Having a healthy work-life balance sounds fantastic, but “work-life balance” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, which can make it hard to find a company that “balances” in the way you need.
Companies love to say they support a healthy work-life balance, but they aren’t always clear on how they specifically do that.
This year’s hit Apple TV+ show “Severance'' introduced us to a new way to achieve work-life balance. Employees have a chip implanted in their brains so they don’t remember their work days, including what they did and who they work with, once they take the elevator out of their office around 5 p.m.
A bit extreme…
I think of work-life balance as having the freedom and control over the hours I work, while still meeting agreed-upon deadlines. It’s one of the most important things I look for with work.
And looks like I’m in the majority. In February 2022, career research site Zippia reported 57 percent of job seekers consider poor work-life balance a deal-breaker. Zippia defines work-life balance as “fulfilling your work commitments while still having the time and energy to fulfill your personal commitments.”
To get more clarity—both on what work-life balance is and how to get it—I talked to two career coaches who help people find and achieve their own version of work-life balance. I also looked at InHerSight’s company ratings, based on anonymous reviews from women who are current or former employees at said companies, to see which ones have been given high scores in work-life balance–related categories.
Luckily there’s plenty that both employers and employees can do to help us live healthy, well-rounded lives without brain chips.
What work-life balance actually is
First, it’s important to know exactly what your version of work-life balance is when you’re looking for a job—or trying to improve the one you have—that way you have a better chance of successfully finding a company that gives you what you need to achieve balance.
“Work-life balance is something that’s very individualistic. We all define it differently,” says Sue DeCaro, entrepreneurial, life, and parenting coach. “For example, if you’re a runner, you might need to run five miles a day, to feel that energy within you. Finding that career balance and home life/personal balance is really important for all of us. And I think it starts with carving out time for ourselves, and our self-care. That’s part of balance. Also getting enough sleep, eating well, a healthy lifestyle, and then of course having family time.”
Even when we define for ourselves what work-life balance means to us, it will change over time.
“I think most people imagine a perfect 50-50 split of work and life when they hear ‘work-life balance.’ I see work-life balance (or my preference: Life Work Balance) more as a continuum,” says Abigail Hoeh, career coach and owner of Life Work Balance. “Depending on where we are in our lives at certain moments, we may feel more fulfilled by focusing more on our work worlds or we may feel more fulfilled by focusing on our personal worlds.”
While the balance and specific needs are different for everyone, the theme is time. We don’t all use it the same way, but we need it.
Unfortunately, a common problem is the unspoken pressure from our bosses or our bosses’ bosses to work late, keep vacations limited, and hustle to work in the morning. The example they set is part of a bigger issue in a lot of U.S. companies.
“I think one of the things that disturbs me in the work I do is that we so often live to work instead of work to live,” says DeCaro. “In other cultures around the world they work to live, it’s not life. They work to earn a living to have a nice life. I think in America that has kind of taken on a different connotation. So we really need to work hard in this country to shift this energy, and to make sure we are committing to our life outside of work to create a balance for ourselves.”
The need for this shift has been most evident in the past two years, as the pandemic exposed how many people were nowhere close to having the work-life balance they needed. Some employers have realized if they don’t change—and if they don’t start setting a better example—they will lose key team members.
Read more: The 25 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance
How companies are striving for work-life balance post-pandemic
There have been a lot of rough consequences from the pandemic. But something that could turn into a long-term gain is the change it’s bringing to workplace culture.
“I’m a big believer in taking things away from our experiences, good bad or ugly, that can help us do a better job,” DeCaro says. “I think many people who have been working at home have worked harder or worked more because of the fact that we didn’t commute and our work is in front of us all the time and we can see it. So I think it’s helped open the eyes of employers and employees and look at how we can change the culture in our corporations to help empower our employees to live better lives. Because if it starts from the top down and the culture is shifted, and we do empower our employees to live a better life and to have that balance, they’re going to be happier and more productive.”
Of course, not everyone is getting the message.
“Unfortunately, I see some employers trending back toward their old ‘bad’ habits, like expecting all employees to be in-person when the work can be done 100% virtual,” Hoeh says. “In order for companies to remain competitive, they will need to continue to promote flexibility and life-work balance. If they don't, they will have a hard time recruiting and retaining good employees. This is essentially the reason for the Great Resignation.”
DeCaro and Hoeh both say that achieving work-life balance isn’t solely the responsibility of the company or the individual; it’s both, and is best found by working together.
“I don't think it is realistic to expect companies to be 100 percent responsible for their employees' life-work balance,” Hoeh says. “However, organizations should build structures within their organizational culture to promote life-work balance.”
“Corporations need to get input from our employees about what they need,” DeCaro says. “Because you can make all the changes in the world but if it doesn’t serve the people who are working for your company then they’re pointless. So getting some input from the employees who work for your company can really help to create more of a balance that’s going to serve. Yes, it’s individualistic, but there’s a lot of key elements to it.”
So what are some of these key elements?
Read more: 13 Must-Have Inclusive Workplace Practices
What a “good work-life balance company” looks like
A lot of areas companies can use to support work-life balance have to do with time. Paid time off, flexible schedules (four-day work week, 32-hour work week, working 10-6 instead of 9-5), remote work, and shortened Fridays are some of the policies companies are trying.
In April, 38 U.S. and Canadian companies started operating on a four-day work week schedule, as part of a six-month experiment to test its effectiveness. There are about 10,000 employees involved in the testing.
Besides at-work hours, companies can also support employees being offline when they’re not at work, and respect the boundary.
“Companies can promote disconnection/unplugging from work, or have “dark” hours where no one is expected to respond to emails, or pay people or incentivize them in some way to not look at their email while on vacation,” Hoeh says. “Also, increasing or adding benefits like child care, elder care, pet insurance, and paying for gym memberships or nutrition programs; increases in retirement contributions/matching; increasing the amount of paid parental leave; promotion of learning and development (whether this is through training, certification programs, sending employees to conferences, etc.).”
Some companies, of course, are making this change to favor work-life balance - and a special group have done it all along.
The best work-life balance companies based on InHerSight’s ratings
I looked at the anonymous ratings submitted by women on InHerSight to see which companies were among the best when it comes to work-life balance–related metrics. These top work-life balance companies were all rated high for the metrics in our Schedule and Flexibility category, specifically, Paid Time Off, Flexible Work Hours, and Ability to Telecommute. These companies have received at least 20 ratings and have been rated within the past year.
Here are the 30 leaders in these work-life balance ratings:
About our sources
Sue DeCaro helps people all over the world live their best life. She is a worldwide life, parenting, and entrepreneurial coach. Sue speaks and holds educational events all over the world to help transform and shift the way we actually live our lives, both in the workplace as well as home. Sue helps families with raising the next generation, whether it’s by finding work-life balance, or finding work that’s fulfilling, or developing a more satisfying home life, and dealing with our inner child wounds and pains and traumas.
Abigail Hoeh started her own career coaching and consulting business in 2018 called Life Work Balance. She specifically chose that name because reversing the words "work-life" to "life-work" helps us prioritize life, while also acknowledging most of us cannot live comfortably (financially, emotionally, etc.) without the benefits work provides. Abigail works with individuals, specifically women, who are looking to find more life-work balance. In addition to her coaching and consulting business, she also works in human resources for a local government in Colorado where she develops and facilitates personal and professional development training.