"Work-life balance" sounds kind of pretentious. A little new-age-y. It sounds like something they spout at performance reviews, on benefits paperwork, and in staff meetings about ensuring human performance doesn't suffer because people are overworked. It IS one of those things they say. However, that doesn't make it bad.
It is important for men and for women. Men who don't get to spend time with newborn babies or with their children (especially children with special needs), who don't get to take some time once a week to read a book that's not for work, or who don't get enough sleep, don't eat dinner with their families most nights, or spend every waking minute thinking about what needs done the next workday. It is difficult for men without children, too, to find a balance. When you don't have kids, or you're single, it can be complicated.
It is equally difficult for women without children. For women with children, I can't even fathom, especially single mothers, but there are plenty of them out there who have amazing careers. But why is work-life balance SO important?
Burnout is first on the list. If you do nothing but work, or mostly just work, your performance can really suffer, because you can't get perspective. You can't step back and let your brain refresh, and having weeklong vacations once-or-more year is often not enough for that. Weekly to bi-weekly breaks from work are important, that's why 9/80 schedules, 4/10 schedules, and telecommuting have become more normal in even old-school and traditional corporations.
Second is the possibility of failed marriages or neglected children (not in the abusive fashion, just normal neglect of parental relationships). How many people end up having too close of relationships with people at work and see their marriages fall apart? What about people who work too much barely seeing their kids except for disciplinary or mandatory events? The overworked (or workaholic) spouse or parent isn't just a Hollywood stereotype.
Third, and possibly most importantly, is health. I am a big proponent of the "I must take care of myself first because if I am not healthy enough to function, I cannot care for other people" ideal, which is why I fall into the category of "selfish," because people ignore the part after the comma. If you aren't healthy, your work will suffer, your family life will suffer, and so on. People who work in offices are more likely to have health problems of so many different varieties (heart problems, more colds, back pain, headaches, eye strain, blood pressure issues, etc.), have less opportunity to exercise and eat healthy foods, eat on irregular schedules, don't sleep enough or don't sleep well enough, and are more likely to skip going to the doctor.
When people who do hard labor jobs get injured or sick, they go to the doctor because otherwise their work is impeded drastically. When people who work in offices get injured or sick, they work from home, they call into meetings, they come into the office anyway. They get other people sick, they delay their healing time, and many of them don't go to the doctor unless it's near disabling. They don't notice how much their work suffers unless they're very self-aware, and deadlines make it hard to examine your quality of work sometimes. Being in work sick also distracts others - how many cube rats like me get driven near-crazy by people coughing, sneezing, and sniffling all day?
So how to fix it?
Alternate work schedules are a good start. More vacation time, in my opinion, is really great, too. Allowing floating holidays is a plus. Setting up "admin" days for employees to handle the administrative issues (e-mail, corporate paperwork for benefits, etc.). Allowing people to have legitimate mental-health days, and sick days. I think in the end it will pay companies back, because the employees are more likely to actually WORK at work, they will be healthier, there will be less people sick and out of the office, and the productivity will not be as affected.
It can be easier if people enjoy their job or at least have healthy relationships at their job. Not everyone can love the work they do, even though that would be awesome, but recent studies have found that having friends or acquaintances at work helps you live longer. Having a strong social network out of work is also really important.
Work-life balance is important for everyone, in every level of business - whether you are entry level, manager, or upper-level management, whether you are support or technical, whether you own a small business, you work part-time, or you're in a major corporation. It's important regardless of your personal situation - with kids or without them, single or partnered, low-, middle-, or high-income, and regardless of gender.
Do you have a good work-life balance? Do you think it is something you need to change? What policies does your workplace have that you think helps or hinders work-life balance?