Why Bosses Should Care About Work-Life Balance

Leaders helping employees find that stability can get rewarded with more engagement and commitment, says best-selling author Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body," is available now. 

Andrea was a communications director for an environmental non-profit. She loved her job, but also wanted to start a family with her husband, Sam. Her best friend Sasha warned her that having children would negatively impact her career. As an attorney at a top law firm, Sasha’s employers had actively dissuaded her from starting a family. But Andrea was confident that she could find a productive balance between the demands of her work and the rest of her life.

Here’s how. Sam transitioned to part-time role to care for their daughter, and Andrea’s parents also offered to help. When she returned to work from maternity leave, Andrea’s supervisor and coworkers were very supportive. Their close-knit team made it easy for her to ask for help and work from home occasionally. Once she became accustomed to this new balance, Andrea found that she enjoyed her work even more than before. The support from her family and coworkers reaffirmed her commitment to environmental work and improved her life satisfaction. And Andrea’s passion for her work made her more resilient while raising her young daughter. 

This may seem all too easy. Notice that Andrea’s success at achieving this balance depended on a web of support: her husband, her parents, her supervisor, and her co-workers.  Not everyone has it that easy.

That’s one reason many regard the balance between work and family or personal life as inherently difficult. People cite troubles with finding a work/family balance (along with overconsumption of technology), as one of the primary roots of stress in our daily lives, leading to relationship struggles, poor health, and unhappiness. But recent research has shown that this is an incomplete view of how work/family balance affects us, especially on an emotional level. On the other hand, work-family enrichment (WFE for short) accounts for the ways in which experiences at work can improve quality of life at home, or vice-versa.

A meta-analysis of the causes of WFE published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that social support at work represents a significant cause of work-family enrichment—as Andrea discovered. This includes “general” and “family-focused” support from both supervisors and coworkers, with family-focused support from coworkers garnering the greatest impact. Such support hints at a workplace high in emotional intelligence: Supervisors and coworkers with strengths in empathy and teamwork are more likely to provide social support at work. Among other findings: Finding a better work/life balance yields superior life satisfaction, greater organizational commitment, and better mental and physical health.

There seems to be a feedback loop, with work autonomy and engagement having a strongly positive impact on family life. This corresponds with other research showing employee engagement yields motivation, resilience, and support for coworkers. When people feel passionate about their work and are trusted to accomplish tasks autonomously, they feel greater job satisfaction. This also improves quality of life at home.

In the family domain, “support from family” and “family involvement” were found to have the greatest positive impact on work-family enrichment. When people have support at home they can benefit more from their work life.

If you've found that you enjoy both your professional life and family life, you’re not alone. After all, the brain doesn’t distinguish between our personal and professional lives. When we feel engaged and supported at work, that positive feeling extends to our family life. And support at home enables us to pursue our professional goals. The ability to find a productive balance between our work and family can enhance our satisfaction in both realms, even more so than choosing one over the other.

With strengths in emotional intelligence, we can further cultivate a positive work/family balance. For example, when we have a positive outlook in our personal relationships, we can more easily apply a positive approach to challenges at work. And we can use a competency like organizational awareness—often applied to power dynamics at work—to wield influence and navigate a touchy situation with a spouse or parent-in-law.

When we cultivate our emotional intelligence—including our ability to practice emotional balance—we can more easily find the work/life balance which best serves us. 

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification.