4 Tips for Identifying an Employer’s Work-Life Balance
In any career transition, it’s important to keep in mind the work-life balance that you will (or won’t) have with your potential employer. In addition to your home life, work-life balance is associated with stress levels and the quality of the relationship that you have with your boss.
Here are four tips to help identify the work-life balance at potential employers’ workplaces.
Before you apply
1. Find the official policies
The human resources website is a good place to start looking for official policies that will impact work-life balance. Formal benefits, like flex scheduling, personal and/or dependent sick leave (in addition to vacation time) as well as paid parental leave, all suggest that the employer places value on their employees. The extension of these policies to postdocs indicates how far this value extends.
Consider also evaluating institutional and departmental code(s) of conduct or ethics, paying special attention to their stance on workplace harassment. Boilerplate language that doesn’t provide clear definitions, processes for addressing these concerns, or protections beyond the legal minimum is not a good sign.
Whether or not you’re interested in having (or already have) children, carefully review the benefits and support for working parents; these are indicators of how well employees are supported through difficult life periods.
2. Compare employer policies and practices.
There are many websites with crowd-sourced, usually unofficial, information about employers. Glassdoor features reviews from current and previous employees, while FairyGodBoss features reviews written for women by women. Maybrooks has a family leave policy database sourced from women employees, which would complement the leave info reported on List Your Leave.
Even if all the official boxes seem to be checked, particularly large employers (e.g., universities) can have extreme workplace culture differences between smaller working units like programs and departments. This is where you get a chance to put your social media to good use. Select a few current members of the workplace (include your potential boss and some lower-ranking positions) and find their feeds. Frequent venting about coworkers and/or working on weekends and holidays isn’t a good sign. Neither is an absence of posts about their non-work lives.
It may also be helpful to figure out how many (if any) potential coworkers have stay-at-home spouses. Again, even if you aren’t interested in children, there are still day-to-day non-work responsibilities that must be managed in addition to work. A prevalence of stay-at-home spouses among potential coworkers suggests that they don’t have the time or flexibility for non-work necessities.
Consider also conducting informational interviews with current and/or former employees. Questions about day-to-day expectations, management styles, and support during the pandemic could all yield valuable information about the work-life balance at your potential employer.
During the interviews
3. Listen for keywords.
Many job candidates, particularly women, are weary of family-related questions during interviews. To get a sense of work-life balance, consider asking related questions where the respondent might volunteer such information. Before the interview, identify some keywords that would indicate a positive or negative workplace culture, and listen for them in response to your queries. An absence of positive keywords and/or an abundance of negative keywords should lead you to reconsider this employer.
4. Evaluate the physical workplace.
Actions speak louder than words; the workplace speaks louder than policies. The appearance and overall vibe of a workplace can speak volumes about workplace culture and the potential for a good work-life balance. At the end of an interview, ask for a tour; it’s a reasonable request even for remote interviews. As you browse the office, look for evidence of a life outside of work, dedicated rooms for moms who pump, and compare how busy the workplace is to the time of day. If you schedule an interview early or late in the day, evaluate how full (or empty) the office is when it begins or ends, respectively. Aseptic or sterile workspaces suggest that homelives (and thus, work-life balance) don’t have a place at work. An abundance of photos or cultural items, however, suggest that employees feel comfortable bringing their homelife to work.
When you decide
Remember, “an organization that truly cares for its team members will never penalize employees for prioritizing work-life balance.” Don’t feel guilty, apologetic, or ashamed for turning down a job offer with an employer that doesn’t seem to meet your work-life balance needs.
About the Author: Dr. Ada Hagan is a microbiologist with a passion for making science accessible. In 2019, Dr. Hagan founded Alliance SciComm & Consulting, LLC as a means to use her strong background in communications and higher education to help make scientific concepts more easily understood and make the academy more inclusive to future scientists from all backgrounds. Her writing and research have been featured by BBC Radio 4, Science Careers, The Scientist, Massive Science, and the American Society for Microbiology.