Work-life balance is important because it affects the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. After all, people need time and energy to participate in family life, democracy, and community activities. They also need time outside of work for rejuvenation, and to develop and nurture friendships and their “non-work selves.”
How’s your work-life balance? Are you satisfied with your ability to meet work and nonwork role demands? How much conflict do you experience among your varied roles? For example, do you experience conflict between your work role (employee, supervisor, coworker, or mentor) and your nonwork roles (parent, child, spouse, friend, club or community member)? Do your multiple roles enrich one another or take away from each other? That is, do the experiences in one role improve performance and satisfaction in your other roles? Are you satisfied with the number of hours you devote to your work roles and to your nonwork roles? Do you have enough time to take care of your “personal business,” tend to your health, cultivate and express non-work interests, and to recover from your hard work?
Workplaces that support employee wellbeing and allow time for employee recovery are part of creating a sustainable workforce where employees don’t become burned-out and ineffective. In contrast to “engaged” employees who display on-the-job energy, involvement, commitment, and a sense of efficacy, "burned-out" employees are exhausted (often physically, mentally, and emotionally), cynical (have negative attitudes about the job, management, and coworkers), and lack efficacy (don’t feel like their job or their efforts matter). Burnout has a number of workplace causes, including work overload (unsustainable workloads with no opportunities for recovery). Other sources include lacking control over your work or workplace, unresolved workplace conflicts, and perceptions of unfair workloads, pay, or evaluations. In most cases, managers and other organizational leaders have at least some power to prevent employee burnout by addressing these sources. Organizational psychologists can help.
Organizational psychologist Ellen Kossek and her colleagues describe a sustainable workforce as “one whose employees have the positive energy, capabilities, vitality, and resources to meet current and future organizational performance demands while sustaining their economic and mental health on and off the job.” Although some will say that employers aren’t responsible for employees’ work-life balance, the truth is that employers that ignore employees’ work-life imbalance may experience higher rates of absenteeism and turnover as well as decreased productivity over time. It’s a fact that employees that feel well taken care of by their employer are more committed and more likely to go beyond the call of duty and support other employees. Employee work-life balance is in the long-term interest of the organization.
Most organizational psychologists agree that employers need flexible approaches to work-life balance because individuals vary; what’s balance to one isn’t necessarily balance to another. For example, enhancing work-life balance for one employee might require letting him go part-time for awhile, while another employee might need to start earlier and leave earlier two days a week. The “right” work-life balance is even variable for a given person, changing depending on things like the age of one’s children or parents, or a new health problem.
What can you do if you’re experiencing work-life imbalance? You might first consider problem-focused coping—strategies to tackle the source of the problem. What would help you achieve a healthier balance? Can your work hours or activities or locations be adjusted? Can you get a job in a more sustainable workplace? Can you spend less so you can work less? Can you outsource or delegate a few things so you have more leisure time? Are you “overbooking” yourself in your non-work hours so that you have little “downtime”?
If you have few options for changing or leaving your job or altering competing non-work roles you’re left with emotion-focused coping. In other words, how can you better cope with the negative effects created by your work-life imbalance so your work life is sustainable? Do you need to eat better? Get more sleep? Cut back on the alcohol? Practice meditation? Reframe it by reminding yourself of the rewards to come? Reassure yourself that the imbalance is only temporary?
But real solutions lie in the hands of management and other organizational leaders. Organizational psychologist Jeffry Pfeffer of Stanford University argues many organizations and corporations are so focused on profits and other efficiency indicators that they ignore workplace stress and provide insufficient vacation and sick days. In some instances, he says, organizations and their cultures are literally killing people and also contributing to their mental and physical distress. He rightfully says that we can build successful organizations that are also sustainable in terms of their effects on people.
Kossek, E. E., Valcour, M., & Lirio, P. (2014). Organizational Strategies for Promoting Work–Life Balance and Wellbeing. In Chen, P. Y., & Cooper, C. L. (Eds.). (2014). Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide, Work and Wellbeing (Vol. 3). John Wiley & Sons.
Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 397-422.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). How’s Life? 2013 Measuring Well-Being. http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/economics/how-s-lif... downloaded September 6, 2015.
Pfeffer, J. (2010). Building sustainable organizations: The human factor. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 24(1), 34-45