Work-life balance regularly shows up as a ‘hot topic’.  But what it means is not so clear. Individuals have very different definitions. Companies do too.  Some may tout theirs in their careers website or job ads with actual practices which range from highly supportive to quite negative. At its most basic, work life balance is how you prioritize your work and career ambitions with your life – leisure, family, and personal interests.  We’ve got the tactics and questions to help you assess what you want and whether an organization offers it.

How Do You Consider This in Career Planning and Job Search?

First, is to actually define what you mean by work-life balance now. This is likely to change over time. You have heard the two ends of this spectrum – those who work to live and those who live to work. Most of us are in-between. For many, the early years of a career are all about putting in most of their time and energy to find and grow their career fast – balance is not even a thought. Others find balance important from day one. Some start slow but once they find the right options go into overdrive.

Think about issues like these:

  • Does your career plan include jobs with high demands for long hours and/or extensive travel?
  • Do you think it is OK to get work emails outside regular work hours? On holidays? On vacation?
  • Are you willing to put in extra time for a month or quarter toward a critical goal, but not every day after day?
  • Is it important that you have set, regular hours?
  • Do you want time so you can get an advanced degree, have hobbies, or play/coach sports?
  • Are you willing to work some extra hours but not every week?  What about at the last moment?
  • Are you seeking flexible work hours, a compressed workweek, or some telecommuting?
  • Do you want a job where you are expected to travel a lot, some, or not at all?
  • How actively involved in company social events do you want to be?
  • Will you learn new skills on your own time and money or do you want support from the company?
  • Do you want to be involved in your kid’s activities? Family or care-giving demands to meet?

Think carefully about the role that work plays in your life now and what you want to ensure is available in your next job.

Your first goal is to define what you want in your life and what that looks like at work. Once you are clear on what is important to you, the next steps are all about gathering information and assessing it. In a job search, this involves:

  • research into target employers’ practices
  • learning what people who are/have worked there actually experience
  • interviewing to assess work life balance issues.

Step 1. Research into Target Employers’ Practices

Look at your target employers work life balance by looking at what they say about this area publicly. Many companies include some information on the careers section of their website. A few include it, directly or indirectly, in their corporate values or in what they say about their culture.  Some makes statements specifically in their job postings.

Supplement what the employer says by looking at their reviews on sites like and

Recognize those concepts which may indicate a lack of concern for work life balance. Examples include all those famous perks, like concierge services and free meals, that are designed to keep you at work long hours. And comments like ‘we work hard and play hard’ may indicate an expectation that you will be expected to spend long hours doing both with your boss and coworkers. You can certainly think of others that amount to ‘fair warning’ signs. I well remember a CEO who talked about the importance of balance and family time and rest. Yet he penalized employees who did not consistently work on Saturdays after long hours Monday – Friday.

Step 2. Delve Deeper Using your Network

As you focus on a critical few employers as well as targets of opportunity, be sure you are checking each organization out via people you know. You will have a lot of questions to ask about a potential employer to know whether it may be a good place for you. Some should be about those aspects of work life balance which matter to you. Start with the people you already know and seek out those who currently work at one of your targets or have worked at any. If you do not know people in that category, then ask your connections who they know at each target and seek referrals. If you are seeking a more senior position, you may also want to find others who can give you an external analysis such as consultants, contractors, vendors, and industry analysts.

When you are talking to people who have worked with a target employer, some simple questions can help you begin to understand more about the culture of the employer and how it fits into what you seek. These could include:

  • What do/did you enjoy most about working at company X? Least?
  • What does it take to succeed here?
  • What does it take to get promoted?
  • What are pay raises based on?
  • What’s turnover like? ( assess if above/below industry averages, stable, or increasing)
  • One of my personal goals is (going back to school, coaching my daughter’s team, etc.), how will that be seen here?
  • Who do you know in my field there that you would be willing to refer me to for more information?

Step 3. Questions for Interviewers

Once you have an opportunity to interview, be prepared to ask questions and assess what you see and hear about work life balance issues which are important to you.  Many of the examples shown below also will help you understand more about the job demands, your potential boss and team, the company.

During an initial phone screen, you may want to focus on one important career goal and ask a question or two related to that to assess whether you will move forward.

When you make it to the full interviewing stage, be prepared to ask questions of each person you talk to that will help you assess the work life balance issues important to you. Take notes on the answers.

For all interviewers:

  • What keeps you working here?
  • What do you hope to achieve this quarter/year? What gets in the way?
  • What is a typical day like around here/on this project?
  • What kinds of people do well here?
  • What does it take to get promoted?
  • Why is this position open?   (quit, promoted, fired)
  • What do I need to do to start ‘on the right path’ if I get the job?

For the hiring manager and any other manager interviewing you:

  • How will you define success in this job in the first 90 and 180 days?
  • What will a typical day be like if I get this job?
  • One of my professional goals is Z, how will that be supported here?
  • Why and how long has this position been open?
  • What happened to the last two people who held this job?
  • How do you want the person who gets this position to work with you?
  • What has your career been like since you joined Company X?
  • What do you like best about working here?
  • What are your top issues and needs?
  • Also ask any specific work life balance goal-related questions you may have after these questions.

In a small company, ask the founder and other senior staff:

  • What is your vision for this company?
  • Why did you found/join this company?
  • Where is the company most successful?

For recruiters and HR personnel:

  • I am interested in X (a work life goal you have).  What might help me achieve that here? Will anything hinder me?
  • I am interested in X and see the company provides some support for that.  How does that benefit/practice work?

Step 4: Assessing the Data

Whether you drop an employer off your target list early on in your research or make it through to the offer stage, assessment is critical. One bad answer or review does not necessarily make the decision for you.

Look at all the answers you have gotten from the questions above and others you have asked about work life balance. What you are looking for is patterns in the information you have gathered – both good and bad. Answers that are common across multiple interviewers are really valuable. But inconsistencies in answers can also tell you vital information if there is a pattern, such as management all says one thing while everyone else says the opposite – it happens.

  • What have you learned about the culture of the company as it relates to your needs?
  • What do you know about who succeeds and who doesn’t?
  • What signs are there that you can thrive and still meet your work life goals?
  • What signs indicate you cannot?

Be aware that red flags from your potential new boss often outweigh a lot of positives from other sources. If the two of you will not work well together, the positive options are unlikely to ever appear. Still one bad answer does not necessarily mean this relationship is doomed – what else did you learn and how important is each aspect?

You are never going to have ‘perfect data.’ So put your data together in whatever form works well for you and review it. Then make your decision.


Adapted from an article originally written for