Why Managing Work-Life Balance Is Harder Than Ever

A new survey shows that full-time workers all over the world are struggling to manage their personal and professional lives.

Why Managing Work-Life Balance Is Harder Than Ever
[Photo: Flickr user harveypekar84]

Despite a plethora of apps, corporate initiatives, and advice, it’s never been harder to achieve a work-life balance.


According to its latest survey of nearly 9,700 full-time workers, EY, the global assurance, tax, transaction, and advisory services firm, found that one-third of employees report that managing their personal and professional lives has become more difficult.

The reasons aren’t surprising. Challenges such as sluggish wage increases coupled with the rising cost of living are hitting one group the hardest. Some U.S. millennials moving into management and becoming parents before the age of 30 are facing increased responsibility. That translates to more time spent at work. Around the world, an estimated 50% of managers said they work more than 40 hours per week, and four in 10 say the hours they put on the clock have increased in the last five years. Of managers, full-time working parents (41%) have seen their hours increase more in the last five years than those who don’t have children (37%).

The Global Generations survey, EY’s second attempt to study generational issues in the workplace, was conducted in the U.S., Germany, Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil, India, and the U.K. In addition to international findings, 1,200 full-time U.S. workers were asked about major changes they have made, or would be willing to make, to better manage their work-life balance, paid parental leave, and couples’ work schedules by generation.


What’s Money Got to Do With It?

Overall, the global economy had a big impact on work-life balance, affecting everything from job choice, higher education, and whether or not to have kids.

  1. Over one-third of workers said they changed jobs because of the economy.
  2. The economy caused one in six (15%) full-time workers to get divorced or separated and almost one-sixth (13%) to delay getting a divorce.
  3. Twenty-two percent said they encouraged their spouse or partner to return to the workforce and a quarter asked them not to quit their job or reduce hours to support the family.
  4. Nearly a quarter (23%) decided not to have additional children and more than one in five (21%) delayed having additional children.
  5. Twenty-four percent went back to school overall, but workers in other countries were twice as likely to pursue higher education (24%) than their U.S. counterparts (12%).

Not everyone could afford school, though. Nineteen percent had to leave school and 22% delayed their education. Some 22% said their ability to help pay for higher education for their children was impacted.

Where U.S. Workers Stand on the Work-Life Balance Tightrope

Judging by the results of the survey, the traditional 40-hour workweek is becoming obsolete. Management has seen a significant increase in hours, with 64% reporting working two to four hours more a week and one-third (36%) logging an extra five hours or more.


The majority of Mexican managers (61%) work more than 40 hours per week, with the U.S. coming in a close second with 58% of workers putting in more than the standard. In sharp contrast is China, where only 19% of managers work more than 40 hours a week.

The biggest hurdles faced when U.S workers try to balance their personal and professional lives were:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Handling more responsibility
  • “Finding time for me”
  • “Finding time for family and friends”
  • Additional hours worked

Women in the U.S. lead their male counterparts (50% to 22%) in taking a break from their career to manage their personal lives. But U.S. men were more likely to change jobs or give up a promotion to manage their work-life balance than women, saying they would more likely be willing to move to be closer to family or take a pay cut to get more flexibility.


Yet, as we’ve reported in a previous study, the Ernst & Young survey bore out the fact that there is a disconnect between employees wanting flex time and an employer’s willingness to offer it.

Nearly one in 10 (9%) U.S. workers say they have “suffered a negative consequence as a result of having a flexible work schedule.” That rate is higher for millennials, of which one in six (15%) reported either losing a job, being denied a promotion or raise, being assigned to less interesting or high profile assignments, or being publicly or privately reprimanded.

Top Reasons to Quit

In addition to attempting to manage their work and family lives better, there are several other main reasons global workers quit–even as their expenses and responsibilities are rising. The are:

  • Minimal wage growth
  • Lack of opportunity to advance
  • Excessive overtime hours
  • A work environment that does not encourage teamwork
  • Too much overnight travel

Parents are more likely than those without children to quit because there was no opportunity to advance, which shows that they are still ambitious and perhaps also need to work to manage higher expenses.

What Workers Really Want

It’s pretty simple–but powerful: Competitive pay and benefits.

Flex time without the fear of losing out on a promotion. Working with colleagues and a boss who support that effort. Being able to work flexibly when needed without a formal agreement. Receiving paid parental leave. Not working excessive overtime. Two-thirds of global workers would like to have the ability shut off emails and calls when they need to focus on their personal lives.


Millennials–least likely to take a career break to raise children–globally put a premium on getting a job with a company that offers paid parental leave or subsidized child care. They say they would be more engaged and happily work longer hours as well as be more likely to recommend that company to others.


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a staff editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.