Conventional wisdom has long asserted that work is stressful and home is relaxing, but a new report suggests that the opposite may be the case for many.
For most, the phrase “the end of the day” conjures up images of walking through the front door, dropping the brief case, loosening the tie, kicking off the office-smart pumps, and breathing a sigh of relief to be home. Studies show that Americans work a lot, and they report that their work is stressful. However, for Sarah Damaske, the stereotypes and anecdotes were not convincing: she wanted to measure real markers of stress and find out for sure whether work was more stressful than home.
Damaske, professor of labor and employment at Pennsylvania State University, measured the levels of a stress response hormone called cortisol in 122 people over the course of three days. Six times each day, the participants swabbed a little bit of their saliva into sample collection viles and reported on how they felt. The results were surprising: The lowest cortisol levels were observed during work hours. The participants experienced lower stress levels while at work than while at home.
“This is across gender, across education level, across occupation level,” Damaske says. “So, a pretty strong finding.”
In the self-reports, men said their days were pretty consistent from waking up to going to bed, whereas women tended to say that they were happier at work.
“Part of this might be women are leaving work and then cooking dinner and doing the dishes,” Damaske says. “Even though men are doing more than they did 30 years ago, it’s still not an even distribution.”
The results of the study may not be that surprising when considered in the context of past findings. Several studies have concluded that people who work have better physical and mental health measures compared with people who do not work. Damaske and colleagues suggested that when attempting to resolve work-family conflicts, the time-honored solution of cutting back on work may not be as obvious as once thought.
The brief report was published by a non-profit organization called The Council on Contemporary Families.