What is work/life balance — and how do you know if you have it?

Creating balance and flexibility in your day-to-day life can be a challenge. Here are some tips to create the life you want.

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As a single, childless 20-something early in your career, you may feel like your work and personal life are pretty balanced. The whole “work/life balance” conversation is typically reserved for people a decade ahead of you, with kids, spouses, and houses to juggle alongside a full-time job.

But work/life balance applies to you, too. Generally speaking, work-life balance is achieved when you can juggle the competing agendas of your work and personal schedule — be it relationships, family, fitness, volunteering, or any other priority outside of work.

What does work/life balance look like?

One way to make this conversation more about you is to reframe it. It’s not so much about perfect balance, but flexibility when it comes to work hours and work location.

“Balance means equal parts,” says Eric Roberge, a CFP who founded his own financial planning firm, Beyond Your Hammock, in order to create the kind of work/life flexibility he sought. “Most people don’t need time split exactly between work, their social lives, and their family. What we do need is to get time off when necessary. It’s all about the flexibility.”

How to create your own work/life flexibility

Although it’s an option, you don’t necessarily need to be self-employed to get the work/life balance and flexibility that you want. You can achieve this with an employer who offers the right benefits.

First, you need to identify what work/life balance means to you. Ask yourself that exact question: “What does work/life balance look like for me? What would it allow me to do?”

Then, make yourself answer. Grab a sheet of paper and start writing down exactly what that balance means for you and what it looks like: Do you prefer getting in at 7 a.m. and leaving before 5:00? Or do you want a longer lunch break to walk your dog? This will give you clarity on what’s really important to you, and you’ll be able to determine if an employer offers benefits that support that vision.

“When you talk to a potential employer and they mention they appreciate or encourage work/life balance, ask what they mean by that,” suggests Roberge. “Ask how they define that.” He explains since each company has a different definition, you need to make sure your idea of work/life balance aligns with theirs.


Young professionals value work/life balance over all other job characteristics, including the opportunity to be a leader, having a sense of meaning from their work, and travel

— 2016 Deloitte Millennial survey


The tangible benefits to look for in your workplace

Companies that offer gourmet lunch programs, nap pods, or recreational activities (like video games, ping-pong tables, and other fun options) can look like they give employees a great work/life balance set-up. But you could actually feel even more unbalanced than ever if you focus on perks like this.

The benefit to having these perks is that they may give you a break away from your desk during the day. But it could also throw off the balance between your work and the rest of your life, because you may end up spending more of your personal time in the office — you won’t get the opportunity to grab lunch and run to the post office if it’s expected that you always stay on-site for a provided lunch.

These benefits look like work/life balance, but they lack flexibility. Ideally, you want to look for company benefits that give you a choice in how you structure your days — especially when you need time away from the office.

Here are some benefits to look for that’ll help you design your work/life balance as a young professional:

  • Alternative work schedules, where employees get to choose when they’re in the office (like the “4/10” workweek that allows you to work 10 hours for 4 days per week and enjoy 3 days off, instead of working 5 days per week for 8 hours)
  • Flextime options (like starting your day earlier so you can leave sooner in the afternoon, or vice versa)
  • Telecommuting or working remotely (full- or part-time)
  • Wellness programs and fitness facilities (that can save you time and money)
  • Flexible paid time off options or extended vacation days
  • Ability to spend a set amount of working hours on personal or passion projects

You will reap the most rewards from benefits similar to these. Because they give you options and choices in how you set up your time, you’ll be more likely to find that “work/life flexibility.”