What does work-life balance look like? It’s different for everyone!

As an applicant, you come prepared with the stories and examples you’ll share to prove you’re the best person for the job. But, as you may’ve experienced, interviews don’t always go as planned. I’m referring to the times when you realize this role might not be the right fit on your end.
For example, I recently read two stories about CEOs testing a job applicant’s work-life balance (or lack thereof). According to The Cut, Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini admitted in a recent New York Times interview that she reaches out to candidates on Sundays, “…to see how fast [they’ll] respond.” That same week Business Insider reported that Vena Solutions CEO Don Mal asks candidates if they’d “…leave [their] family at Disneyland to do something that was really important for the company?”
The similarity is striking: Both of these CEOs want to know that a new hire won’t just put work first when they’re in the office, but anytime it would benefit the company—even on your day off.
First things first, it’s important to note that—for some people—this isn’t a bad thing. You could be in a stage in your life and career, where (especially for a certain role), you expect to be available 24/7 and you’re OK with it.
If that’s the case, distinguish yourself in the interview by making it clear. Say something like: “I recognize what a unique opportunity this is, and at this point in my career, I’m comfortable putting the job first. I’ve already thought through what that would mean. For example, I’d make sure I have internet access, and—if needed—a way to be in the office, 365 days a year, regardless of if I was off or traveling.”
And if you’re not willing to make those sacrifices, that’s important information as well. Side-stepping this question—while it may get you to the next round—would also set you up to work at a company with values you don’t agree with.
In which case, pick the option below that is truest to your actual work style and preferences:
To Answer the Disneyland Question
  • “Before I left for Disneyland, I would bring all projects to completion. As for ongoing work, I would fill in my colleagues in advance of leaving and make sure there was a clear point of contact. If for some reason that wasn’t enough, I’d find a way to hop on a quick call or communicate over email to troubleshoot whatever was necessary.”
  • “I pride myself on giving 100% of my attention to the task at hand. So, I’m not the kind of person who’ll be checking Facebook or taking personal calls from my desk. But I apply that same thinking to my time at home or on vacation—giving my [family/hobbies, etc.] my full focus. I’ve found that allows me to recharge so I can give my all during the workweek without burning out.”
To Answer the Sunday Text
  • “My initial thought is [one line]. I’ll have more time tomorrow morning to review and send on additional ideas.”
  • “I’ll review this first thing tomorrow morning and send on my thoughts by [time on Monday].”
Then, when you do share more on Monday, you can intro your work with a line that says, “I’m always happy to answer as quickly as I can during the workweek, however I reserve weekends for [time with family/recharging/etc.] With that said…”
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the interview process is an audition—for you and the company. So while telling them what they want to hear might get you to the next round, it’s not worth it if you prize the ability to leave work at work.
Be honest about who you are and what you’re hoping for in a future role. While it might take you a bit longer to land a job, you know you won’t be kicking yourself every time your boss texts you.
How many times have you heard advice to draw boundaries between work and home, to set up a separate study space away from where you relax, or keep meticulous track of your time? And how many times have you said, “That sounds great, but it doesn’t work for me”?
When it comes to work-life balance, there are as many pieces of advice for the magic solution as there are people. As more coaches and thought leaders have been sharing in recent years there’s a reason for that: work-life balance is something that will look unique to each person, since “work” and “life” mean something different to every individual.
In his Huffington Post article, “Work vs. Life: Balance, Integration and Alignment,” organizational culture consultant Eryc Eyl examines these different meanings:
When we say, “work,” what do we mean? We typically mean the thing we do for money. We sometimes mean, as Mark Twain put it, the thing we are obliged to do. At other times, we mean the thing we’re called to do. And occasionally, we mean the thing we do that makes us who we are. Whether it’s a job, a career, or a calling, “work” is the thing that constitutes our professional life.
Then what do we mean by “life?” Typically, we mean everything outside of our professional life. Life is our family, our friends, our community, and the worlds that exist within our bodies and minds. It’s parenting, hobbies, passions, clubs, churches, volunteer work, dating, hanging out, […] whatever floats your boat. Life is the thing we do when we’re not working.
Depending on the priorities and values you hold related to work and what you do outside of work, the balance you’re looking for could be wildly different from the balance your best friend or a coworker is looking for. Do you see your work as “just a job” or do you see it as a passion, something you would do regardless of compensation?
Work-life balance often calls for a rigid, perhaps even equal, split between work and the rest of life. With each of these two spheres kept separate, a sense can emerge that extra time spent in one “takes” time from the other. But how realistic is this not just in our tech-heavy, interconnected society, but also with increasing attention paid to meaningful work that fulfills our priorities and values? What if you don’t want to keep them separate?
Two newer approaches to this question of managing work and life are called “integration” and “alignment.” In work-life integration, the idea of boundaries, of separation, is replaced with blending the two concepts. In a TEDxMileHigh talk, former executive Teresa Taylor describes merging her work and family calendars together, and making intentional choices about where to spend her time and to be completely engaged and focused in her choice, whether that’s dinner with a client or a night in with the kids. Work-life integration sees life as one whole with many parts that can all fit together seamlessly.
Work-life alignment goes a step further than integration, focusing on the big picture: what are your goals for your life? What is your personal vision, mission, or sense of purpose for your one life? Doing the introspective work to understand or decide the answers to these questions can lead you to a personalized approach to work-life balance or integration that ensures that your work, your relationships, your education, and all other facets of your life are in alignment with this overarching theme or goal. If you are a values-driven person or especially attuned to your personal or spiritual growth, work-life alignment could be an ideal approach for you to create a personalized sense of balance or what speaker Dan Thurmon describes as off-balance.
Are you curious to try one of these new approaches for yourself? A method we recommend to get started is by evaluating the different parts of your life and your current satisfaction with them. The “Wheel of Life” is one version of a tool you can use to do this. Once you fill in the wheel, ask yourself:
  • Is there an area of my life in which I would like to be more satisfied?
  • Is there an area in my life in which I wouldn’t mind cutting back?
  • How do the different areas of my life interact with each other in ways that may affect my sense of satisfaction or balance?
Perhaps creating boundaries between work and the other areas of your life will help you achieve your goals and to move forward and make change. But if boundaries are less your style, drawing connections between different parts of the wheel might help you map a plan for integration or alignment.
[Author’s note: Parts of this blog were originally published in ” Good to Know: Work-Life Balance “Tests” Are a Thing Now in Interviews”- July, 2017, and ” Re-Think Your Approach to Work-Life Balance”- December, 2016 and have been updated for accuracy and clarity]

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