A Balanced Act

Employees have witnessed a notable increase in the extent to which their organizations encourage work-life balance (Kim, Galinsky, & Ipshita, 2020; Laker & Roulet, 2019). The widespread push toward a culture of work-life balance is assumed to be a virtue that improves job satisfaction while reducing the likelihood of burnout (Allen, 2001; Behson, 2005; Thompson & Prottas, 2006). However, a vexing problem surfaces when considering the link between organizational culture and ethnic culture: organizations that place a premium on work-life balance may inadvertently undermine the experience of employees who hail from ethnic cultures that place an especially strong emphasis on work as a virtue (e.g., East Asians). Although all cultures attest to the importance of work for making a living, supporting family, and contributing productively to society, many East Asian cultures – including the Chinese, South Korean, and Japanese – place an especially strong emphasis on the core value of industriousness (Hong, 2001; Kim & Park, 2003; Kitayama & Salvador, 2024; Redding, 1990; Tsang, 2011), which we define as viewing hard work as so virtuous that people should devote more time to it than other areas of life. We integrate research on culture conflict and cognitive dissonance theory to argue that East Asians experience reduced job satisfaction and engagement when their organizations prioritize work-life balance, and that this effect is mediated by reduced organizational identification. Through this research, we advance the literature on work-life balance by challenging the assumption that a stronger emphasis on work-life balance is uniformly beneficial for engagement and satisfaction. We highlight a dark side to a culture of work-life balance for some employees, including for the psychological conditions that are ostensibly bolstered by such cultures.

Research conducted by Drew Carton, Associate Professor of Management; the Wharton School, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stephanie Yu, Doctoral Candidates in Management, the Wharton School, the University of Pennsylvania