finance, also in Hong Kong. “My hours are long, so I try and get away once a month,” she says. “My boyfriend and I go to Thailand or Singapore, or if we can’t get away we’ll splash out on a room at a five-star hotel and pretend to be tourists. It really helps my morale when we have something fun planned.”

Keep work at work. Hilary is a university professor in northern Spain. She used to take work home, but after the birth of her son she wants to keep home sacred. “If I have work to do that can’t be done at the office, I go to a café or the library. That separation is really important for my family.”

John from Hong Kong refuses to work weekends. “I worked a six-day week for the first few months I was here, and it made me nuts,” he remembers. “Now I’ll stay late on Thursday or Friday to ensure I have the weekend to relax.”

Mix with locals. “When you’re busy, it’s so easy to forget you’re abroad,” says Casey, a Canadian teacher working in Sao Paolo, Brazil. “I have wonderful local friends who literally drag me away from my house at night and at the weekend to go out. They are determined to make me enjoy the city, and I never regret saying ‘yes’. Plus they aren’t friends from work, so they don’t tolerate any work chat!”

Be organised. “Staying on top of things is critical to my work/life balance,” adds Hilary, whose university job includes both research and teaching hours. “I have a Google calendar where I post my office hours when students can contact me, and my research time to work with colleagues. They know and respect my timetable, which means I have more time to spend enjoying my family and the beautiful north of Spain.”

Speak with your supervisors. “For the first year, I worked harder and more hours than I did in the UK,” says Mark, a Scottish doctor living in Malaysia. His supervisors were happy to change his shifts to four longer days per week. “It’s a compromise that keeps me sane, and lets me enjoy time with my family exploring the country.”

Sound advice from those in the trenches of working abroad!

How do you keep your work/life balance in check?