Work-life balance is stressing us out -- at home

By Allison Linn

People are more stressed out at home than they are at work, new research shows, but that may be because they are trying to juggle so many responsibilities at the same time.

“It seems like a lot of the stress at home comes from combining work and home responsibilities,” said Sarah Damaske, assistant professor of labor, employment relations and sociology at The Pennsylvania State University.

Penn State asked 122 working adults to both self-report their stress levels at various intervals throughout the day, and to take a swab measuring their levels of cortisol, a major marker of stress.

They found that for the majority of participants, cortisol levels were higher at home than at work.

The participants’ self-reported stress readings didn’t necessarily match with their actual stress levels, however, said Damaske, one of the report's authors.

She said the findings don’t necessarily suggest that people should work more, or that they aren’t happy at home.

Instead, she thinks it implies that the stress of trying to get everything done at home and at work tends to come out once people are home.

Still, she said the findings do also reinforce other research showing that people who work are healthier. Other research has found that works both ways — healthier people are more likely to be employed, and employment also appears to have additional health benefits in and of itself.

“What we’re finding suggests that work is good for you — that there actually are benefits to working,” she said.

The Penn State findings were consistent for men and women, and similar for parents and non-parents.

The one exception was higher-income workers, who Damaske said had equal levels of stress at work and home. She said that makes sense given previous research showing that higher status jobs are more stressful.

There’s plenty of research showing that parents in particular are stressed out by juggling work and family responsibilities. A Pew Research Center report released last year found that more than half of moms and dads found it difficult to balance the two.

A separate study, released by Insights In Marketing earlier this year, also showed that many moms and dads were struggling to balance “having it all.”