- Published: 19 October 2008
Everyone has many roles in life – from employee, colleague, and team mate to parent, partner, sibling, and carer; these roles change throughout the lifecycle. The demands of each of these roles vary between people, depending on lifestyle and priorities. They each require time and energy, and since clashes between such demands are not infrequent, they tend to cause stress. Resultant stress is inclined to cause work-life conflict; conversely, work-life balance tends to occur when these two sets of demands are flexible enough to allow time and energy for the other. [1, 2]
Work and life can conflict in many ways. There can be an overload of work in all areas of life by people taking too much on themselves and then lacking the time they require to do it all. This may be inevitable for some. Work can interfere with family life – not being able to spend time with family members, work stress overflowing to family life, or inability to meet family commitments. Family can interfere with work, especially when a family member becomes sick and requires care, or family stresses can overflow to work life. Those who have caregiver responsibilities can develop anxiety as a result of physical, emotional or financial pressures resulting from their caregiving. The imbalances that can occur in work and ‘life’ responsibilities have direct impact on “social and economic status, participation in public life, health and emotional wellbeing” . These occur for both men and women. Women tend to work less either by taking years off work, retiring early or working part-time, which not only decreases the amount they earn in their working life but also decreases their levels of superannuation. Men have difficulties in childcare with lacking ‘fatherfriendly’ spaces, and in meeting family responsibilities due to lacking support at work. [1, 2]
Work-life balance is not solely about childcare and working women. With generational changes there is increasing importance of ‘elder-care’, and caring responsibilities are taken on by men as well as women. Nevertheless, the burden of ‘unpaid work’ remains largely carried by women, despite increases in paid work over the last decades, leading to work overload. This appears partially due to the lack of access men have in the work place to flexible working conditions. Work overload appears to be worse with higher levels of female education, and it is found that women who work spend as much time in active play and learning with their children as non-working women. With regards to family support of career, it is found that men with demanding careers often have female partners doing less paid work to do more at home, allowing their partner the time they require for work commitments. This tends not to work in the reverse, when the female partner has a more demanding career it appears that a more equal share of family responsibilities occurs. Societal attitudes tend to still see unpaid work roles as ‘women’s work’, specifically the caring for children, disabled and elderly, as well as household chores – with parenthood noted to increase women’s workload significantly more than men’s. There is also an emerging “sandwich generation”  – women in their thirties and forties who have to cope with demands of caring for their children as well as parents, and sometimes grandparents or alternatively grandchildren, in addition to ‘normal’ demands from home and work. Women tend not to alter time spent in caring or working when they have work overload, but spend less time on their own leisure, personal care and sleep. [1-7]
Work-life conflicts are pre-empted, which leads to some people choosing to limit the size of their families as well as delaying the start of their family. These are mostly impacted on by the woman’s career. It also results in more absent days from work and lower job satisfaction. Since these pressures are felt more by women, this is one of the reasons that there is still inequality in both employment and occupation. It has been recognised that unpaid responsibilities need to be more highly valued if there is going to be real work-life balance at a societal level. [2, 5]
The above-mentioned findings are found in the medical profession. There are increasing demands for flexible working conditions by both genders and at both ends of the working life. Access to flexible working hours is one of the most important factors junior doctors state when choosing career paths. The effect on the training years needing to change has also been influenced by the introduction of graduate medical schools, resulting in a substantial proportion of junior medical doctors being in their late twenties or early thirties when they graduate, a time of life where family commitment is imminent, if not already present. At the other end of the working life spectrum, many doctors desire time off for leisure or other responsibilities after having committed their earlier years completely to their career. 
There are many factors that influence the way we distribute our time between our work and family responsibilities. Often they are not ones we have the ability to change ourselves. It needs a whole of society approach to change work environments and impact societal demands in order for a true work-life balance to be attainable for all, equally.
1. Duxbury, L and Higgins, C (2008). Executive Summary to the report: 'Work-life balance in Australia in the New Millennium: rhetoric versus reality'. Beaton Consulting Pty Ltd.
2. Squire, S and Tilly, J (2007). It's About Time: Women, men, work and family; Final paper, 2007. K O'Connell. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
3. Broderick, E, Time to adjust the work-life balance, The Australian. 2008. p. 31.
4. Broderick, E, Women's business is everybody's business, Sydney Morning Herald. 2007: Sydney.
5. Craig, L, Submission to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into Balancing Work and Family.Office for Women, 2005
6. von Doussa, J (QC). It's About Time: Women, men, work and family. 2007 (9 March). [cited 22 August 2008]; Available from: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/about/Media/media_releases/op_ed/its_about_time.html.
7. Baxter, J and Western, M. Satisfaction with Housework: Explaining the Paradox. in The Australian Family Research Conference. 1996. Brisbane, 27-29 November.22 August, 2008. Available from: http://www.aifs.gov.au/institute/afrcpapers/baxter.html
8. Australian Medical Association, Submission to: Striking the Balance: Women, men, work and family, Discussion Paper 2005. 2005.