Home / Work / Integrating Work and Life

Integrating work and life

by Stephen F. Duncan, Ph.D., Family and Human Development Specialist

  • Your job takes you away from home several times each month. You've noticed that nearly each time you return home, you and your spouse have a fight and say mean things to each other. You're beginning to dread coming home.

  • You are struggling to care for your dependent father and his farm, while attending to your own job and family needs. Your father needs the farm income to pay for his medications. Time on the farm has begun to take its toll on your employment, and you are beginning to worry about job security.

  • You've volunteered for a church social. You have two children at home and one in school. As you are preparing to leave, the youngest child dirties his clothes and the phone rings. The child at school has forgotten her lunch and you'll soon be late for your appointment.

As working adults, we have two very important areas of our lives that require a delicate balance our work life and our family life. When unmanaged conflicts occur between these two areas, both our family and work life may suffer. All of us need some skill to successfully juggle demands placed upon us.

In most families today, all the adults in the family are employed outside the home. This has the potential for increasing work-family stress. This guide is designed to help working adults manage the stressors and strike a better balance between work and family.

Three principles about the work/family connection

Stress often results from a conflict between work and family responsibilities. Research has identified three principles that underlie this conflict:

# 1 :  Work and family settings have a built-in potential for conflict.

The needs of your job and the needs of your family may often interfere with one another. For example, your boss may want you to finish a work project, but your child wants you to attend her school play. You may feel overloaded by the roles you must play at work and at home. At times, you may feel you have too little time or energy to do all that needs to be done to care for your children, be employed and have any time for yourself or friends.

# 2 :  Work and family environments influence each other.

Workers carry negative and positive feelings home from work or to work from home. For example, you might feel so exhausted after work that you lack the time and energy to spend with your family, or come home ready for an argument. Or you might be so preoccupied with a problem at home that you have difficulty focusing on your job. On the positive side, you may have had a great day at work and come home ready for fun and games, or go to work satisfied that things on the home front are going well.

# 3 :  Stress is minimized when there is harmony between work and family settings.

Perfect harmony probably isn't possible. But harmony is greater between work and family life when your job helps you reach your family goals, and vice versa. For example, the job will use your abilities and help you achieve the goal of paying your bills, and still allow you time to nurture family relationships. What you bring to work benefits your employer; what you take home from work helps your family.

Resources and strategies for balancing work and family

Your ability to cope successfully with work-family stress depends on three things:
  • Your resources (such as income, education, intelligence, determination),
  • Your coping strategies (or, how you use your resources), and
  • Your point of view or perception (for example, thinking: It's normal for me to feel this way)

The more resources you have and use well, and the healthier your attitude, the more successful you will be at coping with stress.

Here are some suggestions for balancing work and family.

Personal resources and strategies

  • Set priorities. Decide what tasks are important and which are less important. This means more than saying your family comes before work. It means deciding what activities come first. Review your priorities every month. Ask yourself whether you are accomplishing your goals.

  • Take time to shift from work to family. It usually takes 15 to 20 minutes to shift gears from work to family. Use time on the way home to clear your head. Try making tomorrow's "to do" list at the close of the work day. Listen to music you enjoy as you travel. Use the drive home to forget about work and concentrate on family. Try to avoid bringing work home. Take a 15 minute break to change clothes and make the shift.

  • Take care of your physical health. This makes you better able to withstand emotional and physical stress.

  • Redefine the situation. Decide to see stressful situations in a different way. For instance, tell yourself "It could be worse," or "This is a normal reaction." Emphasize positive parts of a stressful situation. Recognize that work-family stressors will occur and that the advantages of your current situation outweigh the disadvantages.

  • Plan and work efficiently. Use schedules for planning specific times for family, work and other activities. Make the most of the time spent together with your family, for instance, by working together to accomplish tasks around the house. By doing the dishes with a family member, for example, you'll get a job done and spend time together.

  • Be realistic. Work-family stress is likely to be greater if there is a wide gap between what you expect of yourself and what you achieve. For most of us, there is always more to do than time available. Discover what you can do. Perhaps the house doesn't have to be dusted once a week. Maybe you don't have to work an extra hour. This doesn't mean sacrificing your dreams; rather it means developing realistic expectations of yourself.

Family resources and strategies

  • Nurture your relationships. If you have a partner, take time to nurture the relationship you have with him or her. Support one another in family and job responsibilities. Be willing to listen to each other's concerns about work and family. Take time to nurture your other family relationships.

  • Share responsibility for family work. There is much work to be done at home: parenting, housework, dealing with emotions, and managing schedules. Sharing the family work load contributes to feelings of fairness and equity among family members.

  • Be willing to talk about conflicts and negotiate. Some conflict between schedules is unavoidable. Be willing to discuss concerns and compromise. You might want to set up a regular time to talk about schedules and concerns under positive conditions.Take turns speaking and listening to one another. Once you've each understood the concern, come up with as many solutions to the problem as you can. Choose the one that you each feel good about and try it out. You may find that you need to try out difference schedules, different ways to do household tasks, or reduce some of your less important activities.


Think about your work and family life and identify the resources and strategies that would help you achieve the best balance. Talk to family and friends about how work and family conflict can increase stress, and about ways to deal with it. Establish a support group at work to share resources and ideas with co-workers. Create your own "Balancing Plan" designed to bring you the fullest benefits of both work and family life.