Women Feel Guilty About Work-Life Balance

Illustration for article titled Women Feel Guilty About Work-Life Balance

A study of 1,042 American workers has found that women feel guiltier about "boundary spanning work demands" — email or phone contact for work-related purposes — after hours.


The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, found that this was consistent in women regardless of their age, socioeconomic level, or whether they were married or had kids. That in itself is shocking: You don't even have to have kids to experience conflicted feelings about your work life balance. The guilt rose as the work increased.

One of the authors commented,

"Initially, we thought women were more distressed by frequent work contact because it interfered with their family responsibilities more so than men. However, this wasn't the case. We found that women are able to juggle their work and family lives just as well as men, but they feel more guilty as a result of being contacted. This guilt seems to be at the heart of their distress."


Bonus points to the first genius who responds, "Duh." But there are several things at play here, including the obvious aspect that women are culturally conditioned to feel guilty about doing exactly what their male counterparts are doing: Earning a living. (Remember the moral of the story in The Devil Wears Prada, in which the protagonist becoming good at her demanding job is conflated with abandoning her values and her boyfriend and friends? In which she watches a woman at the top of her game lose her husband?) We're also constantly expected to make it look effortless, with which a frantic late night call or email tends to interfere.

Another is the fact that though these are characterized in the social science research as "boundary spanning," in an always-reachable age of email and smartphones, compounded with broad job insecurity for the past several years, where exactly are those boundaries?

Boundary-Spanning Work Demands and Their Consequences for Guilt and Psychological Distress [Journal Of Health And Social Behavior]
Being Called At Home About Work Bothers Women More Than Men [Medical News Today]
Women Feel Guilty About Work-Home Intrusion—Study [Reuters]

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I may get flamed for this but...

Depending on the situation, maybe they feel guilty about it because... they should? And so should men. If you're out at a dinner with your friends, or a family outing, or a kid's softball game, maybe don't bury your head in your Blackberry to respond to every little email that comes your way. Something big: of course! Or if, after dinner, you need to take 10 minutes to make a few calls—okay, I get it. But constant distraction, be it from work or anything else, is kinda rude. Full disclosure: I do not work in a client-based industry, so I haven't seen this from the other side, but when you're physically with someone but mentally still at the office—you're not really giving either side your all.