The days of having a traditional 9-5 job are long gone. As family dynamics continue to change, as more women participate in the workforce at higher and higher levels, and as technology continues to impact how we do business, the boundary lines between work and home life have blurred. As a result, more and more professionals are maxing out trying to keep pace.

Burnout is frequently defined as the draining of resources caused by chronic job stress. I think of burnout as an erosion of engagement – unplugging from the things that used to give you energy and vitality. Over time, people experiencing burnout lose their capacity to make an impact. The burnout process has three specific dimensions:

1.  Exhaustion: Feeling emotionally exhausted, depleted, and a loss of energy.

2.  Cynicism: Having a negative attitude toward clients and those you work with, feeling irritable, and withdrawing from people and activities you once enjoyed.

3.  Inefficacy: Experiencing diminished personal accomplishment, a perceived decline in competence or productivity, and expending energy at work without seeing any results.

The vast majority of the research on burnout focuses on burnout at work, so I was excited to find this study talking about the implications of home demands and how they, too, can influence burnout. Specifically, when work demands interfere with home (called work – home interference or WHI) and/or home demands interfere with work (called home-work interference or HWI), the odds of burning out increase. Three specific types of demands were reviewed:

Quantitative demands – work overload, work pressure, doing a lot while in a hurry at home, and carrying out many different tasks at home

Emotional demands – the affective component of home and work tasks, including how often you are put in stressful situations

Mental demands – the degree to which you must exert sustained mental effort to complete tasks at home and at work

Job demands alone are not harmful, but when these demands require too much effort, the stress that builds up can spillover into non-work domains. Similarly, when home demands require too much effort, the stress that builds up can spillover into the workplace. The study showed that employees who encounter high job demands experience the most negative interference between work and family life, and therefore, tend to report more burnout. The same was true for those employees who encounter high home demands. Those employees who encounter high home demands experience the most negative interference between home and work, and therefore, tend to report more burnout.

Not surprisingly, men and women experienced WHI and HWI in different ways. Interestingly, WHI was more strongly related to burnout for women and for men it was the reverse – HWI was more strongly related to burnout. According to the study, employees with WHI/HWI issues are three times more likely to consider quitting.

While this study certainly has limitations, I think it highlights that the “life” side of work/life balance as it relates to burnout has long been undervalued in the research. Companies would also be wise to consider the impact that home demands have on their employees and how those demands impact an employee’s ability to perform their jobs at a high level.


Paula Davis-Laack, JD MAPP, is the Founder and CEO of the Davis Laack Stress & Resilience Institute, a practice devoted to helping busy professionals prevent burnout. Paula is the author of the e-book, 10 Things Happy People Do Differently.

Paula has been a featured expert on the Steve Harvey TV show, US News & World Report, Working Mother and Women’s Health magazines and speaks regularly about burnout prevention. Paula is available for speaking engagements, training workshops, media commentary, and private life coaching. To learn more, contact Paula at or visit

Connect with Paula on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


Leiter, M.P., & Maslach, C. (2005). Banishing burnout: Six strategies for improving your relationship with work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. See also, Maslach, C., & Leiter, M.P. (1997). The truth about burnout: How organizations cause personal stress and what to do about it. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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