Say what you like about China, but if anyone’s statement is true, it’s that people here work hard.
Whereas in the West employees generally clock in at 9 am and out again at 5 pm, here in China people often work until the job is done, whether that means into the night or on weekends.
Although the rewards are here too, in the form of higher salaries, more senior roles, and bigger bonuses, too much work and not enough play can take its toll.
In this article I outline six tips for achieving a good work-life balance in China.
1. Arrive early, leave early
Depending on your job, this may not be an option, but if you have any choice in the matter, come into the office early.
While it’s common for people to rock up at the office around 10 am in China, starting and finishing earlier is a lot easier on your social life.
Nobody ever missed a friend’s birthday or a sports game because they were at the office at 7 am, but you’ll find yourself missing out on plenty if you’re stuck working until 9 pm.
Starting early also gives you time to prepare for the day ahead before your colleagues come in and distract you, or your suppliers and clients get online.
Having that one or two hours to take stock of everything and get organized with your schedule can also really help with stress.
2. Get out of the workplace at lunch
Whether it’s for a nice lunch with colleagues, a quick gym session, or even just a stroll around the block, get out the office at lunchtime.
It’s become far too easy to order delivery directly to your desk in China, meaning many people don’t leave the office all day, especially if they’re partial to a lunchtime nap, which is very common here.
However, the mental benefits of being out of the office for a period of time, especially in the fresh(-ish) air, cannot be overstated.
Walking around, particularly after eating, will also help you feel more energized, hopefully leaving you ready to face the afternoon with renewed vigor.
3. Don’t take your work home
Firstly, it’s important to qualify that with some jobs, this boundary is difficult to enforce. What’s key, however, is that you enforce “good work-home hygiene” as much as you can.
Leave your work devices at the office, be it a laptop, phone, or whatever, as even just glancing at them in your home will take you back into that working mindset.
If you can’t leave your devices at the office, at least create a cutoff time when you will no longer respond to or even view emails or messages.
WeChat, in particular, is guilty of draining our free time with microwork communications that, when added up over time, amount to hours of extra toil.
If you know that you really have to keep working late, it’s better to stay in the office. Whenever you can, try not to take work into your apartment, your living room or, god forbid, your bed.
The demarcation between work and home life is sacred and should not be broken lightly.
4. Book holidays well in advance
Don’t forget that there’s a place outside of work… and also China.
A good friend who’s worked in China for 15 years once told me I should try to leave the mainland every few months or so, even if it’s just to Hong Kong or Macau.
It’s nothing against China in particular, but it’s important to take a rest from the breakneck speed of work sometimes and remove yourself from the “China bubble”.
It sounds obvious, but make sure you book your holidays as early as possible when working in China.
Prices go up quickly during peak periods and trying to get time off outside of national holidays may take advance notice and permission.
So rather than spend your hard-earned money on expensive nights out on the weekend, save for a dream holiday instead.
Your work life in China will be a whole lot more palatable when you have something awesome to look forward to.
5. Make friends outside of work
Expats working in China often make close friends with their colleagues, which is great in many ways.
However, it can become unhealthy if we only hang out with workmates, because, like it or not, in the end, all conversations lead back to work.
If you feel this is happening to you, look for some sports or social clubs in your city.
It might be hard, to begin with, but invest the time and effort in creating some other friend circles who don’t know, or don’t particularly care, about your work.
You can still hang out with your work colleagues, but at least this way you won’t be reminded, whether intentionally or not, about work at all times.
You’ll have people who you can be yourself with and maybe unwind in a way you can’t with people from the office.
6. Don’t talk about work outside the office
Even if you have found yourself a nice bunch of friends outside of work, don’t fall into the trap of talking about your work all the time.
It might be tempting to complain or make jokes about something that happened in the office, but ultimately you’re just reviving the baggage and stress of the daily grind.
What starts as the occasional rant or comment can quickly see you turn into the person that only talks about their job. Ask your friends to give you a wakeup call if you ever become that guy.
Any more tips for keeping a good work-life balance in China? Drop them in the comments box below