Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Quick quiz: You're a manager, and two employees are asking to leave work early. One wants to attend their child's soccer game. The other is training for a marathon. Do you treat the requests differently, or the same?

Let's add a third choice: Somebody who is taking a course that they hope will progress their career also needs to leave early to meet with a class team on a project.

Notions of equality might lead you to say all three should receive the time off. But if only one could be allowed that discretion, Ann Marie Ryan, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, says you would probably lean to the worker wanting to attend their child's soccer game. "We have implicit values," she says in an interview. "Companies would say they treat employees equally but it's hard to pull off for a manager trying to get things done."

Story continues below advertisement

And an implicit value these days honours the tug between family and work, with flexible schedules and other programs. But Prof. Ryan's most recent study for the Journal of Vocational Behavior, co-authored with four graduate students, argues that with all our focus on work-family balance we are neglecting the pressures work creates on other aspects of life – and, in turn, the rebounding problems in the workplace when people are discontented because they can't train for marathons, study for professional development, engage in romantic relationships, or otherwise live their life fully. In particular, that means people without children find their own non-work activities treated as less important than the family activities of colleagues with children.

Much of our concern with balance, of course, has been fixated on families. But Prof. Ryan, a mother of two teenagers, decided to explore beyond that dimension. Her study sets out eight domains that can face a crunch with work, and many in the sample of alumni of her university that she later surveyed found that schema an illuminating checklist – reminding them of aspects of their life they had been unknowingly short-changing. You might find the list similarly helpful:

Education; health; leisure; friendships; romantic relationships; family; household management; community involvement.

So while not all of us might be engaged – or want to be engaged – in each dimension, in most work forces, overall, people will want to be engaged in all of them. She says managers need to be aware for each employee which domain could be suffering unduly. "We need a more inclusive, holistic approach," she says. "Organizations recognize diversity. But a manager trying to do that has a number of challenges."

Her study looked at three types of stressors that interfere with our fullest immersion in life's different domains. The greatest was time, when time pressure from one role prevents us from meeting expectations in other roles. The second was labelled "strain," when one role creates fatigue, tension, or worry that makes it difficult to fulfill other role expectations. The third, behaviour-based interference refers to when patterns of behaviour established in one role are incompatible with behavioural expectations in another role. Since time is a precious resource, constantly on our mind, it was the item survey participants were most aware of and most likely to cite as a problem.

But the big finding was that work could be as big a nuisance in its impact on education, health activities (such as seeing the doctor, or eating healthily) and leisure activities as its impact on family. And the result, for some people, was that when they felt this tension – this loss of opportunity in other domains – they began to be affected in the workplace. Job satisfaction dropped. Turnover intentions increased. Satisfaction with life and mental health were also influenced negatively.

The report notes that while education was considered of lesser importance when the respondents were asked to rate the eight domains, work interference with education actually could be quite potent. "A common reason for employees to pursue continuing education is for professional advancement," the report notes. "It would be a frustrating situation for an employee if promotional opportunities hinge on furthering his or her education but work demands are making it difficult to do so, which could result in reduced job satisfaction and [an increased] intent to quit." So maybe more attention has to be paid to that employee who wants to leave early today to work on a class project.

Story continues below advertisement

But if the report has any message, it's that managers may be ignoring the plight of single people in their concern for families. Prof. Ryan points to the single person who seems to be willing to work long hours but may, as a result, not be fulfilling himself or herself in other domains. "Managers must make sure they are satisfied and can handle life outside work," she says.

It's not easy, because of our bias towards family. Even her team of authors ended up in heated debate, since some were moms and some weren't. "From my end, I noted I couldn't leave my kid in child care and not pick her up. It's a moral and legal responsibility that's different from getting a haircut or going to the gym. But others said, 'you made a choice to have children; I made another choice and I shouldn't have to work more.' "

In a workplace, where everyone is eyeing everyone else expecting equality, divisions and grievances can easily arise over such issues. Managers, she note, have to be viewed as acting fairly, even though views of fairness will vary amongst employees. But certainly, just accepting family as the only other domain than work that is important doesn't fit the reality her study illuminates.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies