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Work-life balance


Also listed as: Career burnout, Work related stress
Related terms
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Related Terms
  • Burnout, career burnout, work related stress, workaholic, workaholism.

  • Work-life balance is a phrase used to describe an individual's feelings of satisfaction with the participation in job-related activities and his or her personal life. This state is achieved when an individual feels the amount of time spent making money to provide for one's household and advancing career goals is adequately balanced with the amount of time spent in independent and personal pursuits, such as friendships, family, spirituality, hobbies, and leisure activities.
  • Failure to maintain work-life balance may result in significant emotional distress and reduction of productivity. In many cases, spending more time at work may actually lead to a decrease in productivity. Some individuals feel that their workplace creates too many pressures to maintain a work/life balance, and they may feel a reduction in their feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment of life. Some individuals feel as if there is not enough time for other aspects of life. In general, individuals who work more than 60 hours per week are colloquially called workaholics.
  • The phrase "workaholic" became popular in 1971 when Wayne Oates published the book, "Confessions of a Workaholic." The phrase "workaholic" is not a clinical term, but it is generally used to describe individuals who neglect their personal lives in favor of work- and career-related pursuits. The phrase "work-life balance" became popular as a managerial concept when employers realized that their workers demonstrated increased productivity, decreased turnover, and dedication to the company when the concept was observed and respected.
  • As people born between 1960 and 1980 (collectively known as Generation X) entered the workplace, managerial strategies have shifted towards encouraging work/life balance in order to retain highly skilled employees who, as a group, regard workaholism less positively than their predecessors. Multiple studies have found that Americans work significantly more hours than their counterparts in other industrialized nations. In order to retain valuable employees, attract new employees, maximize productivity, improve morale, and decrease career burnout most contemporary mainstream managerial practices emphasize the importance of work/life balance.
  • Individuals identified as "workaholic" tend to experience some or all of the following characteristics: perfectionism, image consciousness, making unreasonable demands, experiencing difficulty in delegating tasks, impatience, becoming easily frustrated with individuals whose first priority is not always work, and basing their feelings of self-worth on their work performance. Some workaholics may use their career as a way to escape negative emotions and may have unreasonably high expectations for themselves. Many individuals who have difficulty maintaining a work/life balance may be diagnosed with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and/or anxiety disorder. In addition, these individuals are at a significantly increased risk for what is known as "career burnout," a state of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment that adversely impacts one's career trajectory.
  • Demographic surveys have shown that employees from Generation X and the Millennials (those born after 1980) regard work/life balance as more important than their predecessors. Individuals referred to as "workaholics" have been the subject of a large amount of recent psychological research.

Theory / Evidence
  • Individuals who experience a high amount of workplace stress or who are in psychologically demanding professions are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disorders. Individuals who do not permit themselves to have rewarding experiences outside of work or who have employers who do not promote a work/life balance are at an increased risk for a variety of psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder.
  • A 1992 paper by Spence and Robbins identified three primary psychological characteristics of a workaholic: a high level of involvement with work, high motivation for work, and significant emotional involvement in work. The study found a larger prevalence of health concerns in workaholics as compared to the general population. In addition, the researchers characterized workaholics as scoring high in perfectionism, job stress, and difficulty in delegating responsibility. This study was the cornerstone of more recent research on workaholism.
  • The Work Addiction Risk Test (WART) is a 25 question self-assessment tool that was developed in order to assist individuals in examining their work/life balance. The test helps a person evaluate tendencies that promote workaholism and may, if left unchecked, increase the likelihood for career burnout. Factors such as over-committing, feeling impatient, difficulty relaxing, and not having enough time with friends and families are all areas addressed by the Work Addiction Risk Test.


Author information
  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

  1. American Psychological Association.
  2. Robinson BE. The Work Addiction Risk Test: development of a tentative measure of workaholism. Percept Mot Skills. 1999 Feb;88(1):199-210.
  3. Spence JT, Robbins AS. Workaholism: definition, measurement, and preliminary results. J Pers Assess. 1992 Feb;58(1):160-78.
  4. Workaholics Anonymous.

  • Managerial/Organizational: Companies institute many policies to encourage its employees to maintain a life/work balance in order to reduce workplace stress and the likelihood of career burnout while also boosting employee productivity and company loyalty. Some companies offer flexible schedules in the form of a four day compressed work week or unconventional hours; this is called flextime. Other companies offer job sharing so that two individuals share a particular task or responsibility. Telecommuting is an increasingly popular option, as it allows individuals to work from home or another convenient location and away from potentially stressful office environments. Also, increased vacation time encourages employees to attend to their personal lives and rejuvenate.
  • Employees may appreciate support from supervisors or coworkers in attending to needs outside of work, even during normal work hours. Daycare and referrals to counseling services are two popular options. Employers may clarify job expectations and increase the frequency of performance evaluations. Most managerial literature also stresses positive reinforcement when employees (including managers) use the life/work balance clauses available through the company. Many employers also benefit from receiving and implementing employee feedback because workers want to feel that their needs in the workplace are important.
  • Personal: A variety of options are available for individuals who feel they do not have a satisfactory work/life balance. First and foremost in this process is comparing one's current lifestyle and priorities a person could reasonably expect to have. Individuals may enact a series of small steps they may take to achieve a healthier work/life balance, such as not checking voice mails or emails when they are away from the office. At the same time, a person may increase the number of enjoyable activities in their week. For instance, a person may commit to go out with friends every Friday night, regardless of career workload. Individuals may set a maximum number of work hours, and then ask friends, family, and colleagues to remind them of this boundary. Many professionals benefit by scheduling times to turn off electronic devices and avoid computers. Scheduling time for personal interests, such as hobbies or exercise, may encourage the individual to realize the importance of working towards a more equitable balance. Individuals may choose to develop interests and relationships outside of work by joining a club or adult sporting organizations. Finally, many individuals benefit from talking with a career counselor or mental health professional to discuss issues that may motivate workaholic behavior.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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