In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Work/Life Balance

  • Introduction
  • Work–Life Conflict Outcomes
  • Workplace Culture and Professional Workers
  • Gender and Work–Life Balance
  • Formal and Informal Employer Arrangements in Support of Work–life Balance
  • Gendered Welfare Regimes
  • Factors Influencing Use of Policies
  • New Directions in Work–Life Balance Research

Sociology Work/Life Balance
Misun Lim, Joya Misra
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 March 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0218


There are many different ways to define work–life balance. Some scholars emphasize that work–life balance requires balancing demands of both paid work and family responsibilities or maximizing satisfaction by minimizing conflict between paid work and family responsibilities. Others view work–life balance as encompassing the way that boundaries blur between work, family, and leisure time. In attempting to address work–life balance, workers are generally trying to preserve both quality of life, and potential for career advancements, while employers are trying to preserve high productivity and reduce worker turnover. Although the term “work–life balance” is widely used, alternative terms are also employed, such as work–family balance, work–life integration, work–life harmonization, or work–life articulation. Research on attempts to manage paid work along with family and other parts of life has been carried out for decades. Yet this scholarship has exploded in the last two decades, particularly as middle-class women have increased their workforce participation, but also work is being carried out during nonstandard hours, technology is creating more permeability between work and home, and union protections have been weakened. Work–life balance efforts may lead to poor-quality jobs in terms of earnings, job security, working time and promotion opportunities, rather than long-term quality employment over the life course that allows for leisure and family time. Research on work–life balance should take structural, rather than individual approaches, to consider workplace cultures, including by occupation and gender inequality, and recognize the different assumptions underlying policies aimed at addressing work–life balance.

Work–Life Conflict Outcomes

Over the past several decades, in many contexts, work demands have increased. With changes in technology, workers are also more likely to bring work home. Yet, lack of work–life balance leads to a wide variety of negative outcomes for both life and work. For example, Hill, et al. 2001 finds that a lack of work life balance may mean less engagement in family relationships, including close ties with children, higher marital discord, higher rates of depression and alcohol or drug abuse, and lower quality of life. At the same time, studies suggest that a lack of work–life balance may lead to increased absenteeism, lower job satisfaction, lower loyalty, higher turnover, and increases in psychological distress that spillover and affect productivity. These include Hill, et al. 2001; James 2014; Pocock and Charlesworth 2017; and Roehling, et al. 2001. Hobson and Fahlén 2009 suggests that most men and women in wealthy countries identify work–life balance as critical in assessing job opportunities. According to Aryee, et al. 2005; Hegewisch and Gornick 2011; and Lewis, et al. 2007, strategies for better work–life balance may affect not only outcomes for individuals but contribute to societal level outcomes, such as improved gender parity in employment and wages, reduced poverty and inequality, improved fertility and infant health, and increased productivity. Overall, research suggests that work–life balance is important for both improved work and life outcomes, as well as improved societal outcomes.

  • Aryee, S., E. S. Srinivas, and H. H. Tan. 2005. Rhythms of life: Antecedents and outcomes of work–family balance in employed parents. Journal of Applied Psychology 90.1: 132–146.

    DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.90.1.132

    This study examines work–family balance among employed parents in India. Findings suggest that work–family facilitation increases workers’ job satisfaction and commitment to their organizations.

  • Hegewisch, A., and J. C. Gornick. 2011. The impact of work–family policies on women’s employment: A review of research from OECD countries. Community, Work & Family 14.2: 119–138.

    DOI: 10.1080/13668803.2011.571395

    A review article that focuses on OECD countries’ leave policies, flexible work, and childcare support.

  • Hill, E. J., A. J. Hawkins, M. Ferris, and M. Weitzman. 2001. Finding an extra day a week: The positive influence of perceived job flexibility on work and family life balance. Family Relations 50.1: 49–58.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2001.00049.x

    This study finds that greater job flexibility in timing and work location can decrease workers’ stress related to work–life balance.

  • Hobson, B., and S. Fahlén. 2009. Competing scenarios for European fathers: Applying Sen’s capabilities and agency framework to work–family balance. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 624.1: 214–233.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002716209334435

    Analysis of European policy and work–family balance discourse among fathers. Findings suggest that there is a gap between old and new European Union member states in terms of father’s abilities to engage in care and achieve a work–life balance.

  • James, A. 2014. Work–life “balance,” recession and the gendered limits to learning and innovation (or, why it pays employers to care). Gender, Work & Organization 21.3: 273–294.

    DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12037

    Research on IT workers in the United Kingdom identifies the positive effects for employers that provide meaningful work–life balance provisions. Firms appear to benefit by enhancing learning and innovation by adopting work–life balance policies.

  • Lewis, S., R. Gambles, and R. Rapoport. 2007. The constraints of a “work–life balance” approach: An international perspective. International Journal of Human Resource Management 18.3: 360–373.

    DOI: 10.1080/09585190601165577

    This study shows the history and current context of work–life balance discourse in most industrialized countries and how the work–life balance discourse need to be framed both historically and culturally.

  • Pocock, B., and S. Charlesworth. 2017. Multilevel work–family interventions: Creating good-quality employment over the life course. Work and Occupations 44.1: 23–46.

    DOI: 10.1177/0730888415619218

    Focusing on work–family balance policies in Australia, this study points out the fact that family-friendly jobs are mostly poor quality employment. Work–family interventions should create good-quality jobs for working carers over their life course.

  • Roehling, P. V., M. V. Roehling, and P. Moen. 2001. The relationship between work–life policies and practices and employee loyalty: A life course perspective. Journal of Family and Economic Issues 22.2: 141–170.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1016630229628

    Analyzes the relationship between work–life policies such as childcare and flextime, informal support via supervisors and co-workers, and employee loyalty over the life-course among US workers. Informal support and flextime have positive relationships to loyalty; the effect of childcare varies by gender and over the life course.

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