This study explored the association between work–life balance and psychosocial well-being. Previous research has found that work–life balance predicts well-being [7, 9, 10, 14]. Of note, two cross-sectional studies obtained some interesting results. Gröpel and Kuhl  revealed that psychosocial well-being is positively correlated with work–life balance (β = 0.40, p < 0.001) and negatively correlated with work–family conflict (β = − 0.39, p < 0.001) which is an important cause of poor work-life balance. Grant-Vallone and Donaldson  found a significant negative association (β = − 0.29, p < 0.001) between work–family conflict (an important cause of poor work-life balance) and self-reported well-being. In our study, work–life balance was also associated with psychosocial well-being. The crude analysis revealed an association between poor work–life balance and poor psychosocial well-being (PR = 1.32, 95% CI 1.29 to 1.35). Even after adjusting for work-related and individual characteristics, the well-being of the group with a poor work–life balance was significantly lower (PR = 1.25, 95% CI 1.21 to 1.28).
As mentioned in the introduction the definition of work-life balance is still controversial. Due to this controversy it is important to have a look at the various definitions of work-life balance. Greenhaus, Collins, and shaw defined work-life balance as a balance and equity across multiple roles. Greenhaus, Collins, and Shaw also proposed that work-life balance reflects one’s orientation across different life roles, and inter-role phenomenon. Furthermore, they suggest that work-life balance is the extent to which an individual is engaged in – and equally satisfied with – one’s work role and social role with three components including time balance, involvement balance, and satisfaction balance.  Grzywacz & Bass  and Frone  viewed the psychological part of the work-life balance and defined it as an absence of inter-role conflict and higher levels of inter-role facilitation. Se′necal, Vallerand, and Guay proposed that work-life balance depends on time allocation across various life-roles and a subjective sufficiency of the time available for work and social roles.  By adapting the questionnaire from the KWCS ‘In general, do your working hours fit in with your family or social commitments outside work?’ we view and evaluate work-life balance as sufficiency of the time available for work and social roles.
In simple terms, work–life balance must consider multiple aspects of work, family needs, and social life . First, it is necessary to understand why work–life balance affects psychosocial well-being. Role theory and the scarcity hypothesis can be used to examine this . Within role theory, the scarcity hypothesis suggests that individuals have fixed amounts of time and energy for multiple roles . Consequently, increased roles lead to higher role conflict, overload, and negative psychological repercussions. This fixed amount of energy and time results in conflict, stress, and anxiety. Previous studies have supported the notion that multiple roles lead to conflict, overload, and stress and have a negative impact on the well-being and performance of employees [26, 28]. As a result, conflict between work and social life could result in objective and psychological conflict . It can also be explained by needs fulfillment . Well-being is enhanced when goals are met. To reach these goals, resources are required, i.e., time, energy, money, and so forth . The resources available for the goals are thought to be the best predictors of well-being . If one sees time as an important resource, the sufficiency of time to reach that goal can affect well-being. However, not all goals affect well-being. Only goals that satisfy important psychological needs increase well-being . As a result, sufficient time available for work and private life will affect well-being if personal needs are met only within that time . Conversely, insufficient time or conflict within the work and non-work domains may decrease the level of well-being due to needs frustration.
Several important outcomes of poor work–life balance have been documented. Besides decreasing well-being, conflict between work and non-work roles leads to psychological symptoms such as stress, increased depression, anxiety , increased somatic complaints , and poor physical health .
We analyzed data on three predictor models and obtained some interesting results. Our finding that a poor work environment was associated with poor psychosocial well-being is in line with previous results. Long work hours and low-level job autonomy were associated with poor well-being. As also found in previous studies, long work hours and low-level job autonomy mean that workers have poor control over both their work and private lives . An earlier study found that long working hours correlates with higher levels of anxiety and depression . If less time is spent at work, and greater control over work is granted to the worker, psychosocial well-being would improve. Job type, the work environment, and socioeconomic status vary among occupations. We assume that blue-collar workers are more susceptible to poor well-being because of lower incomes, longer working hours, and low job flexibility . However, some authors disagree, arguing that white-collar occupations associated with autonomy and flexibility pose greater job demands and responsibilities that spill over from work into the family, negatively affecting well-being . Poor support at work was also associated with poor well-being. Studies have shown that a low level of support at work can cause problems that spill over into family life, degrading the work–life balance further and compromising psychosocial well-being [39, 40]. In studies conducted in Turkey  and Thailand , greater work intensity significantly predicted lower psychological well-being. In comparison, our study found a positive association between higher work intensity and good psychosocial well-being. We cannot explain this or cite a relevant prior study regarding this result. We speculate that the two relevant terms used to explore this (“working at a very fast pace” and “working to tight deadlines”) may not have adequately explored the work environment.
Female gender and older age increased the likelihood of poor psychosocial well-being, explained by the fact that both age and gender are associated with the emotional state . Cohabitation status (living with someone) was associated with poor well-being, in line with the results of a previous study; family demands can increase stress that spills over into work . This view is supported by role theory, which suggests that conflict between the increased demands of work and social roles may increase stress-related symptoms and lower psychosocial well-being . According to recent studies, however, cohabitation reduces the likelihood of declining physical health and psychological disorders due to a good combination of work-related and partner roles . A lesser contribution to household income was associated with better well-being, consistent with previous findings . Logically, one would think that the higher the proportion of household income earned the greater the burden on that individual.
Our study had some limitations. First, although we identified an association between a poor work–life balance and poor well-being, the cross-sectional nature of the work means that causal and directional inferences cannot be made. To confirm any directional and causal inferences, a cohort study needs to be conducted. Second, our study used the fourth Korean Working Conditions Survey instead of a customized questionnaire. Considering work–life balance characteristics other than work-related variables is also important. In addition to work domains, family and private social domains and personality traits that might affect psychosocial well-being should also be considered. However, the survey does not contain adequate questionnaire items to analyze family or private social factors, such as cultural traditions and social infrastructure. Third, the variables for work–life balance and psychosocial well-being were dichotomized as good and poor, between which there is ambiguity. Despite these limitations, our study is the first to investigate the association between work–life balance and psychosocial well-being using a large nationwide sample of South Koreans. Although directional inferences are difficult to make due to the cross-sectional data, the possibility of reverse causality remains, as poor psychosocial well-being may potentially increase the likelihood of poor work–life balance. As mentioned above, South Korea ranks very low in terms of the OECD Work–Life Balance Index . It is important to have a close look at work–life balance through various data and studies. In our study, it is meaningful that we used the fourth Korean working conditions survey data, which is representative of South Korea.