A hot topic nowadays when it comes to job satisfaction and job change is work-life balance, and many job seekers express this as one of their top priorities when considering switching jobs. But what is work-life balance? The term seems to have a number of variations and the definition changes depending on the individual. Before stating work-life balance is your top priority, consider asking yourself these 3 questions.
Is Your Idea of Work-Life Balance too vague?
There are a number of aspects in which this topic can be interpreted, and it is purely up to the individual as to what work-life balance means to them. What is a priority to some may not be of value to others. Because of this, it is important for job seekers to manage their expectations of work-life balance and know what aspects are their top priorities. The term work-life balance could mean the amount of time spent in the office such as:
- Telecommuting from home
- Flex time
- A regular 9am - 5pm schedule
- Working part-time
Or, work-life balance can mean more general time spent outside of the office:
- Having time for hobbies
- Time for physical and mental health
- Family time
In addition to these, it could mean a variety of other things, some of which could be out of the employer’s control and up to the individual to manage, such as getting enough sleep and stress management.
Countless times HR professionals have heard from job seekers that they are looking for “work-life balance,” or the question: What does your company offer in terms of work-life balance? However, when defining the term work-life balance, what does it specifically entail? The term is too broad, covering a wide range of things that vary depending on the individual. Not only this, but in addition to the vagueness of the idea of work-life balance, some job seekers have unrealistic expectations for what is feasible.
When speaking with hiring managers in an interview, be specific with which aspect of work-life balance is important to you.
Are your Expectations Realistic?
Sometimes people have unrealistic expectations of work-life balance. For example, expecting to leave the office by exactly 5pm every day without exception doesn’t offer much flexibility when projects hit a roadblock and deadlines approach too quickly. Some flexibility in the workplace is necessary, and a degree of flexibility is what employers are looking for in new hires. While sticking to a regular schedule can be something a company may offer, it is important to understand that there is a certain amount of flexibility required. Similarly, receiving incredible work-life balance in addition to a great salary or other aspect of the benefits package may not always be an option, so flexibility in this area is important as well.
There are numerous factors that affect an individual’s work-life balance. Within the same company and even same division, employees can have varying levels of work-life balance. There are also external factors that affect it such as in Japan, the cultural pressure of working late and the traditional work style of Japanese companies.
What does Work-Life Balance Mean To You?
In order to find the job or company that is the right fit, it is important to understand what work-life balance means to you. Making a “Top Must Haves List” will help you clarify what are necessities and worth mentioning when speaking with hiring managers in an interview. The items on this list should be compared to the importance of salary, job responsibilities, and other aspects of the job that are of value. Ensuring that the “Top Must Haves List” accurately represents what you require from the company and communicating that to hiring managers is important, as focusing on the less important details may cost you the second interview.
Some people get the idea that there is a perfect balance between work and personal life. However, as with expectations of work-life balance, when projects go awry and it’s crunch time, “the balance” may need to be flexible in order to achieve project goals by the deadline.
With the variability of work and personal life, there can never be a perfect 50/50 balance. As such, it may not be work-life balance people should aim for, but instead “work life flexibility”. The idea of balancing work and personal life should not be thought of as a set percent, it needs to adjust to the ups and downs experienced through time. Rather than perfectly balancing the scale at a certain amount, work-life balance should be viewed more as a seesaw - moving back and forth depending on the demands of the job and life outside of work.
A couple of things to consider when looking for the next opportunity in your career and assessing the benefits a company offers:
- Consider if your definition of work-life balance is too vague.
- Asses how realistic your expectations are.
- Determine your top priorities.
- Understand that in reality, there is no perfect balance.