New research from Germany finds that working adults with poor work-life balance are more likely to report poor general health.
With only so many hours in the day, adults who work can be confronted with multiple challenges, including deadlines, financial obligations, and pressing family responsibilities. These situations can create work-life conflict and negatively affect a person’s involvement in their work, family, and social life, researchers note.
This inability to balance work and life demands may then have an adverse effect on health, the researchers add.
To examine the associations between work-life balance and self-reported health among working men and women in Europe, a team of researchers at Universität Bielefeld and the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology-BIPS in Germany analyzed data from the 6th European Working Condition Survey, conducted in 2015.
Survey participants were asked to report on their general health, how well their working hours fit in with family or social commitments outside of work, and a general description of their employment. The survey included responses from 32,275 adults across 30 countries.
According to the researchers’ analysis, workers who reported poor work-life balance were twice as likely to also report poor health.
This association was slightly higher among women than men, although men were overall more likely to report poor work-life balance, the analysis found.
Longer weekly working hours were more likely to be reported by men than women, but men were more likely to determine their working hours themselves, while women frequently had their hours set by their company.
“Traditional and societal expectations of behavior for men and women, where women are responsible for caregiving and household activities and men responsible for paid work, may explain the gender work-life imbalance and adverse health outcomes we observed,” said Aziz Mensah, a doctoral researcher at the University of Bielefeld and the study’s lead author.
The researchers also compared work-life conflict and poor health across regions in Europe. Working men and women from Nordic countries, including Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway, were the most likely to report a good work-life balance (85.6 percent for men and 86.9 percent in women). Conversely, working men and women from Southern Europe, including Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus, and Malta, were the least likely to report good work-life balance (80.99 percent for men and 76.48 percent for women).
“Long working hours, increased psychological involvement in work, inflexible working times, and role overload can all contribute to work-life conflict among employees,” said co-author Dr. Nicholas Kofi Adjei of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology-BIPS.
“Variations in socioeconomic policies common to multiple countries, such as parental leave, support for child and elderly care, and general welfare and equality policies, may also have an effect on the balance of work and family life.”
The study’s findings demonstrate a need for organizations and policymakers to provide working conditions and social policies that allow adults to deal with competing demands from work and family activities without a negative effect on health, according to the researchers.
The researchers note that as work-life balance was assessed using a single question asking participants whether working hours fit in with family or social commitments, this may not encompass all contributing factors, but added it does serve as an important indicator. As self-reported data was used, individual’s measures of general health may also differ across countries, they concluded.
The study was published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.