work-life balance
n. A state of equilibrium in which the demands of both a person's job and personal life are equal.
Also Seen As
Even the longest economic expansion in history cannot continue forever. And when it ends, what will happen to the smaller revolutions it has created? To the transformation of the office into a place where workers are acknowledged to have families? To the growing insistence of employees that their lives matter? Is all this talk of work-life balance really a change to the social core, or is it just cocktail conversation that will fade when the party's over?
—Lisa Belkin, “Life's Work,” The New York Times, March 29, 2000
A model employee is [one] who demonstrates a healthy work-life balance. In every company I know, the workaholic is alive — and sick. But is this the model we should emulate? Do company presidents proudly escort visitors through factories jubilantly exclaiming, "Yes, all my employees work an average of 20 hours each day!"? If they do, they probably neglect to mention the high turnover, above-average absenteeism, low morale, and jagged productivity levels.
—Tom Brown, “The model employee,” Industry Week, August 01, 1988
1986 (earliest)
Yet, some managers demean even the idea of vacation respites. "When I am not at work, I think about work," one executive revealed in an interview.

I know a lot of managers who would be proud to utter something like that for the record.

Dick Leider doubts that this is a healthy attitude. A Minneapolis consultant and author, Dick paints a picture of managers struggling to capture a mythical thing called "balance" — a proportioning of their lives with sufficient weight on professional activities, but with a healthy counterweight of family and personal interests.

"It used to be that work-and-life balance was a boutique issue," he says. "You know, something that would be great to worry about whenever — and if — one had some free time. But imbalance is killing people!"
—Tom Brown, “Time to diversify your 'life portfolio'?,” Industry Week, November 10, 1986
Words and phrases commonly act as cultural signposts that give us clues about where we are and where we're going. The phrase work-life balance is a perfect example. Coined in 1986, its usage in the mainstream press was sporadic for many years. For example, the Nexis database of major newspapers (the top 65 U.S. papers and another 35 top papers from around the world) lists about 32 articles that use this phrase from 1986 through to the end of 1996. The number then increases steadily for the next ten years or so:

1997 — 34
1998 — 76
1999 — 126
2000 — 386
2001 — 435
2002 — 407
2003 — 709
2004 — 908
2005 — 1,120
2006 — 1,312
2007 — 1,674
2008 — 1,601
2009 — 1,310
2010 — 1,516
2011 — 1,452

If the notion that newspapers reflect our lives isn't too quaint (and I don't believe it is), then this roughly geometric increase must reflect something interesting that's bubbled up from the depths of the cultural stew. Consider, too, some of the terms in this "Related Words" list: downshifter, inconspicuous consumption, rejecter, voluntary simplicity. Clearly the idea that our technologically hopped-up society is going too fast for some people — and not just for the usual cast of Luddites, either — is taking hold at some level.