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Sheila Pantry Associates Ltd


Focus Archive

Work-life balance: have you got it right?

March 2012

Over the past few decades, a dramatic change has occurred in the labour market and demographic profiles of employees. Families have shifted from the traditional male 'breadwinner' role to dual-earner couples and single parent families. Relative to the working environment, organisations are demanding an increase in employee flexibility and productivity. The traditional "job for life" has changed into an economic environment of instability and job uncertainty. Workers' perspectives and expectations have also changed towards work. New orientations towards life-long learning, personal and career development, and an increased awareness and need for a balance between work and life have affected organisations through incentivising the introduction of policies such as flexible working.

As a result of these demographic, employment and organisational trends, both men and women have experienced an increase in demands from the familial, household and work domains

Work-life balance is a broad and complex phenomenon, lacking in a universal definition. Greenhaus and colleagues define work-family balance as the "extent to which an individual is equally engaged in - and equally satisfied with - his or her work role and family role". Work-life balance consists of three components:

Therefore, in order to achieve a work-life balance these components should be considered.

When individuals struggle to maintain and satisfy the demands placed on them by both the work and family domains, an imbalance may occur. Work-family conflict can be defined as a source of stress resulting from irreconcilable pressure from the work and family spheres. This can take two forms:

Work-family conflict may assume the form of:

Research and policies directed at work-life balance have focussed on the causes, consequences and how to improve levels of this phenomenon. This article discusses the changing world of work relative to work-life balance, the motivational factors for why work-life balance should be considered, and provide practical advice for employers and employees.

Changing world of work and families: Perspectives and statistics

In the European Union, 64.2 % of the population are in employment with approximately 19.2% in part-time employment. Over the past 20 years in Europe, particularly in countries where policies are in place for flexible working, part-time employment has been on the rise.

The traditional eight-hour working day is no longer the norm. The emergence of information communication technology ensures that employees may access work 24/7. In addition to this, flexible working hours and shift work have been introduced into organisations. Although these developments have resulted in significantly changed working environments, differences exist across countries.

The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions conducted research into the 2009 working time developments across European countries. In 2009, the average collectively agreed weekly working time in the European Union was 38.7 hours. However, in relation to self-reported actual hours worked by full-time employees 20 out of 28 countries worked longer hours than those collectively agreed. Those in Romania, Malta, Luxembourg and the UK had the highest levels of actual working hours; whereas Finland, Ireland, France and Italy had the lowest. In addition to these results, differences exist between men and women in actual weekly hours. Men exceeded women in hours worked in all countries, with the average difference being 2.1 hours in the EU27. These statistics suggest that workers are working longer hours, but highlight that there are differences across European countries.

Not only has the working environment transformed in relation to working time and accessibility to work, but the content of work has also changed. There is an increased need for employees to be adaptable, multi-skilled, and having the ability to work to intensive deadlines. In the EU27, approximately 60% of employees perceive that at least a quarter of their time consists of working at a very high speed.

Work-life conflict is prevalent in Europe

It is estimated that more than one quarter of Europeans suffered from some form of work-family conflict.

Relative to time:

In relation to gender differences, women were more likely to report that they have too little time for daily life activities, whereas men perceived that they spend too much time at work. However, this gender disparity was not present in the Nordic countries. A significant number of workers have difficulties in performing family responsibilities due to work intensity and time: for example, 22% reported that they are too tired from work for household chores, and 10% reported that time spent at work affects their family responsibilities. Women were more likely to cite these pressures than men.

For further information and advice on how to achieve a work-life balance see