Work-Life Balance and Its Effect on Our Happiness and Productivity

Prior to the early 1900s, it was normal for blue-collar workers to work 70 to 100 hours per week. The typical factory employee – including children - worked 16 hours a day, six days per week. Work-life balance was actually more of a work-sleep-work routine.

In the 1920s, Henry Ford discovered that his workers were more productive working shorter hours, and he created a five-day, 40-hour workweek for all employees. Soon thereafter, pressures were put on other U.S. businesses to cut Saturday to half a day or have the day off completely.  And by 1927, half of all employers adopted this new practice. The ability to have two days of rest was unprecedented. In 1940, the 40-hour workweek went into effect under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

However, this new practice was short-lived in practice.  Beginning in the late 1920s, advertisers persuaded Americans that happiness would not come from leisure rather from the purchase of commodities – the mentality of “consumerism.”  Social scientists believe that this point in history radically changed the way Americans view life and work.  A shift from scarcity to consumption was adopted – a state of being which has grown stronger over the years. 

By the 1980s, the computer revolution increased the demands of employee output.  It also brought new complaints of work-life balance-related stress.  The cases of stress and depression jumped dramatically during this timeframe.  As an example, the number of workers’ compensation claims from “mental stress” rose from 1,844 to 15,688 cases in the state of California alone from 1980 to 1999.  There was also a significant increase in workplace violence and absenteeism.


Burnout is the last act of the stress cycle.  Stress turns into burnout when one suffers a loss of physical and emotional resources too great to be replaced.  When our coping efforts fail to produce results, we are prone to crash and burnout.  Burnout triggers include overwhelming workload, lack of support and reward, loss of control and interpersonal conflict. 

Burnout develops from a condition of endless, chronic stress, in which emotional resources are stripped away until there is nothing left to counter the drain.  It is the gradual depletion of an individual’s pride, purpose, and passion.  The result is a three-way, mind-body shut down as evidenced by: 

  1. Emotional exhaustion
  2. Physical fatigue
  3. Cognitive weariness 

The financial services industry is a main culprit of burnout.  Pressure to perform in our industry requires significant time, energy, and commitment.  Conditions of burnout continue to rise at an alarming rate in the field of insurance and risk management. 

Researchers for the Harvard Business Review found that “crafting and sustaining a multifaceted identity is challenging for today’s workers and their organizations. The greedy nature of our work (asking us to wear more hats, to do more, to be always on), combined with the demands of our personal lives and social pressure to be and focus on just one thing, means we need to learn how to manage our portfolio of different identities and the expectations that come with them.”

Bottom line, work-life balance means having equilibrium among all the priorities in your life. It is a concept of prioritizing between work (career and ambition) and lifestyle (health, pleasure, leisure, family, and spiritual development). Work-life balance varies for everyone because of diverse priorities and different lives.

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