work life balance facts

3 Unavoidable Truths About Work-Life Balance

Caroline Beaton

According to a survey by kununu and InHerSight, 80% of women and 70% of men say work-life balance is very important to them. Meanwhile, lack of work-life balance is one of the primary reasons millennials quit their jobs.

But the term is so widely used that it’s easy to forget what it signifies, and what it needs. We searched hundreds of kununu reviews for the scoop on what work-life balance actually means and how to achieve it. Behold, three basic truths:

1) Work-life balance is better with flexibility.

Though some kununu reviewers complained of being on-call 24 hours a day, many more celebrated flexible hours. One Cigna employee exclaimed, “Love the work-life balance! Able to take PTO when I need it but also able to have flexibility when I need it in the day-to-day.”. Another, from JT Private Duty Home Health Care, appreciated that her company “work[s] around your schedule so you can work and have a home life.”

Of course, this kind of flexibility has tradeoffs. One CRN International reviewer explained,

“You can leave for personal appointments and family situations. But you’re also expected to be reachable and check email after work hours and on weekends. So you have flexibility but it doesn’t come without strings.”.

It’s not great when your boss emails you at midnight and expects a response. But the alternative – being shackled to a nine-to-five, where you’re forced to forgo all mid-day bank runs and doctor’s appointments – is far worse.

Notably, employees in industries that typically have flexible hours and locations also reported better work-life balance. kununu’s data showed, for instance, that employees involved in the arts and entertainment, consulting and eCommerce rated their work-life balance highly. By contrast, employees in facility management, healthcare and the service industry rated it poorly. In short, work-life balance seems to suffer if you’re forced to be on-site every minute of the workday. Perhaps this is why 45% of surveyed millennials would choose workplace flexibility over pay.

2) Work-life balance is better once you’ve paid your dues.

When you’re just starting out, work-life balance can be particularly challenging. One AT&T employee wrote, “No real time for home life, especially the first year. Work most holidays.” Dozens of others complained that time off, vacations and schedules were based on seniority.

Fortunately, work-life balance seems to improve with tenure. Of course, that sometimes means compromising work-life balance in the meantime. As one Randstad USA employee expressed, “No work life balance. If you want to meet/exceed expectations and climb the ladder, it takes a lot of late evenings and weekends.” One employee bluntly reported, “work life balance is difficult. You will sacrifice a lot to move up within the company.” Sometimes the pressure is implicit. One Delta flight attendant explained, “The company doesn’t force anyone to work more hours but all flights and trips are based on seniority.” So, she advised, “If you are a new flight attendant don’t expect to be off on holidays and weekends.”

Some employees expressed particular frustration that paying your dues also meant putting in time after work. One Metlife employee wrote, “You had to hang out with them after work or be related in order to move up in this company.”  

The consequence of seniority-based work-life balance is a stark contrast of lifestyles within the same companies: one Deli Express employee explained, “The line between the more tenured employees and those of less tenure promotes two [different] worlds of work life balance.”

The amount of time you need to put in to claim work-life balance depends on the company. One employee reported that “You have to be there at least 12 years to get seniority.” Others said it required just one or two years. Use kununu reviews to learn how long it takes at certain companies to gain these privileges. Then decide if the payoff will be worth it. If it is, patience will help you survive the interim.

3) Work-life balance is better when you can use your brain.

By far the most common word associated with positive reviews on work-life balance was “interesting.”

The most raving reviews combined aspects of both flexibility and engaging work. One employee reported, “good work-life balance with ability to shift works hours within a given time period. Work itself is challenging, interesting and occasionally fun.” A phone interpreter at CyraCom International enjoyed being able to work “from the comfort of my home” as well as take on “many interesting assignments.” Or, as another employee put simply, “I loved the work and did not have any trouble balancing with my home life.”

Perhaps these reviewers didn’t struggle with work-life balance because they felt nothing needed to be balanced. For them, work and life intersected at a common, conflict-free point: intrinsic, off-the-clock motivation. Intrinsic interests are inherently satisfying to pursue because they satisfy our desire for autonomy, relatedness, competence and growth. People who work for the sake of it – not for external gains like money, possessions or social status – exhibit higher levels of vocational achievement, grit, motivation and wellbeing. They may consequently see less of a distinction between “work” and “life.”

Additionally, employees with the best work-life balance feel that they’re being optimally challenged: not too much or too little work; not too hard or too easy. As one kununu reviewer who worked at Manpower put it, “challenging enough to keep you interested but not so much as to stress you out after work.” Optimal challenge facilitates feelings of competence and mastery, ultimately allowing us the confidence and peace of mind to disconnect after work.  

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Work-life balance isn’t a mythical creature that only visits employees at Google. When we pursue challenging, flexible work and earn the respect and trust of our companies, it’s a lifestyle we can all attain.

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Caroline Beaton (@cs_beaton) is kununu’s millennial career expert. She’s an award-winning writer and entrepreneur who helps ambitious millennials change their habits and behaviors to lead more fulfilling lives. Her writing has been has been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, Business Insider and many others.