Work To Live, Don't Live To Work: How To Maximize Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is the holy grail of employment. Personally, I would take a lower, but still fair, salary that comes with work-life balance over a higher salary that costs me my life.

Because employers know that work-life balance is highly sought after, they boast it, but it's hard to tell whether a job affords you a solid work-life balance until you start the job.

But, here’s what you can do to ensure that you have it:

1. Be straightforward about your requirement for work-life balance from the beginning.

When meeting a potential employer, make your work-life balance expectation clear from the get-go. Don’t be afraid that doing so will disqualify you as a candidate for the job.

If a company takes you out of the running because you stated that your personal life comes above your work, that company is not the type of company for which you want to work.

Employers should respect that you prioritize the rest of your life over your job because that’s exactly the order of importance in which life and work should rank, if you have your priorities straight.

I purposely state my need for work-life balance and inquire about the quality of it at every company where I interview, mainly to test recruiters’ reactions.

How they handle questions about work-life balance tells me a lot about whether or not it’s valued in the company.

If interviewers flinch, get defensive or beat around direct answer with excuses, I disqualify their company as a candidate in my employment search, and I professionally say so.

Thus, it is much harder for a company to get through my interview process than vice versa. I refuse to drop my standard for work-life balance for any “opportunity.”

2. Choose a workplace with a culture that matches your needs.

Research the company, read reviews and talk to as many current employees as you can during the interview process.

Ask every person what he or she likes most about working there and how he or she feels about his or her work-life balance.

Pay more attention to the non-verbal cues than words. Remember, these people work there; they have to try to sell you. Hesitation and vagueness in response are red flags. Relaxed, detailed replies are better reflections of honesty.

Again, don’t be afraid to catch them off guard. If they make you feel like you’re out of line by asking, work-life balance is evidently not an integral part of the company culture, and you want to work for a company that shares your values.

3. Set expectations with your manager from the get go.

Every time I start a new role or have a new person to whom I must report, I meet with him or her. I first ask his or her expectations of me and then, I relay my expectations.

My first corporate environment raised me to do this. My second seemed surprised by it, especially given my age, but it earned me instant respect. I intend to carry this practice throughout my career, and I encourage you to do the same.

Confidently tell your manager that, while you are excited to conquer the role, you do have priorities outside of it. Set boundaries.

For example, if you don’t like receiving email notifications from work on your days off, politely state that you will disable them on weekends.

Do not ask permission. You are entitled to not have to think about work while not working. If there’s an emergency, they can call — if that’s okay with you.

4. Be willing to leave your job.

I can hear hearts suddenly pounding in panic at the very idea of leaving a job to have a life, but is there any better reason?

Sometimes, no matter how many questions you’ve asked to learn a company’s values during the interview process, or the boundaries you try to establish between you and your employer, you find that you’ve landed in a work-comes-above-all-else culture.

I was in that position in my early 20s and I left without another job lined up. A VP begged me to stay, but I literally skipped out the door.

I finally decided that my life meant more to me than any job ever could and it is one of my proudest life choices.

I later moved on to a company full of fabulous people who offered an excellent work-life balance (which I eventually left in favor of Paris, but that’s another story).

You see, having work-life balance depends on the lengths you’re willing to go to prioritize it. When it comes down to your job or your life, your life should always come first.

Don’t give your employer power to dictate how you live. You get paid to do a job, not to relinquish your soul. Remember that because if you believe your job is the be-all and end-all of your life, you are under your employer’s control.

When you realize that all jobs are replaceable and, more importantly, less valuable than your life, you understand that you govern yourself.