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Work-life balance

On this page, you will find signposting to University policies and external resources relevant to work-life balance, as well as some tips for researchers and their line managers that can help promoting a positive work-life balance in research.

We’ve focused information around three main themes, identified in 2022 by a working group from the PDC Representatives’ Network as the most important areas that may affect the work-life balance of research staff: working patterns, communications and taking family-related leave.

What is work-life balance?

Work-life balance is “the division of one's time and focus between working and family or leisure activities” (Oxford Languages Dictionary). A good or positive work-life balance means having working patterns that enable individuals to prioritise their health, family, social life and hobbies while managing their workload.

Each individual’s work-life balance is different and it is natural that the balance will temporarily change over time in response to specific circumstances.

Why it is important to maintain a positive work-life balance culture in research

Productivity: when you’re fulfilled at work and at home, you are better motivated and more efficient, so you get more done in less time.

Research quality: when you are well-rested and happy, you can better focus and are less likely to make mistakes.

Physical health: when you have time to sleep well, eat well, exercise and rest, you’re less likely to develop health issues.

Mental health: spending time away from work can help to reduce stress and avoid burnout. Taking regular breaks can also provide perspective from some of the setbacks experienced in research, helping you to find the resilience needed to continue with your work.

Enabling social and family life: spending time with family and friends is important for positive mental health and wellbeing and can help to build and maintain a support network. It can also be invaluable for those with caring responsibilities and/or settling into a new place, which is often the case for postdocs.

Environment and culture: maintaining a good work-life balance sets a healthy example to colleagues and students working around you, contributing to a positive working culture. By caring for yourself, you also protect others.

Promoting equality and diversity: creating a positive work-life balance culture ensures that all those who want to pursue a career in research feel enabled to do so, including those with caring responsibilities, physical or mental health issues (including hidden disabilities). A diverse research community brings an interesting diversity of perspectives and skills, which benefits the quality and impact of the research.

The place of personal and career development
Are professional and career development activities considered as work or life?

It depends. Training and development that is required for you to carry out your research and additional contracted work (listed in your job description or additional tasks requested by your PI), is part of your work.

Additionally, all research staff at Queen’s are entitled to 10 career development days per year, which you can spend on career development activities you choose (so may not be related to your project). These days are counted as part of your work.

Development activities beyond that, for example developing a fellowship application/researching your own separate interests, or teaching (beyond what fits within your 10 days allocation) are not considered to be part of work.

Initial notes for researchers

You are responsible for your working patterns. If you struggle to plan your work activities or to complete your workload within working hours, seek help from your PI to re-prioritise your work, find more efficient working practices and/or delegate.

It’s important to remember that your working patterns and behaviours are witnessed by collaborators, peers and students in your area, who may mirror your habits or feel obligated to work in a similar style to you. You have a responsibility to contribute to a healthy working culture by adopting appropriate habits and respecting the work-life balance of others.

PIs / line managers
Initial notes for managers

Managers play a pivotal role in influencing the working experience of those who work for them, with many feeling pressured to follow their example. As such, leaders and managers are responsible for establishing a healthy and supportive working culture and environment in their group and School. It’s important to regularly check in with each member of your team and ensure there is clarity and understanding in terms of expectations. Use these check-ins to have open and supportive discussions about work-life balance, considering personal working patterns and workload demands. If a team member asks for support – or if you become aware of unhealthy or unsustainable working patterns – help them to re-prioritise their workload in order to work more efficiently and adopt healthier habits (see ‘Agile Working Toolkit’ to get started with discussions around working approaches at team level).

Policies, guidance, and advice for researchers and managers

Working Patterns

Goal: Encourage healthy working patterns that enable leisure and social time while still achieving research objectives, notably by managing workloads and priorities and favouring effectiveness over long hours and presenteeism.

Research demands are not constant, and it is understood that flexibility is required when working in research, which may result in researchers occasionally working at times traditionally associated with ‘personal’ or ‘home’ time, for example to accommodate experimental time-points, working with partners in different time-zones, access equipment, meet specific deadlines etc.


Goal: Enable a break between work and personal time by avoiding intrusive communications, as well as promoting effectiveness while working by prioritising focus over the distractions brought by some communications.

Taking family-related leave

Goal: Enable individuals to have time and space to focus on their family, especially in relation to important life events, such as the arrival of a child.

Fixing issues
What to do if you have troubles with your work-life balance?

If you are struggling with your work-life balance, you should first seek support from your PI/ line manager, who could advise and help you plan and prioritise your work differently, share tips to work more effectively and in a focused manner, and discuss potential arrangements based on your circumstances.

Other research staff and colleagues, including local postdoc representatives in your Centre, School or Faculty may also be good points of contact. They may help you identify issues in the situation you are in, advise you on how to approach discussing it with your PI etc. while keeping your discussion confidential and informal. Other informal forums, such as local postdoc groups and committees, may also prove helpful.

If, despite discussing it with your PI and local representatives, no solution has been found, or if your PI is not being supportive of your work-life balance, your next port of call would be your Centre or School manager, then potentially HR business partner for more advice.

At times, issues may arise at work or in your personal life that affect your mental health and wellbeing. All staff and students at Queen’s have access to an independent, confidential, 24/7, free counselling service provided by Inspire (0800 086 9934 and see Employee Assistance Programme).

Where did this work come from?

Maintaining a positive work-life balance is important in research, but it can be tricky; postdocs had identified this as an area they needed more information about when we designed our institutional Researcher Development Concordat action plan for 2021-2024. Members of the PDC Representatives’ Network (postdocs and academics) joined a working group on the topic in 2022, and defined important areas to cover, the main policies to sign-post to, and some tips based on their experience. This work also received significant input from People & Culture, PROG and other relevant departments.