Bringing Work--and Stress--Home

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

As many as 50 percent of people bring their work home with them regularly, according to new research describing the stress associated with work-life balance and the factors that predict it.
Researchers from the University of Toronto measured the extent to which work was interfering with personal time by using data from a national survey of 1,800 U.S. workers. Sociology professor Scott Schieman and coauthors Melissa Milkie, of the University of Maryland, and Ph.D. student Paul Glavin, of the University of Toronto, asked participants questions such as "How often does your job interfere with your home or family life?" "How often does your job interfere with your social or leisure activities?" "How often do you think about things going on at work when you are not working?"

Schieman says, "Nearly half of the population reports that these situations occur 'sometimes' or 'frequently,' which is particularly concerning given that the negative health impacts of an imbalance between work life and private life are well-documented."

The authors found people with college or postgraduate degrees tend to report their work interferes with their personal life more than those with a high school degree. Additionally, professionals tend to report their work interferes with their home life more than people in all other occupational categories.

Through their research, the authors identified several job-related demands that predict when more work will seep into the home life:

  • Interpersonal conflict at work
  • Job insecurity
  • Noxious environments
  • High-pressure situations

However, having control over the pace of one's own work diminishes the negative effects of high-pressure situations.

Several job-related resources also predict more work interference with home life: job authority, job skill level, decision-making latitude and personal earnings.

As predicted, working long hours (50 or more hours per week) is associated with more work interference at home. Surprisingly, however, that relationship is stronger among people who have some or full control over the timing of their work.

"We found several surprising patterns," says Schieman. "People who are well-educated, professionals and those [workers] with job-related resources report that their work interferes with their personal lives more frequently, reflecting what we refer to as 'the stress of higher status.' While many benefits undoubtedly accrue to those in higher status positions and conditions, a downside is the greater likelihood of work interfering with personal life."

The study appears in the December 2009 issue of American Sociological Review.

April Kemick

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 22, 2010