What Can Throw Off Work-Life Balance and How to Fix It
Striking the right balance between your work life and your home life is linked to career satisfaction and a bigger salary—the better balance you have, the more likely you are to be happy with your work and make career advances that will win you a larger paycheck. But what factors can impact that all-important balance? And how can you make sure you don't get pulled down by the stresses of competing work and home lives?
By surveying close to 1,000 adults in the workforce, researchers Kimberly A. Eddleston of Northeastern University and the Entrepreneur & Innovation Exchange, Luis L. Martins of the University of Texas at Austin, and John F. Viega, formerly of the University of Connecticut, found that several factors—especially gender and age—play a role in how work-life conflict impacts career satisfaction.
Women and men balance work differently
To gauge how they were handling their home and professional lives, participants were asked if anxieties about work often spilled over and if career responsibilities kept them from spending time with their families or friends. The researchers found that women's career satisfaction is more likely than men's to be impacted by an off-kilter work-life balance.
This is likely because women and men prioritize career and outside relationships differently, the researchers wrote. Women tend to place an emphasis on relationships throughout their lives, causing them to be stretched equally by both realms of their lives. Men are more likely to sacrifice relationships early on in their careers in order to get ahead. Work-life conflict doesn't impact their career satisfaction as much because it's not felt as acutely.
Gender also played a role within workplaces. People who represented a minority gender in their workplace—like a female lawyer at an otherwise all-male firm or the only male nurse in the ICU—struggled more with work-life conflict and had less career satisfaction. Workplace friendships lessen work stress, the researchers explained. Having less opportunities for same-gender work friends can increase your stress levels.
Balance changes with age
At first blush, the researchers saw that adults ages 40 and older and adults under the age of 32 were more susceptible to lessened career satisfaction due to work-life conflict than workers whose ages fell in between. But once the researchers looked more closely at the results, they saw another link to gender. Work-life conflict impacted the career satisfaction of all adults ages 40 and older, but in the other two age groups women were more likely to have lessened satisfaction than men were. The men in those groups were relatively unaffected.
As we said before, women generally prioritize personal relationships throughout their careers, but men's attitudes begin to shift once their careers plateau, the researchers wrote. Personal relationships that were put on the back-burner during early career are brought to the forefront in later life and work-life conflict rears its ugly head. It's at this stage that this conflict starts impacting job satisfaction for men, according to the research.
The researchers also looked at whether being a parent or a spouse had any impact on work-life conflict and career satisfaction. They also looked at participants' financial resources, hypothesizing that having access to money would eliminate some of the stress that comes from work-life conflict. They didn't find a link between these three factors and career satisfaction.
What can you do to strike a balance?
If you're finding yourself stretched too thin, try being more mindful while you're at work. Scheduling out your work very specifically—actually setting aside time in your calendar to accomplish specific tasks and sticking to this schedule—and "parking downhill" (learn more about that technique here) can help you stay focused while you're on the job. The more you can accomplish during the work day, the less you'll need to bring home with you—physically and mentally—at night.
Women are more susceptible to work-life conflict impacting job satisfaction. If you're a woman in the workplace, try reaching out to female coworkers, especially if you're working in a male-dominated environment, to learn how they maintain work-life balance. The researchers found that having a strong sense of community can lessen the blow of work-life conflict—building a community of support around yourself, whether at work or in your neighborhood, can only help you feel more at ease walking the line between your public and private lives.