A Balancing Act


It has been argued that “…the key to managing stress lies in that one magic word: balance” and that achieving a healthy work-life balance provides “rewards” for workers and businesses alike, including increased worker productivity and satisfaction. Yet, the scientific study of balance lags behind these popular claims and does little to inform them. In fact, some scholars suggest that job performance and job satisfaction foster better balance, rather than the other way around. The present research used two studies with data collected over time to tackle this “chicken or egg” problem regarding whether work-life balance causes “rewards” such as better job and family satisfaction and performance, as commonly assumed in practice, or the other way around, as some work-life scholars suggest.

In “Balancing Work and Family: A Theoretical Explanation and Longitudinal Examination of its Relation to Spillover and Role Functioning,” forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Russell Matthews (the Culverhouse College of Business’ John Miller Professor of Management), Julie Holliday Wayne (Wake Forest University), and Jesse S. Michel (Auburn University) find that, contrary to common practical assumptions, job and family satisfaction seem to drive satisfaction with one’s work-life balance rather than the other way around. Practically, this means that the conclusion that balance results in “rewards” for workers and businesses alike, such as workers liking their jobs more, may be overstated. Rather, improving job satisfaction may be a means to improve balance but actions to improve balance may not result in better job satisfaction

These researchers’ results also show that being more effective in balancing work-life is related to better job and family performance over time, and that job and family performance contribute over time to better effectiveness in balancing work and life. What is abundantly clear is that organizations have ample opportunity to help workers reduce the conflicts that arise between work and family, and if they do so effectively, they can likewise improve employee job satisfaction and performance and in turn, their work-life balance.

If you, or your organization, is interested in learning more about concepts discussed in this paper, or in how to promote work-life effectiveness within your organization, please feel free to reach out to the study authors.

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