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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Work–life balance is having enough time for work and enough to have a life thus the work life balance. Related, though broader, terms include "lifestyle balance" and "life balance".



The expression was first used in the late 1970s to describe the balance between an individual's work and personal life.[1] In the United States, this phrase was first used in 1986.

Over the past twenty-five years, there has been a substantial increase in work which is felt to be due, in part, by information technology and by an intense, competitive work environment. Long-term loyalty and a "sense of corporate community" have been eroded by a performance culture that expects more and more from their employees yet offers little security in return.

Many experts predicted that technology would eliminate most household chores and provide people with much more time to enjoy leisure activities; but many ignore this option, encouraged by prevailing consumerist culture and a political agenda that has "elevated the work ethic to unprecedented heights and thereby reinforced the low value and worth attached to parenting".

In her recent book, Willing Slaves – How the Overwork Culture is Ruling our Lives, Madeleine Bunting stated that from 1977 to 1997 Americans working full time have increased their average working hours from 43.6 hours to 47.1 hours each week. (This does not include time required to travel to and from their places of business).

Many Americans are experiencing burnout due to overwork and increased stress. This condition is seen in nearly all occupations from blue collar workers to upper management. Over the past decade, a rise in workplace violence, an increase in levels of absenteeism as well as rising workers’ compensation claims are all evidence of an unhealthy work life balance.

Employee assistance professionals say there are many causes for this situation ranging from personal ambition and the pressure of family obligations to the accelerating pace of technology.[1]. According to a recent study for the Center for Work-Life Policy, 1.7 million people consider their jobs and their work hours excessive because of globalization.

These difficult and exhausting conditions are having adverse effects. According to the study, fifty percent of top corporate executives are leaving their current positions. Although sixty-four percent of workers feel that their work pressures are "self-inflicted", they state that it is taking a toll on them. The study shows that seventy percent of US respondents and eighty-one percent of global respondents say their jobs are affecting their health.

Between forty-six and fifty-nine percent of workers feel that stress is affecting their interpersonal and sexual relationships. Additionally, men feel that there is a certain stigma associated with saying "I can't do this".

United States history

Work statistics

According to a survey conducted by the National Life Insurance Company, four out of ten employees state that their jobs are "very" or "extremely" stressful.[2] Those in high stress jobs are three times more likely than others to suffer from stress-related medical conditions and are twice as likely to quit. The study states that women, in particular, report stress related to the conflict between work and family.

Stress and work-life balance

The number of stress-related disability claims by American employees has doubled according to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association in Arlington, Virginia. Seventy-five to ninety percent of physician visits are related to stress and, according to the American Institute of Stress, the cost to industry has been estimated at $200 billion-$300 billion a year.[3]

Steven L. Sauter, chief of the Applied Psychology and Ergonomics Branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio, states that recent studies show that "the workplace has become the single greatest source of stress".[4] Michael Feuerstein, professor of clinical psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at Bethesda Naval Hospital states, "We're seeing a greater increase in work-related neuroskeletal disorders from a combination of stress and ergonomic stressors".[5]

It is clear that problems caused by stress have become a major concern to both employers and employees. Symptoms of stress are manifested both physiologically and psychologically. Persistent stress can result in cardiovascular disease, sexual health problems, a weaker immune system and frequent headaches, stiff muscles, or backache. It can also result in poor coping skills, irritability, jumpiness, insecurity, exhaustion, and difficulty concentrating. Stress may also perpetuate or lead to binge eating, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

According to James Campbell Quick, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Texas-Arlington, "The average tenure of presidents at land-grant universities in the past ten years has dropped from approximately seven to three-and-a-half years".[6]

The feeling that simply working hard is not enough anymore is acknowledged by many other American workers. “To get ahead, a seventy-hour work week is the new standard. What little time is left is often divvied up among relationships, kids, and sleep.” [7] This increase in work hours over the past two decades means that less time will be spent with family, friends, and community as well as pursuing activities that one enjoys and taking the time to grow personally and spiritually.

Texas Quick, an expert witness at trials of companies who were accused of overworking their employees, states that “when people get worked beyond their capacity, companies pay the price.” [8] Although some employers believe that workers should reduce their own stress by simplifying their lives and making a better effort to care for their health, most experts feel that the chief responsibility for reducing stress should be management.

According to Esther M. Orioli, president of Essi Systems, a stress management consulting firm, “Traditional stress-management programs placed the responsibility of reducing stress on the individual rather than on the organization-where it belongs. No matter how healthy individual employees are when they start out, if they work in a dysfunctional system, they’ll burn out.” [9]

Women and family


Gender differences regarding work-life balance

According to Sylvia Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, if a woman takes time off to care for children or an older parent, employers tend to “see these people as less than full committed. It’s as though their identity is transformed.” [10]

Brett Graff, Nightly Business Report correspondent states that (because a woman may have trouble re-entering the market or, if she does find a position, it will likely be a lower position with less pay). “If you thought choosing a baby name was hard, you have yet to wrestle with the idea of leaving your career to be a full-time mom or take care of an older parent…Most will want to reenter, but will do so accepting lesser positions or lower wages.” [11]

This circumstance only increases the work-life balance stress experienced by many women employees.

Research conducted by the Kenexa Research Institute (KRI), a division of Kenexa, evaluated how male and female workers perceive work-life balance and found that women are more positive than men in how they perceive their company’s efforts to help them balance work and life responsibilities. The report is based on the analysis of data drawn from a representative sample of 10,000 U.S. workers who were surveyed through WorkTrends, KRI’s annual survey of worker opinions.

The results indicated a shift in women’s perceptions about work-life balance. In the past, women often found it more difficult to maintain balance due to the competing pressures at work and demands at home. [12]

Work-life balance concerns of men and women alike

Similar discrimination is experienced by men who take time off or reduce working hours for taking care of the family.

For many employees today—both male and female—their lives are becoming more consumed with a host of family and other personal responsibilities and interests. Therefore, in an effort to retain employees, it is increasingly important for organizations to recognize this balance. [13]

Work-life balance issues and their influence on children

An increasing number of young children are being raised by a childcare provider or another person other than a parent; older children are more likely today to come home to an empty house and spend time with video games, television and the internet with less guidance to offset or control the messages coming from these sources.

No one knows how many kids are home after school without an adult, but they know the number is in the millions. Also, according to a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the “more time that children spent in child care, the more likely their sixth grade teachers were to report problem behavior.” [14] The findings are the results of the largest study of child care and development conducted in the United States; the analysis tracked 1,364 children from birth.

Responsibility of the employer

Companies have begun to realize how important the work-life balance is to the productivity and creativity of their employees. Research by Kenexa Research Institute in 2007 shows that those employees who were more favorable toward their organization’s efforts to support work-life balance also indicated a much lower intent to leave the organization, greater pride in their organization, a willingness to recommend it as a place to work and higher overall job satisfaction.

Employers can offer a range of different programs and initiatives, such as flexible working arrangements in the form of part time, casual and telecommuting work. More proactive employers can provide compulsory leave, strict maximum hours and foster an environment that encourages employees not to continue working after hours.

It is generally only highly skilled workers that can enjoy such benefits as written in their contracts, although many professional fields would not go so far as to discourage workaholic behaviour. Unskilled workers will almost always have to rely on bare minimum legal requirements. The legal requirements are low in many countries, in particular, the United States. In contrast, the European Union has gone quite far in assuring a legal work-life balance framework, for example pertaining to parental leave and the non-discrimination of part-time workers.

Global comparisons

According to a new study by Harvard and McGill University researchers, the United States lags far behind nearly all wealthy countries when it comes to family-oriented workplace policies such as maternity leave, paid sick days and support for breast feeding. Jody Heyman, founder of the Harvard-based Project on Global Working Families and director of McGill’s Institute for Health and Social Policy, states that, “More countries are providing the workplace protections that millions of Americans can only dream of. The U.S. has been a proud leader in adopting laws that provide for equal opportunity in the workplace, but our work/family protections are among the worst.”[15]

This observation is being shared by many Americans today and is considered by many experts to be indicative of the current climate. However, the U.S. Labor Department is examining regulations that give workers unpaid leave to deal with family or medical emergencies (a review that supporters of the FMLA worry might be a prelude to scaling back these protections, as requested by some business groups). At the same time, Senator Chris Dodd from Connecticut is proposing new legislation that would enable workers to take six weeks of paid leave. Congress is also expected to reconsider the Healthy Families Act which is a bill that would require employers with at least fifteen employees to provide seven paid sick days per year. [16]

At the state level, California has paid family leave benefits for its workers. New Jersey lawmakers are pushing legislation that would make their state the second state to add this worker benefit. Under one New Jersey proposal, workers who take leave would be paid through the state’s temporary disability insurance fund, “augmented by a 0.1 percent charge on workers’ weekly wages.”[17] Traditionally, many conservatives have opposed paid family leave, but there is a sign that this mindset is beginning to change. Reverend Paul Schenck, a prominent member of the National Pro-Life Action Center recently stated that he would support paid maternity leave on the assumption that it might encourage women to follow through with their pregnancies instead of having abortions. According to Heyman, “Across the political spectrum, people are realizing these policies have an enormous impact on working families. If you look at the most competitive economies in the world, all the others except the U.S. have these policies in place.” [18]

The United States is not as workplace family-oriented as many other wealthy countries. According to a study released by Harvard and McGill University researchers in February 2007, workplace policies for families in the U.S. are weaker than those of all high-income countries and even many middle-and low-income countries.

For example, the study notes that the United States is one of only five countries out of 173 that does not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave. (The other countries are Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea). [19] Other differences include the fact that fathers are granted paid paternity leave or paid parental leave in sixty-five countries; thirty one of these countries offer at least fourteen weeks of paid leave. The U.S. does not guarantee this to fathers.

At least 107 countries protect working women’s right to breast-feed and, in at least seventy-three of them, women are paid. The U.S. does not have any federal legislation guaranteeing mothers the right to breast-feed their infants at work. When it comes to sick days, 145 countries provide sick days to their employees; 127 provide a week or more per year.

There is not a federal law requiring paid sick days in the United States. At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not have a maximum work week length and does not place any limits on the amount of overtime that an employee is required to work each week. (survey) Denmark and Norway have the highest level of maternity benefits—Norway provides ninety-six weeks of paid maternity leave while Denmark provides fifty two. [20]

The German Deutsche Bank recognizes that individuals must have a balance between their professional and private lives. Some of the ways that Deutsche Bank help employees to accomplish this include part-time working and telecommuting, sabbaticals, job sharing, and time out during family circumstances (maximum twice, for periods of up to six months). (Work-Life Balance) The company also helps arrange for day care, emergency child care and decisions related to elderly care. Also, Deutsche Bank offers company kindergartens, special advice programs for expectant parents, employee assistance programs, and seminars on the subjects of stress and time management. [21]

American workers average approximately ten paid holidays per year while British workers average twenty-five holidays and German employees thirty. Americans work twelve weeks more a year in total hours than Europeans.

In Europe, the Working Time Regulation has implemented a maximum of forty-eight hours of work per week. Many countries have opted for fewer hours. France attempted to introduce a thirty-five hour workweek, and Finland experimented with a thirty-hour week in 1996.

In Britain, legislation has been passed allowing parents of children under six to request a more flexible work schedule. Companies must approve this request as long as it does not damage the business. A 2003 Survey of graduates in the UK revealed that graduates value flexibility even more than wages.

In all twenty-five European countries, voters “punish” politicians who try to shrink vacations. “Even the twenty-two days Estonians, Lithuanians, Poles and Slovenians count as their own is much more generous than the leave allotted to U.S. workers.” [22] According to a report by the Families and Work Institute, the average vacation time that Americans took each year averaged 14.6 days.

Even when vacation time is offered in some U.S. companies, some choose not to take advantage of it. A 2003 survey by Management Recruiter International stated that fifty percent of executives surveyed didn’t have plans to take a vacation. They decided to stay at work and use their vacation time to get caught up on their increased workloads. [23]

See also

Stress related:




Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication has a strategic initiative called the Project for Wellness and Work Life. From its website: "The Project for Wellness and Work-Life (PWWL) is a consortium of scholars who are pursuing research on the intersections of private, domestic life spheres and the public, commodified world of work. Furthermore, we examine organizational topics related to work-life well-being including workplace bullying, emotion labor, burnout, negotiation of gender and family issues and identities at work. PWWL explores these issues from a variety of perspectives, including: How work-life balance is interactionally negotiated between family members at home and with supervisors at work; how organizational policies enable and constrain work-life wellness choices; and how larger cultural discourses frame our understanding and experience of work and life."

More information can be found at:

The Quality of Life Research Center (QLRC) at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University is a non-profit research institute that is currently conducting research jointly with Harvard and Stanford Universities on the conditions that make good work in the professions possible. From their website: "The Quality of Life Research Center (QLRC) studies "positive psychology"; that is, human strengths such as optimism, creativity, intrinsic motivation, and responsibility.

In the past, the study of behavior has focused mainly on what goes wrong in human affairs: aggression, mental disease, failure and hopelessness. While it is essential to study and contain such pathologies, it is equally important to understand those aspects of human experience that make life worth living. The QLRC conducts research on such issues, and provides a forum for scholars from the U.S. and abroad who wish to extend their studies in positive psychology."

More information can be found at:

The Sloan Work and Family Research Network at Boston College offers a vast amount of information about work-life balance topics offering free resources to academics, workplace practitioners and state legislators as well as other interested in these issues. Topics covered on the site include Afterschool Care, Elder Care, Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Family Leave, Flexible Work Schedules, Gender and Use of Workplace Policies, Health and Workplace Flexibility, Low Wage Workers, Overwork, Part-Time Work, Phased Retirement, Shift Work and Work/Family. The Sloan Network started off as a resource only for academic scholars, students, and researchers.

More information can be found at:

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health launched in 2004 what it termed the NIOSH WorkLife Initiative. This initiative seeks to establish effective workplace programs to sustain and improve worker health. It focuses on identifying and supporting comprehensive approaches to reduce workplace hazards and promote worker health and well being. The premise of this initiative is that comprehensive practices and policies that take into account the work environment—both physical and organizational—while also addressing the personal health risks of individuals, are more effective in preventing disease and promoting health and safety than each approach taken separately.[24] The NIOSH WorkLife Initiative is notable as it represents a U.S. government agency's recognition of the nation's need to develop a culture of work-life balance among its workers.

More information can be found at:

Jeff Davidson, the Work-Life Balance Expert ®, operates out of Raleigh, North Carolina. He has written numerous books on the topic including The 60 Second Organizer (Adams Media), The 60 Second Self-Starter(Adams Media), Breathing Space (BookSurge), the Joy of Simple Living (Rodale), Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Your Time (Alpha Penguin), and the Ten Minute Guide to Managing Stress. He gives frequent presentations on the subject of work-life balance.


  1. ^ Publication in: New Ways to Work and the Working Mother's Association in the United Kingdom

External links


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