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11 Ways to Tell if a Company Values Work-Life Balance—Before You Take the Job

Work-life balance isn't a luxury—it's a necessity. You owe it to yourself to evaluate whether a job will be a good fit in the long-term—before a job offer is on the table.

During the hiring process, it’s dangerously easy to get caught up in proving that you’re the right person for the job, rather than assessing whether the job is truly an ideal fit for you. However, when it comes to being happy with your job in the long run, making sure that the company values work-life balance is just as important as evaluating whether the position aligns with your professional goals and salary requirements.

Unfortunately, determining whether a company values work-life balance during the hiring process is an art, not a science. Some consider it risky to even mention the phrase during an interview. But which option is better: Getting an offer for a job that could wreak havoc on your mental health, your family, or your life outside of work; or potentially risking that job offer by making it clear that work-life balance matters to you?

If uttering the words “work-life balance” in an interview makes that company reconsider whether you’re the right person for the job, you’re better off continuing your search. A company that will value you as a person and not just a work-horse is somewhere out there, waiting for you to apply.

That’s why you owe it to yourself to evaluate whether a job will be a good fit in the long-term—before a job offer is on the table. Here’s my advice for evaluating whether a company values work-life balance at each stage of the hiring process.

Before You Apply or Interview

1. Determine your deal-breakers. The first step begins with you: Decide at what point you’d walk away from a potential opportunity. Maybe you’re planning on having kids soon, so you can’t take any job that doesn’t have a good parental leave policy. Maybe you find it impossible to be productive in the office 5 days a week, so the quality of your work depends on your ability to work from home periodically. Maybe you need to work a flexible schedule so you can pick your kids up from daycare a few days a week. It’s vital to set your personal boundaries, distinguishing between what’s negotiable and what’s not, before an exciting opportunity tempts you to compromise the things that are most important to you.

2. Thoroughly examine the job description. Are there any clues that you might be expected to work long hours, or that the environment will be hectic or hyper-competitive? For example, the posting for one of my previous roles read, “The volume and deadlines associated with this position are not for the weak, but that’s never an excuse for mediocre work.” If the job posting explicitly states that the job is highly stressful, you should not only believe them—you should assume that the reality is even worse than they’re willing to tell you. This likely means that the people they’ve hired in the past have failed to survive in the environment; and rather than compromising their standards, the hiring manager is raising the bar even higher. If you accept the job, you’ll be expected to meet their rigorous requirements without complaint—after all, they could say, you knew what you were getting into. Take them at their word.

3. Pay attention to employees’ reviews on Glassdoor. We all know that it’s important to take online reviews with a grain of salt. However, if you see recurring themes in employees’ reviews—for example, widespread dissatisfaction with salaries, reports of burnout and turnover, or distrust of company leadership—it’s safe to assume that the reality isn’t too far off. Check Glassdoor before you spend time filling out a job application or accepting an interview request—or, at the very latest, before you accept a job offer. After once taking a job in spite of a company’s foreboding reviews (and learning firsthand that every word of them had been accurate), I’ve made it a rule to never apply to companies with reviews that show troubling patterns.

Reviews aren’t just for ruling companies out, however—they can also make it abundantly clear that a company values work-life balance. My current company’s overwhelmingly positive reviews were what convinced me to apply, and it was the best career decision I’ve made thus far.

4. Check out the company’s social media accounts. Do their Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feeds show employees hanging out at company-sponsored events or volunteering at local non-profits? Likewise, search for the company as a location on Instagram. If employees are posting at work, are they talking about how awesome their workplace and coworkers are, or are they posting about late nights at the office and the Sunday Scaries? This can give you an idea of the company’s overall atmosphere—is it vibrant and positive, or are people disengaged and dissatisfied?

During the Interview

5. Ask questions until you’re satisfied. Interviews are an incredibly powerful opportunity to find out firsthand whether a company values work-life balance. You should never fear asking too many questions during an interview. It shows that you’re interested and that you’ve done your homework, and it turns the interview into a conversation—like it should be. Your goal is not only to convince your interviewers that you’re right for the job—it’s also to determine whether the job is the right fit for you.

Don’t stop asking questions once you’ve confirmed that the position’s responsibilities and salary match what you’re looking for. We all know how important our coworkers, schedules, growth opportunities, and workplace culture are to our job satisfaction—so it’s up to you to ask about these important factors.

Here are some questions to ask during your interview to assess whether the company values work-life balance. Some are best to ask the hiring manager, while others are great questions to ask the company’s recruiter/HR rep or your potential coworkers:

  • What brought you to this company? This is a great question to ask every person you speak with. Find out what makes this company different from others that they’ve worked for; what they love most about working there; and what they might want to change. Listen for passion and positivity (or exhaustion, frustration, and negativity) in their voice when they talk about the company, their job, and their coworkers.
  • How would you describe the company’s culture? Find out how this company’s culture differs from other companies they’ve worked for, and what they might change about it. Get a sense of which types of people work there, and whether the environment will be a good fit for you: Do you want a young, social, energetic company that works hard and plays hard? Do you want a more mature, ethical, supportive culture that’s great for families? Be honest with yourself about whether you can see yourself there in the long-term.
  • Which type of person is most successful here? Find out which personality traits and habits are a good fit for the role, the team, and the company as a whole; and what your coworkers are like. Having to behave in a way that doesn’t come naturally to you can cause burnout faster than you might think—whether it’s having to work in an office that’s as quiet as a library when you’re dying to socialize, or having to be cutthroat to get ahead when you’re a team player at heart.
  • What’s your management philosophy? This question is absolutely essential to ask your potential manager. I can’t emphasize this enough: Do not leave until you have a good sense of what working for them would be like, because your manager has an even more direct impact on your job satisfaction than whether or not your company values work-life balance. Look for hints that they’ll be supportive and empowering, not overbearing or micromanaging; or that they’ll care about your life and your career development—whichever traits have the biggest impact on your motivation and happiness at work.
  • What would a typical week look like in this role? Get a sense of the hours that people generally work—9 to 5? Late nights? Early mornings? Weekends? Are there lots of meetings? Does it sound hectic or stressful? Are the responsibilities of the role appealing to you, or can you see yourself getting bored or burned out?
  • What’s the policy for working from home? Ask about the team or company’s attitude toward remote work. Keep your ears open for statements like, “If the weather’s terrible or if someone’s not feeling well, we’d much rather they just work from home!” That indicates that the company cares more about employees’ well-being than their physical presence in the office.
  • How much time off do people generally take? This question is partially about the company’s vacation policy; but what you’re really looking to find out is whether people actually use their vacation time. It doesn’t mean much if the company has an unlimited vacation policy, but people feel like they can’t actually take time off, whether due to an unreasonable workload or pressure from within the team.
  • What do people generally do for lunch? What you want to know here is two-fold: Whether people on the team tend to take lunch breaks, and whether they choose to spend the time with their coworkers. What you don’t want to hear is that people tend to eat hurried lunches at their desks because they can’t afford to take a break.
  • Does the team ever get together outside of work? Here, you want to get a sense of whether people develop friendships within the team, and whether the company cares about team-building. While it may feel like a silly thing to ask about during an interview, don’t underestimate the power that having friendly, supportive coworkers can have on your job satisfaction—or the toll that it can take to work in an environment where socializing is discouraged.
  • How does the company help employees to develop their careers? Find out about any opportunities to take courses, receive training, and attend conferences. Ask questions until you get a sense of how the company retains employees in the long-term—is this a primary concern, or do they focus more on bringing new people in, leaving current employees high and dry? Listen for any indications that there’s a lack of career development in the company, or that turnover is a major issue.
  • Is this a newly created role? This is a valuable way to find out why the position is open. If it is a new opening, you’ll learn what the business need for the role was, which is incredibly valuable information to have if you do take the job. If it’s an existing role, you’ll learn a little bit about who your predecessor was and why they’re leaving. It’s a good idea to look them up on LinkedIn (as long as they weren’t fired) to see how long they were there and how they describe the role’s responsibilities.

6. Pay close attention to the company’s benefits and perks. This is key when it comes to determining whether a company values work-life balance (and puts their money where their mouth is). Do they highlight their industry-leading policies on vacation time, parental leave, or flexible work options? Do they talk about perks that actually make a difference in employees’ lives, such as tuition reimbursement, wellness incentives, or on-site childcare (as opposed to ping-pong tables and beer fridges)? If not, be sure to ask—and make sure that you take these benefits into consideration when you’re deciding whether or not to accept an offer. A great salary could quickly be outweighed by sub-par health insurance or sky-high childcare or commuting costs.

7. Keep your eyes open as you walk through the office. Be sure to get a sense of the general atmosphere of the office.

Here are some things to look for during your visit:

  • Does the office seem energetic and lively, or is it quiet and sterile? Here, you’re both evaluating the atmosphere of the company (i.e. Do people seem to like their coworkers, their jobs, and their workplace?) and whether you can see yourself working there. For example, many introverts find it hard to concentrate in a bustling open office, while many extroverts find it excruciating to work in silent cubicles all day. If you’re concerned about your ability to get work done in the office environment, be sure to ask questions until you get a better sense of whether you’ll thrive there. For example, I work in a fairly loud open office, which is challenging for a writer—but all new employees are provided with noise-cancelling headphones, and white noise machines help to subtly divide noisier areas from quieter ones. The office also has “focus rooms”—small conference rooms that I can book when I need to concentrate for a few hours.
  • Are people interacting with each other? Are they chatting or complaining? Do they seem stressed or unhappy?
  • If it’s lunchtime, how many people are eating at their desks? A few is fine, but it’s a bad sign if the kitchen tables are totally empty, while every employee shoves food into their mouths as they work at their desks or rush from meeting to meeting.

8. Notice the demeanor of your conversations. As you talk to the recruiter, hiring manager, and other employees, notice their tone and body language in addition to the information they give you.

Here are some specific details to take note of:

  • What’s their demeanor like when they talk about working at the company? Do they share any negative opinions with you? If so, take them at their word—they’re trying to prepare you for the exact conditions you’ll be walking into if you end up working there.
  • Do they seem at ease, or are they frazzled, like they didn’t have time to prepare for your interview? This could be a reflection on them as an interviewer; but more than likely, it reflects how heavy their workload is, how packed their schedule is, or how many candidates they’ve already had to speak with.
  • How open are they to answering your questions? Do their responses seem defensive, dismissive, or rehearsed? Did they make a point to leave time for your questions?
  • Does it feel like a conversation or an interrogation? Does the interaction feel reciprocal and natural?
  • How does the conversation make you feel? Are you left feeling confused, unsettled, or insecure?

After the Interview

9. Reach out to former employees. Use LinkedIn to ascertain which people worked for the company in the last year or two—even better if it’s in the same department where you’d be working. If you feel comfortable doing it, asking former employees about their experiences can be a highly effective way to find out if a company values work-life balance—before you accept the offer.

The Muse recommends saying: “I’m interviewing right now with [Company], and I’d love to hear about your experience there. I’m hoping for some insight into the culture from someone who can be totally candid because they’re no longer at the company.” Be sure to specify that the conversation will be completely confidential—both so that they feel comfortable speaking truthfully with you, and so that word doesn’t get back to anyone who’s still at the company that you’re reaching out (in case there’s bad blood).

Here are some potential questions to ask former employees of the company where you’re interviewing:

  • In your opinion, did the department or company value work-life balance?
  • What were managers’ attitudes toward working from home or having a more flexible schedule?
  • How would you describe the company’s culture?
  • If you could have changed one thing about the company, what would it be?
  • Were you and your coworkers often stressed about your workloads? Was burnout an issue?
  • Was it common for coworkers to develop friendships or spend time together outside of work?
  • Did you and your coworkers take lunch breaks most days?
  • What hours did you and your coworkers generally work? Did you work late nights or weekends on a regular basis?
  • How did you and your coworkers feel about the company’s leadership?
  • Did you and your coworkers often send and answer emails outside of standard business hours?
  • How often did you and your coworkers bring work home?
  • Did you and your coworkers feel comfortable taking time off?
  • Was the company family-friendly?
  • How long did people generally stay with the company? Was turnover an issue?
  • Were you and your coworkers generally satisfied with your compensation?
  • Did managers seem to care about employees’ well-being?
  • Did you or your coworkers generally enjoy working for [Hiring Manager]?
  • If you feel comfortable answering, why did you decide to change jobs?

10. How does the job offer make you feel? Is the salary what you were anticipating—and is it close to the median salary for your job title? (Use Glassdoor to familiarize yourself with this statistic before you ever state your ideal salary—or at the latest, before they call you to offer you the job.) Are they extremely rigid about the terms of the offer, such as your start date and salary, or are they open to negotiation?

When a company values work-life balance, they know that hiring the right candidate is a two-way street; the terms of the offer have to work for both parties. Never lose sight of the fact that just like there are other candidates that they could offer the job to, there are other companies that could hire you. Don’t accept a job where the salary will cause you significant financial stress or make you feel undervalued—no matter how impressive the title, company, or perks might be.

If the salary isn’t what you were expecting, you are within your full rights to bring up the median salary for your job title in your area. A good company has already taken that number into consideration—after all, it’s not just about hiring the cheapest person for the job; it’s about retaining that employee in the long-term. If they’re not willing to budge, and your starting salary is significantly less than what you deserve, don’t take the job. They won’t treat you any better once you’re an employee—in fact, they’ll probably treat you with even less respect.

11. Listen to your gut. In your interactions with the company’s employees, did you feel like they cared about your cultural fit and your career development—or were you just another candidate? Can you visualize yourself feeling productive and motivated in that environment over time, and developing positive relationships with the people you met? Does the job have the potential to keep you engaged and motivated for a long time? Does your gut tell you that the company values work-life balance, well-being, and career development, or are they just touting perks that won’t make a real difference in employees’ lives? To make sure it’s the right move for your career, sit with these questions until your intuition breaks through your desire to get a job offer.

Work-life balance isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. It’s not about working less—it’s about working smarter to prevent burnout and retain employees in the long-term. Don’t hesitate to make your needs clear during the hiring process; large-scale change in how companies take care of their employees starts with each of us.

Originally published at www.featherflint.com

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