How does an unhealthy work-life balance affect you?
Published on 24 March 2022
Finding the right balance between work and general living is proving to be a
burgeoning challenge with many employees feeling snowed under by the
demands and stressors of modern living. We explore how this phenomenon
might affect you.
Know someone who is struggling? You can help.
Convey your full presence by listening attentively and without
Let the person know they are safe in sharing their emotions
Allow them to ventilate and express their emotions
Check in on them from time to time
What is work-life balance?
Longer working hours and increasing personal and familial commitments have
taken a toll on the well-being of many people today. Furthermore, with
technology blurring the boundaries between work hours and downtime, many
are struggling to find that elusive sweet spot and are paying the price for it.
Today’s nation of workaholics are known to neglect fundamental needs such as
sleep, enjoyment, and interpersonal relationships at the behest of their
workload. This tipping of the scales is what we’ve come to know as a poor
work-life balance, resulting in a spectrum of physical and mental repercussions
for the individual.
A 2019 study ranked Singapore a low 32 out of 40 countries in terms of
population work-life balance. This study also corresponded with another second
place ranking that assessed Singapore to be one of the most overworked cities
in the world.
On the surface, maintaining a healthy work-life balance seems to be just about
striking an equal tension between work and non-work aspects of life. However,
Dr Chan Hui Minn, Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist, Psychological Medicine at
National University Hospital (NUH)
, postulated that it is more profound than
“Diving into it more deeply, we can think of good work-life balance as a state of
harmony in the various areas of human living, and us deriving enjoyment from
our functions in each one of these areas, such that the resultant blend
empowers us to attain our life goals in a personally meaningful manner,” she
A 2008 research
study on work-life balance defined the concept as deeply
individualistic and intrinsically connected to our personal objectives, describing
it as ‘the individual perception that work and non-work activities are compatible
and promote growth in accordance with an individual’s current life priorities.’
Kalliath, T., & Brough, P. (2008). Work–life balance: A review of the meaning of the balance construct. Journal of Management & Organization, 14(3), 323-327.
The cost of work-life imbalance
With personal care and leisure taking a backseat in the face of urgent and
ever-present work, many are experiencing a phenomenon known as burn-out.
According to the World Health Organisation, burn-out is an occupational
phenomenon resulting from chronic work stress that has not been successfully
managed. The effects of burn-out are usually typified by the following
Feeling of energy depletion or exhaustion
Increased mental distance from one’s job
Feelings of negativity or cynicism to one’s job
Reduced professional efficacy
Outside of work, not possessing a healthy work-life balance can also affect you
psychologically. “The adverse effects of a poor work-life balance bleed into areas
beyond work and leave us unable to achieve satisfaction from the pleasures that
life offers, whether in terms of our interpersonal relationships or leisurely
activities that we usually engage in,” said Dr Chan.
The long-term effects of poor work-life balance are not just limited to a decrease
in our professional capacities – it can also significantly affect our physical
“The chronic stress that comes from not having a healthy work-life balance can
lead to lasting structural and functional damages to our brain,” Dr Chan said.
“These include changes in the anatomy of brain structures involved in stress
modulation, as well as in the connectivity between brain regions involved in
emotion processing and regulation.”
Prolonged periods of not being able to manage stress levels and to find
personal fulfilment can even take a toll on our immune system. “An important
consequence of not having a good work-life balance over an extended period of
time is the dysregulation of our neuroendocrine system, involving the
hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the production of cortisol,
commonly known as the ‘stress hormone’,” she explained.
“Over time, this can lead to low-grade inflammation that can create longer-term
Tell-tale signs and symptoms
Not having a healthy balance can result in the deterioration of our physical,
emotional and professional functions. So what are some of the tell-tale signs
that you are not experiencing a healthy work-life balance?
Dr Chan advised individuals to ask themselves the following questions:
Do you feel tired even before getting to work?
Are you more worn out than usual at the end of a work day?
Do you feel emotionally drained most of the time? Are you less
empathetic towards others?
Do you feel guilty for not spending enough time with loved ones (and
Are you easily emotional (e.g. crying, getting angry and irritable) for no
Do you feel resentful about work?
Do you find it difficult to see the meaning and value of what you do?
Do you feel a loss of a sense of achievement?
Do you find yourself disconnected from your colleagues and work
Tell-tale signs and symptoms
Not having a healthy balance can result in the deterioration of our physical, emotional and professional functions.
getting to work?
more than usual at
the end of a work day?
most of the time?
for not spending
enough time with loved ones
(crying, getting angry and irritable)
for no apparent reason?
meaning and value
of what you do?
colleagues and work tasks?
Strive towards a
a workspace free
a schedule with
breaks and work
How to improve
that you need
bad WLB effects
in the face
city in the world