The expression the “work-life balance” first came about in the 1970’s, as a way to express the relationship between a person’s working life and private life. First used in 1986 in the United States, this concept has increased in importance as the separation of the private and professional sectors of life have continued to grow.
Over the past two decades, a substantial increase in work, due to improving information technology capabilities in business and a highly competitive work environment, causes many workers to experience burnout and excessive stress. From 1977 to 1997, full time workers have increased their weekly working hours from 43.6 to 47.1, not including travel time to and from work. This trend is present in all lines of work, from blue-collar jobs to white-collar upper management jobs. The stress and overexertion experienced by employees has resulted in workplace violence, greater absenteeism, and a larger number of worker’s compensation claims.
According to the Center for Work-Life Policy, about 1.7 million people consider their jobs and work hours to be excessive. Additionally, workers in high stress situations are three times more likely to suffer from stress-related medical conditions and twice as likely to quit their jobs.
In response to these negative changes in both individual workers and the workforce as a whole, the United States introduced laws in order to help employees in the 1990’s. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 protects eligible employees from negative consequences due to personal or immediate family major events, such as the birth of a child or serious illness. Additionally, Massachusetts enacted the Small Necessities Act of 1998 to expand the rights protected by FMLA. The Small Necessities Act guarantees workers twenty-four hours of unpaid leave during any twelve month period in order to allow workers to participate in their children’s after school activities or in order to help an older relative with a doctor’s appointment.
Overall, the United States is not as workplace family-oriented as many other comparable countries. For example, the United States is one of only five countries out of 173 that does not guarantee paid maternity leave. For sick days, 145 countries provide sick days for their employees; the United States has no federal law requiring paid sick days. Additionally, the United States does not have a maximum work week and has no overarching limit on the amount of overtime worked.