The Work Life Balance and Mental Health in the U.S. Workplace 

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Social problems are not a problem that can be resolved in a day. The complexity of these issues stem from the frames in which people view them. In order to create a solution to a problem you must first look at every aspect of the problem. Albert Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” His thinking was that the quality of a solution depends on your ability to identify the problem. A social problem is defined as “a social condition, event, or pattern of behavior that negatively affects the well being of a significant number of people, or a number of significant people, who believe that the condition, event, or pattern needs to be changed or ameliorated” (book).

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In order to study these problems, sociologists look at the subjective and objective aspects of the social problem. The objectivists side is determined by the empirical data collected on the issue to prove its existence. To define the subjectivists aspects, you have to understand how the people defined the problem. Different types of research are used to obtain this information such as survey research, participant observation, and interviewing. The three main theoretical perspectives of sociology can also be applied to better understand the construct of these problems. These theories are functional theory, symbolic interaction theory and conflict theory.

The problem of balance between work and life outside of work in connection to mental health all comes down to stress and its influences. The negative effects of stress due to work potentially affects every person in the workforce and those entering the workforce. A good balance typically does not exist as work is more demanding because it is necessary to work to provide for a family or oneself. This leads to a more stressful lifestyle which subsequently affects mental health. Work and mental health is a macro-level problem that occurs all across the country in various demographics and has different micro-level effects on individuals and their relationships.

A study conducted by Krista Lynn Minnotte and Deniz Yucel uses The Stress Process Model to analyze the relationship between job security and the effects it has on work-to-family conflict and family-to-work conflict. This methods focuses on the three facets of stress: “the source of stress, the mediators of stress, and the manifestations of stress.” (article) Work-to-family conflict is the overspill of work related stressors affecting family relationships; for example, a parent deals with a difficult client at work and is emotionally drained and then yells out of frustration at his kids when he gets home. Vise versa, family-to-work conflict leads to negative experiences at work that are caused by family demands or negative moods in the family. This can happen when a parent has to leave work to pick up their child from school which causes a delay in an important case at work. Both of these are sources of stress that ultimately have negative impacts on mental health which can lead to depression and psychological distress. “It is estimated that by 2020, depression alone will become the second leading cause for disease burden (Murray & Lopez, 1996)”

A manifestation of stress in the workplace can occur when a company is laying off people and your job is feeling threatened. Job security can impact work-family conflict as pressures to support family hightens. As the workforce is changing with more people having a college degree than past generations the need to continually update job skills is becoming a stressor. Another consequence associated with job insecurity includes the pressure of working longer hours. “A new study of 600,000 individuals in Australia, the United States, and Europe published in the Lancet, a United Kingdom-based medical journal, found that people who more more than 55 hours per week or more have a 33% greater risk of stroke and a 13% greater risk of coronary heart disease.” (fortune) A 2006 Pew Research Center survey found that about six-in-ten people said that the average working person had less job security in 2006 than 20 to 30 years earlier, and 70% said that workers were required to update their skills more frequently than in the past. Pew’s survey also asked how they think the workplace will be in future years and majority agreed that these issues will only intensify. These pressures from work produce an environmental stress on an employee.

To understand the subjective aspect, it is important to know how employees feel about their jobs and who is in fact the most affected by work-life stress. According to Pew, Americans are mainly satisfied with their jobs. However, not everyone views their job as a career. Three-in-ten workers view their job as “just a job to get them by” and 18% of workers say their job is just a stepping stone for their career while the other 50% see their job as their career. Those who have found their career are typically 30 years old or older, have a higher education, are full time with a salary and a higher income. Job satisfaction differs by education, income, and certain job attributes. People’s attitude about their job affects others parts of their lives and their overall sense of happiness. Since the 1980’s, Americans’ confidence in job security has steadily increased with 60% of employed Americans thinking that it is highly unlikely for them to be laid off within the next twelve months, only 28% not very likely, 7% somewhat likely, and only 5% say it is possible. However, out of those with less than a high school diploma, 39% say that it is very likely that they could be laid off or fired within the next 12 months. The thought of future unemployment whether real or just a threat can create a huge strain on life and work.

A study conducted by Jeremy D. Mackey, Pamela L. Perrewe, and Charn P. McAllister, uses two stress process models to analyze workplace stress and how employees are influenced by organizational fit, The conservation of Resources Model and the Job Demands-Resources Model. The JD-R Model looks at job demands and how they introduce job strain processes and how resources can stimulate motivational processes. Work conflict, overload, irregular hours, high work pressure, and unfavorable physical work environments are all common job demands. Just as stress can be good and bad, job demands can be considered hindrance or challenge stressors. Hindrances stressors are situations that interfere with an employees ability to achieve optimal goals and cause negative effects.. Challenge stressors are potentially rewarding to employees which encourages them to achieve work goals and promote personal development. .

Objectivists research uses empirical data to prove the existence of a social problem. For example, the specific issue of mental health in the workplace is shown by the statistics of depression in future years. However, work is only one factor of stress. It is important to also include other factors such as income, geography, and ethnicity. A limitation of objectivists research is that it does not always specify what causes the harm. On the other hand subjectivists research is based on how people define social problems. This is valuable information as it gives a more personal perspective of events. Today, media tends to skew the frame of a problem for different reasons which can limit the value of information.

The American Institute of Stress is an nonprofit corporation located in Texas. Their mission is to “is to improve the health of the community and the world by setting the standard of excellence of stress management in education, research, clinical care and the workplace.” (AIS) They offer video lectures, online classes, music therapy, articles, etc. One of their articles about stress in the workplace called Stress Management in Work Settings, talks about how the individual should not be the target for change, but instead the design of the job or structure of the organization should be examined. However the way stress management is implemented makes not real effort to reduce stressors at work. This program is aimed at a micro-level of targeting individual businesses and their employees. Another organization is The American Psychiatric Association Foundation offers a program called Right Direction. This program focuses on depression in the workplace and offers employers the resources needed to approach this issue. This program is free and includes webinars and a materials library readily available on their website. Many companies have joined this initiative and have strengthened employee assistance programs, medical and mental health/abuse plans, and other health benefit programs. 

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The Work Life Balance and Mental Health in the U.S. Workplace . (2022, Apr 12). Retrieved November 29, 2022 , from

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