How to Identify a Job With Good Work-Life Balance
When more than one-third of employed Americans began working from their living rooms and home offices in 2020, the need for work-life balance became more apparent than ever. Suddenly it felt difficult to shut the computer down and feel a separation from your work and private life.
As a result, endless articles and workplace initiatives have focused on how individuals can achieve work-life balance both in remote positions and in offices. But more recent trends are showing that workers are challenging where the responsibility lies.
"What the 'Great Resignation' is showing us is that employees are demanding more from their employers than ever before," says Emtrain CEO Janine Yancey. "And a work-life balance is now one of the most important factors in their decisions on where they will work."
Not only is it in the interest of employees to find a company that supports this balance, but it's also imperative that companies offer it in order to attract that talent.
We talked with hiring experts about why work-life balance matters and how to find a company that supports it. Read the below advice before accepting your next job offer.
What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance doesn't exist. At least no universal definition exists to capture what this means for everyone. For some, it might mean being able to step away from work at 5 p.m. each day without a second thought. For others in inherently stressful positions—think surgeons, teachers, politicians—there's no real way to leave the office without thinking about a patient, a student, or a constituent around the clock. Similarly, many workers take work home with them each and every day, grading papers after work or attending evening meetings.
That's why Julia Carlson, founder and CEO of Financial Freedom Wealth Management Group, prefers the term "work-life integration." For her, that means being able to lean into work when it's necessary and being able to lean into family time when it's important. It's less about a daily allocation of time spent on work vs. life and more about having a career that allows her to live her life when needed. Some days that might mean coming in a few hours late after a doctor's appointment. And other times, it might mean being able to take off early for a soccer game or skip town for a week to visit with family.
"There are seasons of my life where I have to work really hard and it's out of balance in the sense that my kids know I'm working really hard right now," Carlson says. "Then there's a season of rest and rejuvenation and playing with the kids. Integration means that what I'm doing right now is the most important thing and when I'm with my kids, that is the most important thing."
Others define work-life balance as flexibility.
"Work-life balance couldn't be more prevalent than it is today, coming out of the pandemic," says Leslie Tarnacki, SVP of human resources at WorkForce Software. "Folks have had to really deal with balancing the needs of family, having your children home and educating them, while juggling the needs of work as well. More than anything it comes down to flexibility."
Tarnacki says employers are learning to embrace that flexibility more and more to accommodate their workers' lives outside of the office. But it's not just because employers care about their employees. They're also focused on retaining good workers.
"A company has to recognize if they're not offering flexibility to their employees they're going to be left in the dust, especially today in such a competitive market where we're all fighting for talent more than ever," Tarnacki says.
Not only do companies remain competitive when they embrace this flexibility, but they also see returns in their bottom line. That's because workers who are well rested and able to show up to work as their best selves do better work.
"Burnout, especially when it leads to increased employee absence or turnover, kills productivity and costs money," says Jen L'Estrange, founder and managing director of Red Clover (HR). "When a company experiences an increase in absenteeism or sick leave it has an impact on the overall efficiency of the workforce, but it also increases overall costs of healthcare, can lead to increased workplace accidents and workers' compensation claims and, as people leave more often than what would be expected, there's an increased cost related to hiring and training new employees, and there can be material damage to the company's employer brand."
Yancey agrees. "For organizations, it's been shown that working to help employees achieve a healthy work-life balance increases both productivity and creativity while also reducing turnover," she says. "It can be the difference between just working for a paycheck and having a vested interest in the success of the organization. So it circles back to the old adage of 'living to work or working to live.'"
How to Find a Job With Healthy Work-Life Balance
Do your research
With the internet, there's no reason to wait until your interview to get a feel for the culture and demands of a particular workplace. Ashish Kaushal, CEO of HireTalent, a nationwide contingent staffing firm focused on diversity staffing, recommends using sites such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn to gauge the satisfaction of past and current employees who have worked at the company where you're applying.
"Look at Glassdoor and these other ranking communities to see if [the reviews] align with what [the company] is saying," says Kaushal.
Tarnacki warns that not all reviews are accurate. "Some need to be taken with a grain of salt. There will always be some disgruntled people that will post things that aren't always accurate, but it does provide a picture," she says. However, these sites can at least tell you some things about company salaries, benefits, and policies.
Ask questions during the interview process
One way to find out how a company supports work-life balance is to simply ask. "Those without a real focus on it may just respond with a brief line or two and move on," Yancy says. "But those committed to it will typically share the specifics of how it's approached which will show that it matters to them."
You can also ask tangential questions to get at the point. Ask about time off, expectations for answering emails outside of work hours and what in their minds makes for a successful employee. You can also ask about what traits the most successful employees at that company possess.
Kelsey Ruwe is the chief of staff at Carson Group, overseeing talent, human resources and corporate communications. "Ask about what training and development [options] are in place for employees. Ask how they're encouraging or prepping their managers. Ask questions around turnover," Ruwe says. "Some recruiters will be reluctant, but ask what attrition looks like at the company. Ask about flexibility and how accessible management is."
And before you leave, ask HR for a print or digital copy of the employee handbook and workplace policies. These tomes will tell you exactly how the company handles employees who take too many sick days, and how they plan to measure the success of each employee through quarterly metrics and meetings. You can learn a lot from these texts if you take the time to read them.
And if someone doesn't want to hand them over, treat that as a major red flag.
Read between the lines
Perhaps more important than what your hiring manager says about a workplace is what they leave unsaid. If you've asked a question about vacation policies or the occasional personal day and have gotten a less-than-direct answer in return, take note.
Similarly, Dr. Daryl Appleton, psychotherapist and Fortune 500 executive coach, says to pay attention to non-verbal cues. "I believe in a lot of nonverbals," she says. "I believe in a lot of observation, and I believe in gut reactions."
If you find yourself reading between the lines, in other words, trust your instincts.
"If you don't get a direct response with enthusiasm, look for those things," Kaushal says.
Once you've done your research, looked over company policy, and asked your questions in sit-down interviews, Kaushal suggests getting your thoughts out on paper before committing to a job. He suggests making a matrix comparing the positions you're considering as they relate to five of the most important factors you're considering: things like office location, compensation, company culture, opportunities, and hours. Then rate each position in each section to decide.