Well-being at home and work: Two halves of a whole

Well-being at home and work: Two halves of a whole

Anthony Schulzetenberg

Joe Colihan



| ˈˌwel ˈˌbēiNG ˌāt ˌhōm | An employee’s reported sense of life satisfaction and ability to handle daily affairs. This also includes feelings of calmness, a moderate sense of control, and ability to get adequate sleep on most days. 



Children are often taught from a young age that it is imperative to get enough sleep, ask for help when they need it, take breaks (remember recess?), and remain optimistic.  Society espouses the relationship between performance and physical, emotional, and psychological well-being for children, however, these values tend to be forgotten in adulthood. 


As mentioned in “Well-being at work: Worth a second glance” (Schulzetenberg and Colihan, 2018), well-being at work improves worker productivity, decreases turnover and absenteeism, and lowers health benefit costs for employers.  For these reasons, an increasing number of employers are seeing the value of employee well-being and implementing programs to promote and enhance it at work.  However, well-being does not start and end during work hours.  Well-being outside of work is related to and inseparable from well-being at work.  This makes sense because work hours often only account for a little over a third of a person’s waking hours—plenty of time to engage in behavior counterproductive to workplace well-being efforts.


The relationship between well-being at work and home is not simply anecdotal.  In a recent study of almost 900 US workers, Colihan and Schulzetenberg (2018) found well-being at work and well-being at home to be mildly correlated (r = .26; updated 2019 r=.29).  These findings are supported by a large international study by Haar and colleagues (2014) who found a positive relationship between job satisfaction and life satisfaction (.43), negative relationships between work-life balance and anxiety and depression (-.34), and negative relationships between job satisfaction and anxiety and depression (-.27 and -.42, respectively). 


Taken together, these data suggest an employee’s well-being outside of work is related to their well-being at work.


This interdependence goes beyond the traditional work/life balance canon and addresses the quality of both work and life outside of each other.  Feeling burned out from work can reduce life satisfaction; experiencing harassment at work can impair one’s ability to handle daily affairs well; feeling unsafe at work can result in feeling anxious and wound-up all day.  Experiences and feelings that contribute to workplace well-being can clearly impact well-being outside of work.  This relationship can also be flipped.  Poor sleep, low life satisfaction, anxiety, and inability to handle life’s challenges can inhibit the ability to act sincere at work and handle the stresses and intensities of a job.  Recent evidence of these relationships was highlighted by Terpstra (2018) in a report finding that doctors, with their long hours, sleep deprivation, and outsized responsibilities for other people’s lives are far more likely to commit suicide than those in other professions (about 40% more likely for men, and 200% for women).


This reciprocal relationship between work and home plays out in some interesting ways.  Colihan and Schulzetenberg (2018) found contradicting patterns of well being by job level.  All else being equal, one would expect job stress and perhaps hours worked to be highest among company executives.  A countering force would be the extra support available to executives relative to managers and professionals – despite recent declines in perks like first-class flights. 


So how does well-being at work differ by job level?  Executives scored the highest of any group (69) versus scores in the 60-65 range for managers, professionals, interns, and contractors.  In contrast, executives scored 62 on well-being at home, lower than all other groups who scored in the 65-75 range.  Presumably the extra stress, time, and commitment required of executives at work hinders their well-being at home.


Who is responsible?


Are employers responsible for employees’ well-being at home?  The answer to this question is surrounded with shades of grey.  Employers can have the most impact on the work life of their employees by cultivating a climate that promotes well-being at work.  However, when demands and expectations of jobs exceed work hours, work can adversely impact well-being at home.  Employers can also negatively impact well-being at home by neglecting to encourage and promote healthy practices, such as vacations, work-free weekends, or counseling services.  By increasing access to health services and publicly supporting an enjoyable life outside of work, employers have the power to impact employees’ well-being at home.  That said, the responsibility of well-being at home is, by definition, outside the scope of the employer.


Employees must learn to set acceptable boundaries, taking responsibility for their well-being at work and at home.  To feel confident, ready to be productive, and produce consistent exceptional work, employees should implement a well-being program for their home life.  By planning and holding oneself accountable, well-being at home can be nurtured with far-reaching impact to all aspects of life.  As researched by Rath and Harter (2010), well-being in life has several pillars, including career, social, financial, physical, and community.





Colihan, J., & Schulzetenberg, A.  (2018).  Minnesota Workplace Wellness Assessment.  https://www.colihanconsulting.com/.


Haar, J. M., Russo, M., Suñe, A., & Ollier-Malaterre, A. (2014). Outcomes of work–life balance on job satisfaction, life satisfaction and mental health: A study across seven cultures. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 85(3), 361-373.


Ratj. T., & Harter, J.  (2010).  Well Being:  The Five Essential Elements.  Gallup Press, New York, NY. 


Schulzetenberg, A.,  & Colihan, J. (2018).  Well-being at Work: Worth a second glance.  https://www.colihanconsulting.com/.


Terpstra, P.  (2018).  Does fear of reporting their own mental illness put doctors at risk of suicide?  https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/does-fear-of-reporting-their-own-mental-illness-put-doctors-at-risk-of-suicide.