Work/life balance: the more we get, the more we want

Angus Kidman 23 September 2016


New research shows shorter working hours can lead to more conflict.

Ah, humanity. You'd think that offering people a shorter working week and more flexibility would make them happier, right? Paradoxically, it can have the opposite effect.

A recent study examined the connection between legislated shorter working hours and work-family conflict across 32 countries. The most surprising result? "We found the employees in countries with shorter working hours reported more work-family conflict," researcher Leah Ruppanner from the University of Melbourne wrote.

To be clear: this isn't because giving employees a better working environment is a bad idea. It's because of a familiar phenomenon: once our expectations have been raised, we're more likely to complain if circumstances don't measure up to those expectations. As Ruppaner explains:

For our study, those people in shorter work hour countries had greater expectations for work-family balance and as a result were more likely to report conflict when it emerged. This does not mean workers in countries with shorter work weeks experience more work-to-family conflict per se, but rather they are primed to be more sensitive to conflict when it emerges.

So how can you solve this dilemma? As I've written before, the key element to achieving work/life balance is the ability to say "No". That's true whatever your workplace situation is and whatever the legislative requirements are. If you want to achieve a sense of balance, you have to measure how much you're putting into each element of your life, and stop when the container is full.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on

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