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Work-Life Balance

Work, whether we want it to or not, often crosses over and impacts the rest of our life. Understanding how a prospective opportunity complements or disrupts your personal priorities and interests is necessary. The language and conversation around “work-life balance” is evolving. Depending on the path you pursue and your personal preferences, how work plays into the rest of your life—and vise versa—varies significantly. It’s also likely that what “balance” means to you will change throughout your career. At its core, work-life balance is about whether or not this particular role provides the space and flexibility for you to enjoy your life outside the office or bring parts of yourself into the office, for example, establishing friendships, celebrating holidays and heritage months, or sharing more about your weekends than commentary about the weather. Because I touch on relationships, community, and inclusion in the people, employee experience, and inclusion belonging sections, I’ll hone in on schedules, boundaries, and how to evaluate the time commitment you’re willing to give to a role.

What signals in your personal life might indicate that you’d want to focus on work-life balance in your next opportunity?

  • You have personal or family obligations.

  • External hobbies, passions or activities are important to you.

  • Work is just that—work, and you want to be able to compartmentalize and contain its impact on the rest of your life.

  • You are at a stage of your career where more time spent at work will pay off—perhaps because you believe in the mission or are working toward a promotion.

  • You’re coming off a period of intensity and want the pendulum to swing back toward balance.

  • A remote role or flexible schedule will enable you to manage your work and personal commitments more effectively.

As your life changes, your priorities will change too. It’s important to note that you can ask questions to clarify your understanding of a particular company’s approach to balance without disclosing details about your “why” if you prefer to keep your personal life and considerations more private.

One of the most important places to start is tied to the schedule and hours you’re required or expected to work. Some roles, depending on their classification, will have specific schedules and will be eligible for overtime. Often, there is more clarity with those positions about when you work, when you’re off, and what responsibilities you have. For other roles, including those that do not have specific shifts, assigned schedules, or the need to track your time to calculate overtime pay, you’ll have to spend more time figuring out what the real “schedule” is. While the reference to a 9-to-5 is common, the reality is that many people work many more hours than the so-called 40 hour work week. Sometimes, you’ll see these signals in the job descriptions (“work hard/play hard,” “you want to work hard on the toughest problems,” “our team chooses to go above and beyond….always,” “we do more, with less”) or in Glassdoor reviews, but other times you’ll have to push for answers.

Sometimes these extra hours are pushes to get key projects across the line, and staying late or coming early is manageable. In other scenarios, the role, team or even company consistently and continuously operate at a pace and intensity that requires long hours 5, 6 or even 7 days a week. Because work is on our phones, as well as in the office or on a laptop at many companies, the boundary between the office and home, as well as the workweek and weekend, is less clear. Technology can mean that you’re always “accessible” via email, phone, text or chat. This means that, even if you commonly work from the office, you might also work from home too—on evenings and weekends. As you learn more about the team, seek to understand their definition of “accessible” and how it differs from “available.” In those non-working hours, are you expected to respond within a certain timeframe (or is there a precedent or preference in place on the team) or can you respond if you choose to and leave until the next work day if you have other plans?

There might be a time in your life where you are willing to have a job that requires a significant time commitment. Perhaps you’re particularly passionate about the work you’re doing or there are meaningful financial rewards tied to your contributions. Those factors may make the extra work worth it. In many cases, those incentives are not present, and if you want more boundaries or the chance to live your life outside of work too, you’ll have to ask for clarity about how committed and connected the team or company will expect you to be (including when and how you take time off) from those you meet in interviews. Knowing whether or not you’re in one of those phases of life where you can over-contribute to work relative to the number of hours in a day and whether or not this job might require it will be important to clarify. You’ll also need to assess how the team establishes and maintains boundaries between work and life so that you understand what space you’ll have to do the things you want to do to rest, recover, and re-energize.

Career Path

Some people know early on what they hope their long-term career path will look like, or even the culminating role or accomplishment they aim to achieve. Others will find their path as they go or even explore multiple different paths while searching for the work that inspires, fulfills, or compensates them. There are many ways to move through your career. Some individuals might be focused on ascending through a particular promotion track, others might take lateral moves through different functions or departments, and some might find the role that will carry them throughout their career and stick with it. Whether you are looking to climb that career mountain, happy at the plateau, or seeking to find a role to build a home around, figuring out if your expectations are likely to be met by a particular role is beneficial.

Here are some questions to consider that might lead you to prioritize the career path available in your next role:

  • Are you intentionally looking for career advancement?

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