Strike a Work-Life Balance

Posted by Liz Seasholtz on June 16, 2011
Strike a Work-Life Balance

Past generations knew a rigid work schedule: clock in by 9 a.m., 30-minute lunch break at noon, out by 5. Have a doctor appointment? Schedule it before or after work. Sick and want to work from home? Use a sick day. The idea was to mold life around work.

A lot has changed. In the past 20 years, "work-life balance" has emerged as an HR buzzword, as employees have been given-and demanded-more leeway to fit work around life. And grads entering the workforce consistently rate work-life balance as one of their top career goals. Sixty-seven percent of undergrads voted work-life balance as a top priority, according to a 2009 survey by research firm Universum. 

It's a nebulous term, but broadly speaking, work-life balance is achieved when you can effectively juggle the duel agendas of your work and personal schedule-be it relationships, family, fitness, volunteering, or any other priority outside of work. The way it plays out in day-to-day life is often in flexible scheduling. "Undergrads are really saying they value the flexibility to manage work and life on their own," says Cali Williams Yost, author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You. "The phrase 'work-life balance' is just the only language they know. Undergrads are not saying they don't want to work hard. They just want to work on their own terms, but they get the job done."

So how can newly minted grads tell if a potential employer can offer the flexibility they desire? Basically, if a company is committed to some or all of the 8 Work-Life Factors listed below, it's a good indication they're willing to work with you to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Many companies have policies and programs in place that you can read about online. Don't be afraid to also inquire during the interviewing process: It never hurts to ask-just don't ask about all the options. Tailor your questions to what flexibility you will really need and want. You can even negotiate for increased flexibility, especially if the salary is a little on the low side.

1. Flexible Hours
Can you work 7 to 3 instead of 9 to 5?  Or work 10 hours one day, and 6 hours the next? This type of schedule opens your schedule for life's essential tasks: doctor appointments, dry cleaning, and afternoon baseball games.

2. Working From Home

Expecting the cable guy anytime from dawn 'til dusk? We've all been there. Ask interviewers if working from home is acceptable on occasion, when you're feeling under the weather, or perhaps on Fridays. Commute time becomes beach time.

3. Compressed Workweeks
Many companies offer shorter workweeks in the summer. Others, year round. The idea is you're still working 40 hours per week, but squeezing it all into fewer days, such as working 9-hour days with every second Friday off.

4. Flexible Lunch
This may seem trivial, but does the company dictate when employees take lunch? Do you have 30 minutes, 1 hour, or is it up to you? Having a sliding lunch time indicates a company trusts employees to manage their own schedules.

5. Paid Time Off

Getting paid time off is pretty standard, but how you can use these days varies from company to company. If you can only use PTO at certain times of the year, have a set number of hours designated solely for "sick days", or need to give three to four weeks' notice for all scheduled time off, the employer may be rather unbending.

6. Onsite Facilities
For no or little cost, some employers provide onsite gyms, cafeterias, or employee assistance programs (essentially onsite counseling). These are great perks that show an employer cares about your needs outside the office: your mental and physical well-being. Also, whether you have kids or not, if the office has an onsite daycare it's a good sign they are understanding of family life.

7. Tuition Reimbursement
Tuition reimbursement programs can be a big financial help for continuing your education. Some employers even invite universities to provide onsite classes at convenient times after work.

8. Commuting Assistance
If a position would require you to commute to work via public transit, find out whether the company provides pre-tax transit checks. If you're working in the suburbs, see if they provide assistance getting to and from work: Some companies have van services that will take you to and from their offices locations.

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