Impact of Poor Work Life Balance on Expats  

31 March 2022

Are you on expat assignment, feeling like you can never get a break from work? Are you working more hours than you did previously? Is everything starting to feel like a bit too much?

Rest assured you are not alone. Studies of expats conducted more than a decade ago showed many globally mobile employees were struggling to find a good balance between their work and home life. On average expats spent 13.5 hours more working while overseas than they would in their home country. The reasons for this included:

  • Challenges of the new role
  • Incentives for successful project completion
  • Lack of organisational support for work-life balance

If anything, work life imbalance has become an issue for employees regardless of whether they are on assignment or not. Over the pandemic as office based employees transitioned to remote working, many from home, blurring the line between work and home life. A US study by SHRM found 70% of professionals were working on the weekend and almost half worked more hours during the week than before the crisis. 



Finding a good expat work-life balance is going to be unique to us all. It isn’t necessarily about finishing at 5pm every day. It is much more about feeling fulfilled and content in both areas of your life. A healthy work-life balance might be:

  • Having time to eat well and sleep
  • Meeting your work deadlines while also having time for family and friends
  • Not worrying about work while you are away from work

It is when working long hours becomes the norm that poor work-life balance can have a detrimental impact on your mental and physical health.

If you find you have been putting too much focus on your work-life for an extended period the repercussions for your health, wellbeing and the success of your expat assignment can be severe. 
If you are struggling to switch off from work on a regular basis it is likely to impact your mental health over time. It may begin as increased feelings of anxiety but if you don’t pay attention, it may lead to burnout. Burnout is a state of physical and mental exhaustion experienced after a sustained period of stress. Research by Deloitte in 2021 shows that burnout is becoming increasingly common globally as 77% of employees said they had experienced burnout in their current position. 
Following on from poor mental health and burnout is the need to take a break from work. If you have poor work-life balance as an expat you are more likely to need to take sick leave from work to rest, recuperate and recover. This may have a detrimental impact on achieving your assignment goals. 
On the flip side, you may try to push through while suffering from stress or burnout. The result of this is presenteeism where you may be at work but you are not productive. This is a difficult and frustrating situation to be in, particularly if you are used to being a high achiever in your role. 
In the most extreme cases poor work-life balance can lead to expat failure. When you do not achieve the goals of your assignment or have to return home early. The reasons an assignment doesn’t work out, can be complex but poor work-life balance may well play a part. One of the most often cited reasons for expat failure are ‘family issues’ where a spouse or children struggle to settle into their new home. The chances of this occurring is increased if you are not available to support or spend quality time with them. 
Medical studies are increasingly linking poor work-life balance with increased incidences of stroke and heart disease later in life. Some studies show those who work more than 55 hours per week have a 1.3 times higher risk of stroke than those working fewer hours. So really the stakes could not be higher when it comes to work life balance as an expat and employee. 

As mentioned earlier, finding what represents work-life balance for you is personal and unique. Initially you may wish to reflect on your values, what makes you feel productive and what energises you both inside and outside of work. From here you can begin to set boundaries to achieve better work-life balance allowing you to reach your work goals while also having a happy home life.


If you are struggling, see if your international health insurance plan has an expat assistance programme you can leverage for help.