MGA Faculty Q&A With Dr. Laurie Walters: Unraveling Work-Life Balance

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Monday, March 25, 2024 12:00 AM
Categories: School of Education and Behavioral Sciences | Pressroom | Faculty/Staff

Macon, GA


In modern American society, life seems to be getting busier and more demanding. Between work, studying, family, and other duties, it feels like there's never a moment to breathe. Especially in the wake of the COVID pandemic, more of us are trying to figure out how to achieve that elusive work-life balance. But what exactly does the phrase “work-life balance” mean, and why is it so hard in contemporary Western society to achieve it? We turn to Dr. Laurie Walters, associate professor of psychology, for some insight.

How would you define work-life balance in today's context, and how has this definition evolved over time?

You may be familiar with the viral TikTok video of the young lady who was very upset that her first 9-5 job after college left her no time for anything. She dramatically and tearfully lamented (with choice expletives) that she had no time or energy to cook dinner, she had no energy to work out, and she had no time for dating or friends. Whatever “work-life balance” is, hers was clearly out of whack (or so we may infer). However, just as interesting as her video were the responses she received and the buzz it generated. Many responded with empathy, identifying with her plight. Others responded with eyerolls and comments about “adulting” and the newest generation in the workforce, Gen Z.

So, what is work-life balance? This question is really difficult to answer. Although the term work-life balance has not lost its clout, scholars vigorously debate its meaning, offering many criticisms, limitations, and substitute terms (e.g., work-life integration, work-life fulfillment, life balance). One writer even went so far as to call the term “old fashioned” and a “career dinosaur” (Robinson, 2021). Notwithstanding the academic debate, the popular usage of the term is alive and well, and reflects the scenario above, where one strives for some type of harmony between professional and personal activities, and preferably does not think about work when not working. The concepts of well-being, personal growth and satisfaction are also a part of today’s general understanding of work-balance.

Although work-life balance is not as simple as merely counting hours spent at work, we can be thankful for The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which gave us the 5-day, 40-hour work week (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). This was a big improvement for workers who were used to being on the job for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. Fast forward to today, and there are more options for workers to have autonomy and flexibility with their work schedules, which support the concept of work-life balance.

What factors contribute to the current challenges in achieving work-life balance?

Finding a better work-life balance is a process that can be wrought with many challenges, with some believing it’s never actually “attained” (Robinson, 2021). It’s a subjective feeling of balance, as individual needs, satisfaction levels, and commitments are different and change over time. For a working parent, work-life balance may mean flexibility to have lunch with a child at school. For a small business owner, work-life balance may mean simply getting to have lunch at all (Dropbox)!

One obvious challenge to work-life balance is the feeling of always being “on” and connected to work through technology. For most, long gone are the days of Ward Cleaver ( Leave It to Beaver’s dad) where he left the office and went home and enjoyed a home-cooked meal (prepared by his wife wearing pearls, no less), read the newspaper, interacted with two well-behaved sons, and then retired for the night, or so we saw on tv. Today, work often continues after we’ve prepared dinner (in some form or fashion, sans pearls), taken care of kids who were not always as well-behaved as the Cleaver kids, and of course tended to the fur babies. While I may be dating myself with the Leave It to Beaver reference (yes, I’m a Baby Boomer), it is important to note that experiencing work-life balance issues doesn’t require a traditional family setup.  This is evident from the opening discussion about the young lady distraught that she had no time for anything beyond work.

A related challenge to work-life balance is that for many, home is also the workplace. Working from home (WFH), or some hybrid form of remote work, offers many positives and certainly has its advantages. However, an obvious disadvantage is the feeling of never leaving work. One might also feel compelled to answer “after hours” emails and faxes, if for no other reason than to get a head start on tomorrow’s work. This contributes to the cycle of feeling constantly “on.” With technology, there can also be feelings of information overload, which can be stressful and detract from work-life balance.

Other challenges include, but are not limited to, the nature of work (e.g., job demands, workload, flexibility), company culture (how work-life balance is viewed by the organization), outside/special personal demands (e.g., special care needs for children or aging parents, physical and mental health issues) and personality characteristics.

How does technology impact work-life balance, both positively and negatively?

As mentioned previously, technology can make us feel we’re always tethered to work, blurring the boundaries between work and personal time. However, technology has impacted work-life balance in many positive ways. Technology allows for flexibility in where, when, and how one works, as we saw clearly during Covid in 2020. Depending upon the employer, remote working may allow the employee to establish when they start and finish their day, as long as the work is complete. Control over one’s work schedule can allow time to attend to personal needs.  Working from home saves time (and gas money) on rush-hour commutes. In fact, a substantial amount of money can be saved on work expenses, ranging from gas, car maintenance, wardrobe, and lunches bought out. These savings can add up.

Moreover, regarding expenses, remote work offers individuals the opportunity to work for a company while residing elsewhere, potentially avoiding the high rents and mortgages typically associated with cities with a high cost of living.Technology has also allowed for more job opportunities for those in small towns or rural communities, and also for those who might have physical issues that make working in a traditional office more challenging. These are certainly positives for work-life balance.     

Another positive effect of technology is efficiency. Tools such as email and other communication apps can enable faster communication and collaboration, requiring less time to complete tasks. This frees up time that might be used for personal activities – or more work?

Can you discuss any cultural or societal norms that influence perceptions and expectations regarding work-life balance?

The workplace culture, in general, has become more worker friendly. The days when a worker could be taught to do a simple task and then told to do it without question are disappearing. Workers now have an active, more participatory role in the policies and procedures by which they abide. Although not new, companies have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to help employees deal with problems they may encounter at work or in their personal lives. Many companies are now promoting work-life balance initiatives with options of flexibility and remote work, where employees can still experience career success without sacrificing personal well-being.

The changing family dynamic has also influenced perceptions and expectations of work-life balance. Companies realize that employees may be juggling many responsibilities and roles outside of work, such as a single head-of-household parent and/or caregiver to elderly parents. Who couldn’t benefit from flexibility and support from their employer?

Also, there is a general recognition of the importance of staying healthy, both physically and mentally. Organizations are reflecting this in adopting more holistic and employee-centered views of work.

Are there generational differences in how people prioritize work-life balance?

This question makes me smile because when discussing work and careers with my Industrial-Organizational (IO) psychology students, they certainly know the term work-life balance – and consider it very important as they enter the workforce. Many say they would rather have time off than work an extra shift for more money, which as a Baby Boomer I had to bite my lip (I would have for sure taken the extra shift when I was younger!). So yes, there are certainly general trends in how work-life balance is prioritized across generations. Of course, individual attitudes can vary greatly within generations, as one of my GenZ students told me she was going to work extra over spring break to earn money. I smiled.

There are four generations in today’s workforce, each with diverse backgrounds, experiences, expectations, and needs (Bulger,, 2020). This makes things interesting on many fronts, from use of technology to views on work-life balance and what it means to have a good work ethic. The oldest generation is the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). The Boomers prioritized hard work and dedication, often at the expense of personal and family time. Merely considering work-life balance might mean you were not serious about your job. Working long hours was seen as the way to career advancement. However, work-life balance has gained traction with Boomers as they are near retirement.

Gen X (born 1965-1980) grew up in economic uncertainty but also saw their parents’ total commitment to work and wanted something different. They sought more flexibility in their jobs to spend more time with family and to pursue personal interests. Similarly, Millennials (born 1981-1996) value work-life balance and flexible work options. They also prioritize employee wellness and look for companies who value that as well.

Gen Zers (born 1997-2012) are the newest to the workforce. Often called “digital natives” technology is second nature to them and constant connectivity is what they know. They, too, want work-life balance and are using their free time to pursue interests that hopefully will become revenue streams, or “side hustles.”  In job interviews, many Gen Zers are not shy to ask about work-life balance issues and other questions with a “what will you do for me” flavor. Although not a member of GenZ, Owen Wilson’s character in the 2006 movie, You, Me and Dupree humorously did NOT gain favor with his interviewer when he asked, “What is your policy on Columbus Day?” (A funny clip – I highly recommend!) While attitudes about work-life balance have certainly evolved since 2006, the jury is still out on the impression made when job applicants ask these types of questions.

How do economic factors, such as income inequality or job insecurity, affect individuals' ability to maintain work-life balance?

Economic factors can certainly affect an individual s ability to maintain (or to have) work-life balance. If an individual is working long hours or having to work several jobs to make ends meet, there is not much time (or energy) left to enjoy with family or friends - or to relax at all. This can obviously strain relationships, which in turn erodes a support system which in turn adds stress to the individual who is working all the time. Financial concerns and job insecurity can take a toll on one’s physical and mental health, so even when there is time off, it may be spent worrying about the job and money. Furthermore, the individual may have limited access to benefits from the employer, such as flexible work arrangements, paid time off, or childcare benefits. Individuals in insecure jobs may have limited opportunities for advancement or professional development, making job fulfillment and satisfaction something out of reach.



Bulger, C. A., Schultz, D. P., & Sydney, S. E. (2020). Psychology and Work Today. New York: Routledge, p. 15.

Dropbox (n.d.). 10 barriers to work-life balance…and how to overcome them.

Robinson, R. (2021). Why “Work-Life Balance” has become a career dinosaur.

Schultz, D., & Schultz, S. E. (2016). Psychology and Work Today. New York: Routledge, p. 241.

You, Me and Dupree Job Interview