By Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D. • May 11, 2010

Work-Life Balance: Good for Both Employer and Employee

For many executives, the concept of work/life balance is considered a theoretical goal for their employees through HR policies, rather than a personal goal. Indeed, many executives may have difficulty seeing a true separation between their home and work lives. Yet for many employees, work and life are separate entities that are equally important. Organizational theorists find that workers have only a certain amount of energy to devote to different “roles” they are in, such as the work and family roles.  When energy put into one role (work) conflicts with another role (family), the person’s energy is drained; thus workers end up having to choose one role over the other1. What does this mean for organizations? Forcing employees to choose work over family can lead to lower levels of productivity and engagement.

Again, most executives understand work-life balance in theory. But theory is great in a classroom, not in a boardroom. So what is the benefit of employees’ work-life balance to the business? As it turns out, the benefits include a higher industry ranking, better customer satisfaction rates, and lower turnover. In a recent article in Business Horizons, Bourne et al (2009) make the business case for work-life balance. The authors found that employees who felt that both their work and family obligations were equally important and equally met had greater overall job satisfaction, overall higher satisfaction, and less emotional drainage. These employees, who make up 55% of the workers studied, felt that other priorities in their lives, such as family, personal health, intellectual development, and volunteering, are equally important as work.

So what’s the benefit for management of helping these individuals? Samantha Paustian-Underdahl, in the blog IO At Work, provides a great summary for the business takeaways of this study. The study compares organizations that embrace policies that help improve employee work-life balance with those who do not, and found that the former are more likely to be on Fortune 500’s "100 Best Companies to Work For." Companies on this list, according to Bourne et al, outperformed the S&P 500 by 48% over the past 3 years, have higher customer satisfaction ratings, and had turnover rates 10-15% lower than the average for their industries. Clearly working to make your employees happy can lead to significant results.

What types of policies help improve work-life balance for employees? The article pointed out some of the practices that were considered most important by employees who valued both work and personal life:

  • Support for family responsibilities: onsite daycare centers, flextime for working caregivers, and personal recognition of employee responsibilities by management.
  • Opportunities geared toward improving employee health: wellness programs, on-site medical clinics, and disease management programs.
  • Time away from work: fully-paid sabbaticals, progressive vacation-time accrual programs, and recognition of employees’ non-work interests.
  • Obtaining further education and training: college credit for onsite job-related classes, generous tuition-reimbursement programs, and sponsoring external training programs.
  • Providing support for volunteering: creating community-improvement initiatives for employees to engage in, and identifying ways employees can use their professional skills in volunteer projects.

Clearly, companies who embrace their employees as “whole individuals,” rather than simply workers, have found their efforts to help balance work obligations and personal interests to be rewarding. As an executive, how do you see work-life balance as important in your organization? How do you personally feel about managers or direct reports who feel that their personal interests are as important as their work? How do you think the importance work-life balance changes as one climbs up the corporate ladder?

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The article referenced in this post is:

Bourne, Kristina A. & Wilson, Fiona & Lester, Scott W. & Kickul, Jill, 2009. Embracing the whole individual: Advantages of a dual-centric perspective of work and life. Business Horizons, vol. 52(4), pages 387-398.


1 Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. (1985). Sources of conflict between work and family roles. Academy of Management Review, 10, 76–88.