Defining Work-Life Balance (WLB) is perhaps as easy and as difficult as defining love. All of us have a glimpse of what it feels like, but all can have a different view on experiencing it. Shankar & Bhatnagar (2010) wrote that the literature on this topic is enormous, but the definition lacks clarity. Guest (2002) stated that the definition of “work”, “life”, and even “balance” in the concept of WLB is problematic.

Many traditional views of WLB are heavily related to equality of involvement in work and family. However, employees who reported spending relatively more time with family, which is categorized as “imbalance” because they were more involved in the family than work, were the employees who reported having the highest quality of life (Greenhaus et al., 2003). Other researchers tried to use other models, such as the work-life spillover model or work-life conflict model, in which the two domains influence each other. Pichler (2009) said that WLB is experienced when demands from the domain of work are compatible with demands from other domains, e.g. family or leisure time.

I tend to agree with the theoretical statement that WLB  should be defined from an individual fit perspective (Greenhaus & Allen, 2011), just like how we define love for ourselves.

Measuring and Achieving Work-Life Balance For Ourselves

The first problem in defining WLB from an individual fit perspective is the question of how can we measure and achieve the balance if it is different for every individual.

Marks and MacDermid (1996), in their research survey, asked just one question to the respondents: that was to rate their agreement (from 1 to 5, from strongly disagree to strongly agree) to the statement “Nowadays, I seem to enjoy every part of my life equally well.” It is a very subjective question, but it can be a good start to assess our own WLB.

Odle-Dusseau et al. (2011) proposed two variables to assess WLB based on actual and desired hours for work and family, named work hour discrepancy (WHD) and family hour discrepancy (FHD). We can try to do a self-assessment on what is our actual work hours compared to our desired work hours (WHD), as well as our actual family hours compared to our desired family hours (FHD). This measurement is based on the assumption that long working hours as the biggest threat to a balanced life (Fleetwood 2007), and that the root problem lies in the high commitment in terms of hours required in the career job (Roberts, 2005). This measurement enables us to do a counter-measure, such as giving more hours to the family if the FHD is too high.

The measurement is not without flaws. For example, it only counts on work time and family time, but how about “me time”? How about people who are not family oriented?

Again with my analogy of love, it is hard to measure the balance, but we can feel it. A measurement is just a tool, while the main goal is to feel it. That is why the qualitative simple question of our enjoyment in every part of life is a good indicator.

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Trade-off Between Work-Life Balance and Performance

The second problem in defining WLB from an individual fit perspective occurs when we tried to see it from an organizational perspective. Work-family balance is at the core of Human Resource Development’s major functions and it may be a powerful leverage point for promoting individual and organizational effectiveness. (Shankar & Bhatnagar, 2010)

However, my advice for every leader who wishes to promote better work-life balance and wellness is to keep seeing these issues from an individual fit perspective. Every employee can perceive work-life balance differently, and this perception must be treated with respect. With the support of an open communication culture, managers can ask every employee whether they enjoy every part of their life equally well or whether are there any issues in achieving that.

Leaders should be thoughtful in receiving employees’ opinions. Managers who have greater autonomy and discretion than other employees are able to balance their work and family relatively easier than other employees (Burchielli et al., 2008). This can create a false impression of a good work-life balance in a company, while the employees don’t feel it at all. Moreover, leaders should pay more attention to female workers, as research suggests that in a dual-career couple family, the women are doing most of the “balancing” for the family (Roberts, 2005).


Burchielli, R., Bartram, T., & Thanacoody, R. (2008). Work-Family Balance or Greedy Organizations? Articles, 63(1), 108–133. 

Fleetwood, S. (2007). Why work-life balance now? International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18, 387-400.

Guest, D. E. (2002). Perspectives on the Study of Work-life Balance. Social Science Information, 41(2), 255–279. 

Greenhaus, J. H., Collins, K. M., & Shaw, J. D. (2003). The relation between work-family balance and quality of life. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 63, 510-531.

Greenhaus, J. H., & Allen, T. D. (2011). Work-family balance: A review and extension of the literature. In J. C. Quick & L. E. Tetrick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Marks, S. R., & MacDermid, S. M. (1996). Multiple Roles and the Self: A Theory of Role Balance. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58(2), 417.

Odle-Dusseau, H. N., Britt, T. W., & Bobko, P. (2011). Work–Family Balance, Well-Being, and Organizational Outcomes: Investigating Actual Versus Desired Work/Family Time Discrepancies. Journal of Business and Psychology, 27(3), 331–343.

Pichler, F. (2009). Determinants of Work-Life Balance: Shortcomings in the Contemporary Measurement of WLB in Large-Scale Surveys. Social Indicators Research, 92(3), 449–469.

Roberts, G. S. (2005). Balancing Work and Life: Whose work? Whose life? Whose balance? Asian Perspective, 29(1), 175–211.

Shankar, T., & Bhatnagar, J. (2010). Work Life Balance, Employee Engagement, Emotional Consonance/Dissonance & Turnover Intention. Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, 46(1), 74–87.

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