Work is work and home is the place you go to forget about work, right? That may be what most of us say, but according to a new study, it isn't how most of us really feel.
Penn State researchers asked men and women about their levels of stress and happiness at home and at work, and then measured their levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Both men and women had significantly lower levels of stress at work than at home, though the effect was more pronounced for women. [Tweet this fact!] But how is it possible that the place with the plasma TV, pillow-top mattress, and chocolate stash is the more stressful environment?
Many factors affect how you feel about work-life balance. For example, some people have to take their work home with them, thereby doubling their workload. Work environments also often have more measurable results, allowing people to see their progress and create an identity based on their success.
Women may be feeling the pressure to excel at both home and the office as well. Study author Sarah Damaske, Ph.D, an assistant professor of labor and employment relations, sociology, and women’s studies, says she attributes this finding to two things. "Women continue to do more work in the household and have less leisure time there than men, so when they come home from work, they may be more harried than men are," she explains. In addition, she's found that women have to make tough decisions about workforce participation, particularly when they have children, which means that women who remain employed are more likely to have found "good work."
Interestingly enough, the researchers found that parents didn't experience as big a drop in their stress levels at work as their non-parent counterparts did. This isn't surprising, as any parent knows that kids can vastly complicate both work and home life. But Damaske, a working mom herself, has a more positive explanation. "Kids are a natural stress reliever, helping parents to be less stressed at home," she says. "I think about my daughter and all the joy she's brought to my life. She's almost two and likes to dance when she's happy—so there's lots of dancing in my house these days! How could that not lower your stress?"
The researchers conclude that telling people to quit or cut back on work in order to resolve their work-family conflicts may not be the best advice in the long run. Rather they say companies should consider adopting family-friendly policies that allow workers to continue getting the health benefits of employment while still being able to meet their family responsibilities.
Are you more stressed at home than at work? Tell us why or why not in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine!