The Science Behind Why Work-Life Balance Impacts Later-Life Health
By Terry Robson
Work-life balance is a phrase that accurately describes the phenomenon of spending enough time on your work as well as enough time on you. It’s a balance in the sense that both of these things are important and you need to find the right amounts of each. It is also a balancing act in the sense that it is not easy. Workplace demands can become significant in mid-life and the problem is that if you get your work-life balance out of balance in those busy middle years, according to a new study, your health can suffer for a lifetime.
In the new study, the researchers wanted to see if the effects of mid-life sleep deprivation and long working hours might impact physical function and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in later life. To do this they monitored the HRQoL of 1527 business men born between 1919 and 1934. Data on the men was gathered in 1974 and then again in 2000.
The researchers used a definition of “normal” work hours as being 50 hours per week and “normal” sleep as being 47 hours per week. Based on this, the subjects in the study were divided up into four groups: those with normal work and normal sleep hours, those with long work and normal sleep, those with normal work and short sleep, and those with long work and short sleep.
If you get your work-life-balance out of balance in those busy middle years, … your health can suffer for a lifetime.
The results showed that those who had long work hours and short sleep in mid-life had lower scores for physical function, vitality and general health compared to those who had normal work and sleep patterns. This was true even when factors like smoking and other health issues were accounted for.
So working more than 50 hours per week and sleeping less than 47 hours per week are bad for your long-term health. To put those figures into an Australian perspective, the Australian Bureau of Statistics says that 5 million of Australia’s 7.7 million full-time workers put in more than 40 hours per week. Of them, 1.4 million put in more than 50 hours per week and around 270,000 put in more than 70 hours per week. That’s a lot of people with potential health problems as they get older, which is bad news for those people and expensive for society.