Find jobs with better work-life balance
You can have it all—you just have to know how to ask for what you want.
As an experienced executive who’s successfully risen through the ranks, you’re not afraid of hard work or long hours. But if you’re always responding to emails at 10 p.m. and you haven’t had a vacation without your laptop in over a decade, it might be time to find a job where you can make a major impact but still have a life.
A third of workers say they’re chronically stressed on the job, according to the American Psychological Association, and less than half of them (44%) say their organization’s culture supports employee well-being.
If that’s you, it sounds like you need to find a job that’s more accommodating to your personal life. But be careful how you go about it during your job search.
“[If you] start asking questions about work-life balance (during a job interview), they’re going to think you want to run out the door at 5 p.m.,” says Abby Kohut, a career consultant at AbsolutelyAbby.com.
To find your Zen work situation while still presenting yourself like a committed professional, try these strategies.
Make your goals concrete
“Define what a ‘reasonable’ work-life balance is for you,” says Hannah Morgan, a job search specialist at CareerSherpa.com.
“What hours do you expect to work and under what conditions? It is important to write down your expectations and criteria for work-life balance so you’ll be able to assess your next work opportunity.”
Put your hard work first
If you’re going to ask questions about how many hours you’ll be working, make it clear ahead of time that you’re not afraid to put the time in, suggests Alexandra Levit, workplace expert and author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success.
“It’s good to start with something like, ‘I’m somebody who works really hard, I put in a lot of hours. I’m just wondering, what are your expectations for being available 24/7?’” she says.
Ask about flexibility—tactfully
“About 70 percent of organizations have some flexible work policy in place,” says Levit. “If [the company interviewing you] is in the 30 percent that have nothing, that’s not a good sign.”
Although asking a company whether they have a flexible work policy and what it entails shouldn’t be a red flag to an interviewer, you will likely raise some eyebrows if you start asking about an individualized flexible work plan.
“You need to prove you’re a trustworthy, competent employee before you ask for something that isn’t automatically given to everyone,” Levit says.
So if you have some specific requirements for your schedule (work from home, travel needs, etc.), save them until after they’ve offered you the job and you’re at the negotiation stage.
Pay attention to your company contacts
Throughout the interview process, you’re interacting with a variety of people, so use that to your advantage and pay attention to the hidden (and not-so-hidden) signals.
“If you’re getting emails from the recruitment person at 11 at night, that’s a sign that people are working around the clock,” Levit says.
Sometimes recruiters will say things during the interview process that suggest that the job isn’t really a 9-to-5 gig. When they start talking about free dinner, for instance, that’s a bad sign.
“You’re not going to have meals at work if people don’t have to stay for dinner,” Kohut says.
The same goes for mentioning that the company provides taxi service—which comes up if you’re regularly going home late.
Similarly, if your HR contact is always late to get back to you and prefaces everything by saying work has been “really crazy,” that’s another thing to note.
When you meet with potential co-workers, be direct. “You can ask, ‘Do you feel like you have a pretty good work-life balance here?’” Levit says. “Whether you get honest answers or not is up for grabs, but you can read between the lines when you’re trying to assess the culture.”
For many fields, there are unmovable crunch times due to a peak season, a special event, or end-of-the-month reporting.
However, “some workplaces have a culture in which it is expected that everyone work beyond the end of the workday,” Morgan says.
If you can’t find anyone in your industry working more reasonable hours or arranging some modicum of flexibility, you may have to think about going a different work direction.