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Do We Spend Too Much Time Working?

New research suggests that people are beginning to prioritize other areas.

Key points

  • A new study suggests that many prefer to spend less time working and more time with family, on self, and on community.
  • Findings showed employees significantly reduced the time allocated to work during COVID-19 restrictions and anticipated further reductions.
  • The "Total Leadership" approach promotes work-life integration, as opposed to work-life balance.
Source: duggal16/Shutterstock

This post was written by Asanka Gunasekara, Ph.D., Melissa Wheeler, Ph.D. and Anne Bardoel, Ph.D.

As the "great resignation" continues, what do we know about how employees want to allocate time across competing demands, and how COVID-19 changed those desires? Our recently published article addresses these questions by exploring employee time allocations across different areas of their life before, during, and beyond COVID-19.

Questioning the Dominating Role of Work in Our Lives

During the forced experience of working from home during the pandemic, many employees began to notice the ways in which different areas of life and identity intersected and interfered with each other, both positively and negatively.

As a result, people started to question the role of work in their lives; for example, one of our participants shared, “it is important to slow down and enjoy life and disconnect from work.” This shift is also evidenced by the high turnover of the "great resignation," in which many employees have abandoned jobs that did not deliver a sense of fulfillment. Others chose a different kind of abandonment through quiet quitting, a trend that sees some employees doing the bare minimum at work—not quitting, but refusing to go above and beyond. As one study participant said, “Don’t spend too much time on work and sacrifice important family time.”

An Approach to Achieve a More Fulfilling Life

In times of great work-life conflict, something has to give. One approach that recognizes the complexities of people’s commitments, desires, and identities is called "Total Leadership," developed by organizational psychologist Stewart Freidman. The Total Leadership approach promotes work-life integration, as opposed to work-life balance, and provides suggestions and evidence for how employees can apply a whole-life approach to manage competing responsibilities across the four domains of work, family, self, and community, by finding mutual value across the domains.

Stated differently, the Total Leadership approach allows individuals to create harmony among different domains over the course of a life, thereby supporting performance in all four domains. For example, exercising with friends or co-workers can help integrate self (in terms of health), community, and work. Specifically, Friedman recommends (a) being real by clarifying what is important to you, (b) being whole by acting with integrity and respecting the whole person, and (c) being innovative by trying out new solutions to integrate different parts as the path leading to a four-way win and a satisfying life in all dimensions. Organizations and employees may then be able to achieve higher fulfillment and better productivity by carefully managing and supporting preferable time allocations across the four domains.

What We Studied

From January to May 2021, we administered an online survey, gathering both qualitative and quantitative data, from 106 employees in Australia working from home during the pandemic. The survey sought information on how employees allocated (or wanted to allocate) their time across the domains of work, family, community, and self at three points in time: before the pandemic, during it, and with projections for a time after COVID-19 restrictions.

Findings from our study showed employees in Australia significantly reduced the time allocated to work during restrictions and anticipated further reductions after restrictions. We also observed significant increases in the time allocated to family and self domains. According to pre-, during-, and post-restriction time allocations, we identified three distinct patterns: (1) work-centric, (2) family-centric, and (3) self-centric. Half of the participants were initially work-centric, and most of the others were family-centric. However, COVID-19 led more than half of the participants to rethink and reprioritize values for each domain, as we observed a large movement away from work-centric. Men more often began and remained self-centric compared to women, but other men switched from work-centric to family-centric, challenging traditional gender roles.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The fact that the pandemic led many individuals to reduce their preferred time commitment to work, and the "great resignation," which aligns with and echoes that shift, provides a strong motivation for organizations and employees to consider novel approaches to time allocation. Total Leadership provides a promising tool for confronting this shift by encouraging employees and employers to take a holistic perspective on their lives—to bring their best selves to all that they do. This rethinking could help to mitigate burnout, employee turnover, and reduced commitment at and to work, which could in turn contribute to the sustainability of workforces:

  • A significant decrease in time allocated to work and telework is perceived as a positive experience by many employees, so various types of flexible work arrangements could be considered and trialed.
  • Given that there are different categories of employees, it is unlikely that any single flexible work arrangement will resolve all of the issues involved. For instance, self-centric employees may value longer weekends, but family-centric parents might find that kind of work schedule inconsistent with childcare needs.
  • We acknowledge that work-life integration is not appropriate for everyone. Some employees prefer strengthening barriers between work and other time domains. Therefore, employees and managers should develop a clear awareness of what works best for individuals and organizations and support them through organizational policies and practices to promote performance across various time domains, and those efforts might start during the recruiting process.


Gunasekara, A. N., Wheeler, M. A., & Bardoel, A. (2022). The Impact of Working from Home during COVID-19 on Time Allocation across Competing Demands. Sustainability, 14(15), 9126.

Wheeler, M. A., & Gunasekara, A. (2020). Forget work-life balance–It’s all about integration in the age of COVID-19. The Conversation, 17. Retrieved on 13 September 2022 from…

Friedman, S. D. (2009). Be a better leader, have a richer life. The Essential Guide to Leadership, 1.

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