Work-Family Balance

Legal Aid at Work directs a collaboration of nonprofits, government agencies, and employers called the Healthy Mothers’ Workplace Coalition that was created to improve the working conditions and health of new parents and support employers in changing their policies. This fact sheet was developed in collaboration with the San Francisco Department of Public Health and UC Berkeley's School of Public Health. Here is some essential information about the benefits of work-life balance. You can find the sources for this information at the end of the fact sheets.

    What is work-family balance?

    Work-family balance, sometimes referred to as work-life balance, occurs when individuals are able to minimize stress by maintaining a balance between work and home life. This can be achieved through flexible schedules, telecommuting, job-sharing, and paid-family leave. Work-family conflict occurs when individuals perceive inadequate time or energy to fulfill work and family obligations (1).

    Why is balance important?

    A healthy work-family balance can have a meaningful impact on both the office atmosphere and the employee’s home life. Work-family balance is a health and societal priority for maternal and child health as it significantly contributes to the healthy development of infants, children and families

    What are the benefits for employers?

    Without a careful and healthy balance between work life and family life, employees will experience stress and negative health outcomes, and be less productive members of the workforce. Poor job quality, including both inadequate work-family balance and low-quality of work conditions, is associated with higher rates of maternal depression (2,3). After the birth of a child, the workplace environment has an especially influential impact on the new mother. A longitudinal study found that recovery from childbirth involves not just physical healing of the reproductive organs, but also emotional healing so that transitions back into the workplace can be as seamless as possible (3,7). Therefore, giving a woman a longer maternity leave in order to adjust to her new role as mother will inevitably lead to her being a more productive member of the workforce. Maternal mood is related to workplace adversity and women’s postpartum health status is closely tied to work-related variables like decreased job stress, increased perceived control over work and home activities, and increased coworker support (3). Not only do paid leave, flextime, and flexplace allow for employees to care for their children and newborns, but “employed parents who are not afforded paid time to care for their own health may neglect their own health needs, which can have a negative impact on child health” and on the workplace itself (7,9). By encouraging a healthy work-family balance, especially for mothers after childbirth, employers can expect to have healthier and happier employees in the office, which may lead to increased productivity, decreased absences, and less turnover.

    What are the benefits for families?

    Employment conditions can have a significant impact on employed adults’ mental and physical health (2). Inadequate work-family balance may cause individuals to experience increased stress and diminished mental health. Rates of psychological distress are higher for women without access to family friendly employment conditions (2). Employees are at a greater risk for anxiety when their workplace conditions are challenging or are places where individuals perceive a lack of autonomy and support (3). Moreover, employees who perceive a greater sense of control over their work and home activities have been found to have better mental health than those without perceived control (4). Employment conditions also have a large impact outside of the office on the employee’s family. A healthy work-family balance – achieved through flexible schedules, telecommuting, job-sharing, and part-time work – allows parents to spend time with their children or family members if and when they need extra care. Flexible schedules and better balance between work life and home life can also help prevent various health problems from occurring in the post-partum period. Returning to work after childbirth can be a source of stress for women and can cause emotional and physical difficulties for both mothers and babies (2). With regard to mental health, up to 15% of first-time mothers experience post-partum depression, and up to 41% of those mothers will experience post-partum depression after subsequent births (5). With regard to physical well being, women whose postpartum maternity leave is less than 12 weeks have been found to have a higher likelihood of failing to establish breastfeeding (6). For new mothers, flexible schedules during the post-partum period can be critically important for establishing breastfeeding and bonding with their newborn babies (6). If breastfeeding is established and continued for a minimum of six months, the mother and the infant are likely to experience better health outcomes (6).

    What can employers do?

    Implement family-friendly employment policies: Family friendly initiatives – like part-time work, flexible work hours, job sharing, and telecommuting – can have major benefits for employee health and on the workplace in general (2,8). Allowing these types of family-friendly policies will help parents care for themselves and their families on an on-going basis, so as to include aging parents and children or teens with health problems. Allow intermittent return to work: Some women may benefit from a gradual return to work given that postpartum fatigue is the most frequent medical issue for women after childbirth (4,7). Restricted access to flexible start times and family-related paid leave “may limit women’s capacity to effectively balance their employment with the care of their infant” (2). Encourage a healthy and supportive workplace culture: Pregnant women who perceive their coworkers as helpful and supportive have better postpartum health outcomes.5 Workplaces can achieve healthier and less stressful environments for women by working to destigmatize leave and caregiving, and making information about policies regarding work-family balance available to all employees. Increase compensation: Higher-paying jobs usually lead to increased economic autonomy, private and comprehensive health insurance, and lower levels of psychological distress, especially surrounding pregnancy in the workplace (4).

    Our sources for this information:

    1. Dziak E, Janzen BL, Muhajarine N. Inequalities in the psychological well-being of employed, single and partnered mothers: the role of psychosocial work quality and work-family conflict. International Journal for Equity in Health. 2010; 9. doi: 10.1186/1475-9276-9-6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC2837665/
    2. Cooklin AR, Canterford L, Strazdins L, Nicholson JM. Employment conditions and maternal postpartum mental health: Results from the longitudinal study of australian children. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2011;14:217-225. doi: 10.1007/s00737-010-0196- 9. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00737-010-0196-9
    3. Cooklin AR, Rowe HJ, Fisher JRW. Employee entitlements during pregnancy and maternal psychological well-being. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2007;47:483-490. 10.1111/j.1479-828X.2007.00784.x Available from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1479-828X.2007.00784.x/full
    4. McGovern P., Down B, Gjerdingen D, et al. Mothers’ health and work-related factors at 11 weeks postpartum. 2007. Ann Fam Med; 5:519-527. doi: 10.1370/afm.751. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2094033/
    5. American Psychological Association. Postpartum Depression. Accessed 15 November 2013. http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/depression/postpartum.aspx
    6. Guendelman S, Kosa JL, Pearl M, Graham S, Goodman J, Kharrazi M. Juggling work and breastfeeding: effects of maternity leave and occupational characteristics. Pediatrics. 2009 Jan; 123(1): e38-46. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-2244. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/123/1/e38.abstract
    7. McGovern P, Down B, Gjerdingen D, et al. Postpartum health of employed mothers 5 weeks after childbirth. Ann Fam Med. 2006; 4:159-167. doi: 10.1370/afm.519 –  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1467019/ (8) Hill JE, Hawkins AJ, Ferris M, and Weitzman M. Finding an extra day in the week: The positive influence of perceived job flexibility on work and family life balance. Family Relations 2001; 50(1): 49-48. Available from http://www.jstor.org/stable/585774 (9) Clemans-Cope L, Perry CD, Kenney GM, Pelletier JE, Pantell MS. Access to and use of paid sick leave among low-income families with children. Pediatrics. 2008;122:480. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-3294. Available from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/122/2/e480.long.

DISCLAIMER

This Fact Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general information regarding legal rights relating to employment in California. Yet because laws and legal procedures are subject to frequent change and differing interpretations, the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center cannot ensure the information in this Fact Sheet is current nor be responsible for any use to which it is put. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.