Work and Leisure (Definition, Relationships, and Differences)

Work and Leisure


Historically, work used to be perceived as a dishonor-able occupation. During that period, being rich means that you didn’t have to work and you had someone to work for you. In primitive societies, work was naturally like a game which means that there was no difference between work and leisure because people spent most of their time working to sustain their life and therefore, there was no free time (leisure).

But after transitioning from nomadic society to settled society, the meaning of work changed and new notions like division of labor, property, and products emerged out of work.

Until the 18th century, work meant to produce something important for survival and not have to do something for tomorrow, just work for today. In 18th century western (European) society, work had a religious meaning that carried protestant moral values. At that time, the protestants had a belief that if you work, then it means you are being responsible to God and make him happy.

But, with the discovery of the steam engine by James Watt in the 18th century, Industrial Revolution took place and the mechanization (use of machines) of industries, mass production, and huge profit brought increased income and wealth to the people, thus creating a new society called industrial society that changed social life. So in today, industrial society, work means an activity, where an individual sells time in return for pay (salary, wage) and usually bind by norms and values of the workplace.


The word leisure is derived from the Latin word, ‘licere’ which means ‘to be free’. So, leisure is defined as the free time where time is spent beyond one’s work/job, business, domestic chores, education, regular activities such as eating and sleeping.

In ancient Greece, leisure entailed class discrimination where leisure was just for nobles and rulers. In the modern era, i.e. after the Industrial Revolution, leisure started to be perceived as an independent and self-directed area of life, where the individual had the freedom to engage in activity apart from routine jobs i.e. works. Leisure is not a time in which nothing is done, but leisure is a time to be spent fruitfully to create knowledge, pleasures, and satisfaction and may or may not involve pay.

Leisure has been defined by different scholars as:

  • Mullett (1988), defined leisure as “a time after work.”
  • Soule mentioned that a time sold by people to earn money is work (job) and the rest time can be accepted leisure without worrying about what to do.

Importance of leisure:

  • Provides relaxation
  • Relieves stress
  • Recharge mind and body

Difference between Work and Leisure

How is leisure different form work?

  • Work is what we do because we have to (usually for money). While, leisure is what we choose to do in our free time (usually for pleasure, or relaxation).
  • Work is an activity, where an individual participates in regular jobs for survival and is usually bound by norms and values of the workplace. While, leisure is an activity, in which an employee or worker experiences freedom of choice to do anything.
  • Work is sold time to another person in compensation for pay (salaries and wages). While, leisure is not a time in which nothing is done, but leisure is a time to be spent fruitfully to create knowledge, pleasures, and satisfaction and may or may not involve pay.
  • The participant in work is under compulsion to participate. While the participant in a leisure activity is under no compulsion to participate.
  • Work is productive. While leisure may or may not be productive but must not involve an individual’s duties and functions in the workplace. For example, a person may play the guitar in a nightclub in leisure (free time).

Work and Leisure Relationship

Both work and leisure occupy a major part of a person’s life, therefore, first, it is important to understand the meaning of work by examining its relationship with leisure.

There are various models to explain the relationship between the two. They are:

Spillover: Research has found positive relationships between work and leisure, such that people choose leisure activities involving the same psychological, social, and behavioral skills as their work.

Compensation: Other studies argue, negative relationship with individuals sometimes compensating for work deficiencies through leisure activities. For e.g. individuals with low occupational status are more likely to stress the importance of prize-winning in leisure than individuals with high status.

Segmentation: Work and leisure are independent and has no relationship.

The other approaches to understanding work and leisure relationship argue that that non-work area such as family, community, and recreation can increase the number of privileges enjoyed beyond work-related ones, reduce strains of work, gain contacts and information valuable to work and develop useful skills and perspectives for work, thus affecting attitude and commitment towards work.

The importance of leisure has grown and so its value. Leisure participation has a beneficial effect on satisfaction, psychological well-being, and health that add positive outcomes such as the opportunity for skill utilization, self-expression and self-actualization, gratification, freedom of choice, and an avenue to develop one’s sense of competence necessary for the workplace.

However, the study has shown that the increase in leisure importance, at the expense of work is a matter of further research.

Work-Leisure Conflict

When people are busy with work intensively, then they cannot spare enough time for their family and entertainment, this situation is called work-leisure conflict. If work-leisure conflict level rises, then the level of leisure satisfaction diminishes as well.

Kelly (1972) stated that work is necessary to sustain life but too much working, overtime has a negative effect on people’s family time and leisure. This condition causes burnout and diminishes life satisfaction. For employees, overtime and work pressure are the reason for their resignation.

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