Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Work-Life balance may be a bad idea

Edited by Jill Wright,

The Association for Psychological Science research blog has a thought-provoking post on the issue of work-life balance, which suggests that the stress that is frequently entailed in meeting competing demands may have a lot to do with the way we look at it.

The problem could be that the concept is often seen as a zero-sum game: a battle between two separate and competing domains for time, commitment and energy.

The pressure seems to be relieved, however, if people instead adopt the concept of work-life harmony, in which work and life roles are interconnected and inter-dependent.

Psychologists He Lu Calvin Ong and Senthu Jeyaraj examined the effects of the differing styles on the productivity of 100 workers using a series of online questionnaires.

They were presented with a typical work-life problem - asking their boss for time off to take care of a sick family member.

Participants who received a response from the "manager" that adopted a work vs. life approach, suffered higher levels of "cognitive dissonance" - stress or discomfort resulting from holding contradictory beliefs - and a drop in creativity, which the researchers speculate resulted from the painful choice of having to choose between commitments to work or family.

When the management response was framed along the lines of work-life harmony, workers reported no change in cognitive dissonance or levels of creativity.

While they acknowledge more work needs to be done on the issue, the researchers suggest that HR professionals might work on better strategies to alleviate problems.

About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the APS Victorian branch Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.