Define “Work-Life Balance”…

I stumbled on this article title and hastily clicked the link to read it: “How to Discuss Work-Life Balance.”  The main reason why I clicked it was, of course, because work-life balance is constantly on my mind as I juggle research, time with my husband and my baby girl, volunteer work in my community, and my personal interests.  What I found was perhaps a little different than what I expected.  I was expecting to find another feel-good, empowering article about the importance of work-life balance and why we should all strive for it.  But what I found was some common-sense, practical advice for how to define and negotiate for work-life balance.

The author describes a scene in an interview where “work-life balance” came up.  Consider yourself in the position of the interviewee: in your mind, you see “work-life balance” as a term to describe your desire to balance work and your own personal growth.  Now consider the interviewer’s perspective: how may this ambiguous phrase be interpreted?  Does it suggest that you think you will work less or that you are less committed to your work than you should be?

Read one of the big hitters of the article:

Happiness at work does come with physical and mental-health benefits, and you will not obtain those unless you ask. Many people do not ask for what they want, which is too bad, because happiness cannot come from work alone. We do have a right to make a case for what we need and want.

But there is simply a savvier way to do so than by dropping a decade-old, ambiguous buzz term. Achieving work-life balance requires defining the term for yourself personally and then openly discussing how that aligns with the needs of your current or future employer. If you are still unhappy, then perhaps it is not the right organization or sector for you.

I appreciated this perspective.  I was reminded that I need to define work-life balance for me.  It’s not that I want to work less or produce lower quality work.  Rather, I want the freedom to stay home with my sick child when I need to and work during her naps or late at night when she’s tucked in bed.  I want to have a career in a sector where successes both in the office and in the home are respected and applauded.  If I want this sort of life, then I need to find a place where the work culture is aligned with my values and I need to portray this definition of work-life balance in a way that both the employer and I can benefit.


  • Hi thanks for sharing the article and your thoughts. While reading your post, I thought about my own “work-life” balance dilema. There was a time, not too long ago, that I really strugled with it, I wanted to be more on the golf course, playing soccer, tennis or going out, etc. rather than working, mainly because I was enjoying that a lot more than my PhD work, and not because I don’t like my work, but because I had put too much value on finding “balance” by dedicating more time to other activities, and went to the opposite extreme. So, the lesson for me was, and what I do now is: work as efficiently as possible to have time to do sports later on the day. I know is not the same as having a family, but well, for everyone is different…and later on I will probably be in “your shoes”

  • erinleighvt says:

    Very interesting. I agree with your perspective. I don’t view work-life balance as wanting to do less, but as understanding that things outside of work are important too!

  • baileyfood says:

    I love the article excerpt you shared! Yes, I do believe ‘work-life balance’ is a very individualized definition. At the end of the day, you cannot contribute good work if you do not feel renewed, refreshed, and happy in both work and life!

  • Catherine Einstein says:

    I like this new way of thinking of work-life balance as well. A supervisor or interview seeming to not value work-life balance for their employees is also a red flag to me. The employer isn’t doing you a favor by hiring you; you are an asset that deserves compensation. Your mental health is an important part of you remaining an asset and maintaining your quality of work.

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