The Myth of the Work-Life Balance Crisis

Last Updated Dec 9, 2010 5:42 PM EST

If you think you're excelling at balancing the demands of your work and your personal life this holiday season, you have plenty of company.

That's right. Believe it or not, according to a new survey about one in six business leaders feel just like you do. The survey, done by NFI Research, found that another 43 percent of respondents felt they were somewhat balanced. All together, nearly 60 percent said their work and personal lives were either extremely or somewhat balanced.

Given these findings, why do we keep hearing about a crisis in work-life balance? TheToronto Globe and Mail, for example, wants you to believe that "work-life balance is a public-health crisis and a major drain on our economy."

Could it be that work-life balance is something that mostly affects other people? Maybe. The same NFI study respondents who said that they were mostly well balanced saw the opposite when they looked at everybody else. Just 2 percent said most people in business today are extremely balanced. And they said more than five times as many were extremely unbalanced. The biggest percentage, 57 percent, rated business people as a group no better than somewhat unbalanced.

Perhaps small business owners are more stressed? Nope. The NFI survey found 78 percent of people in big companies felt most business people were unbalanced, compared to just 63 percent of people in small companies. Maybe it's related to job title? Maybe not. The survey found no significant differences between senior executives and managers.

There is some evidence that stress related to imbalance emanates from between the ears, not from friction between work and life. A National Bureau of Economics Research working paper, somewhat provocatively titled, "Stressed out on four continents: Time crunch or yuppie kvetch?" reported that women are more likely than men to feel stress -- even when both labored the same number of hours at work and at home.

So what can you as a small business owner do if your people complain of work-life stress? To start with, congratulate yourself on being -- if you're like your peers -- well balanced. Also realize that telling them it's all in their heads is not going to help. Instead, take some steps to make it possible for them to balance their own lives, or at least to feel better about it.

Benefits like longer family leaves, flexible use of holidays, better sick leave, sabbaticals, and shorter working hours have been effective in other countries, according to this Canadian government study. Of course, none of these tactics are new. They've long been used in places such as Sweden, Australia and Denmark, where living standards are as good as in America, but general life satisfaction measures are higher.

Meanwhile, kick back and enjoy the holidays, free from stress and worry about either work or family. You probably think the rest of us are worse off, and you may be right.

Mark Henricks has reported on business, technology and other topics for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and other leading publications long enough to lay somewhat legitimate claim to being The Article Authority. Follow him on Twitter @bizmyths.

Image courtesy of Flickr user geoftheref, CC2.0

  • Mark Henricks

    Mark Henricks' reporting on business and other topics has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Inc., Entrepreneur, and many other leading publications. He lives in Austin, Texas, where myth looms as large as it does anywhere.