Amid continuing uncertainty about job security and the never-ending pressure to deliver more with less, the Great Recession has prompted a growing number of Americans to question whether the sacrifices they have made name of work are really worth it.
That's according to a new study led by Florida State University Professor, Wayne Hochwarter, which examined the recession's role in changing employees' attitudes towards work, their commitment to their families, and the pursuit of a more balanced lifestyle.
Hochwarter and research associates Tyler Everett and Stuart Tapley quizzed more than 1,000 full-time employees across a range of occupations and career stages. What they found is that employers' demands for more output with less support and fewer rewards is leading to some striking changes in thinking.
For example, almost half the employees questioned said that the recession has increased their appreciation of their family. A similar proportion said that it has helped them recognize the value of people over things.
"Many of the people that we talked to felt that having less faith in work afforded them opportunities to direct more faith toward other often-neglected areas of life, and in most cases, it was family and friends," Tyler Everett said.
Four out of 10 felt that most of what happens at work is out of their control, regardless of the commitment and effort they put in, while more than a third (37 per cent) said that they now feel that work isn't as important as it once was in the grand scheme of things.
In addition, a quarter felt that the recession has brought home to them that their work-life balance has become too skewed toward work at the expense of their family and leisure time.
As Stuart Tapley pointed out, however, the very fact that many employees have begun to evaluate the importance of non-work factors may be the first step in reducing the stress associated with their imbalanced lives.
The study also suggests that recession-related stress tends to manifest differently in men and women.
"Digging a little deeper into the data, it was evident that men's reflective, and often remorseful, thoughts were driven by recession-related job insecurity and its subsequent role in encouraging hostile work treatment," Hochwarter said.
Women's thoughts, on the other hand, were triggered by more by conflicts between work and family obligations. Women said that their job obligations have increased in recent years, resulting in them having fewer hours to spend on family life.
The researchers add that attitudes towards work are also markedly different across different generations. For Millennial Generation employees in particular (those born roughly between the mid-1970s and the early 2000s) work-life balance is an issue that is not going to go away, with work sharing equal (or lesser) status with friends, family and leisure.
As one study participant, a 44-year-old accounting director, put it:
"I've learned a lot from the younger people we hired here in the past few years. I've learned that there is a big world out there away from work where there are fun things to do and people who care about me not because I pay the bills, but because I'm Dad. I wish management around here would take their lead, or better yet, let them run things. Everyone would feel less stressed out!"