The 3 Types of Work/Life Balance You’ll Encounter in Your Career

Kris Dunn Culture, Labor, Managing People, Policies, Talent Management, Vacation, Work Life Balance, Workplace Flexibilty

I did an interview for an open position at a client yesterday–during vacation, on the beach.

That probably tells you where this post is going. Go ahead and fire up the comments about feeling sorry for me. About how my priorities are out of whack. About how I need to take care of myself.

I’m not going to go all Gary V on you and tell you that you need to hustle more. But I do like hustle and was gifted a pair of Gary V shoes a while back.

Instead, I provide the info on my vacation as a visual to the following reality. I think there are three types of work/life balance in the world. Two you can choose, one you have to earn. All come with a cost.

Confused? Let’s break down the types of work/life balance you have to choose from:

1–You have zero work/life balance and zero flexibility. Not only are you working long hours, but you’re also expected to be present in the office/facility on the organization’s terms, not your own. You have zero flexibility about when you can leave, and you have your smartphone next to your pillow at night.

This situation is relatively easy to find. Just change jobs a couple of times, don’t have boundaries about what you’ll accept and you’ll find the company and boss combination that can provide this quickly. NOTE TO THE KIDS: Sometimes you have to put in some time in this situation to pick up the deep experience that can get you to a better place.

2–You have maximum work/life balance. Congrats! You have found a company and boss that respects your need for time away and even has an unwritten policy that they won’t reach out to you in the evening or on weekends. You come in at 8 am and leave at 5 pm. It feels good not to have to worry about the chaos after hours. Your time is your time. You found someone who respects that, so if it’s important to you, hold on with all your might.

There’s just one little problem with this–if you here a ticking sound, it might be the clock counting down on how comfortable you are. You see, progress on earth has rarely been moved forward by respecting labor’s need for an 8 to 5 schedule with a 90-minute lunch, so the tradeoff is that your manager may be mailing it in and putting you and your team at risk long term. Also, just know that by wanting the perfect 40-hour work-life balance, you’re opting out of the corporate version of Game of Thrones.

You get more done than the others, or you die don’t get promoted or become unemployed. I know it’s harsh. But the ticking clock is real for many who feel great about their work/life balance. It’s all fun and games until you’re on the market as a candidate whose biggest accomplishment was achieving balance.

3–You have no flexibility and maximum flexibility all at the same time. Most of us would agree that a feature of great work/life balance is being able to leave work when you need to–for a late lunch with a friend, for an event at your kid’s school, etc. If you have this ability, you agree, this rocks, and for many of us, it’s the best part of any work/life balance conversation.

But for the most part, it’s earned. You can’t put up walls and say you want a 40-hour week to get this flexibility. You have to earn it. The tradeoff for being able to leave anytime you want is being indispensable, which in corporate America means your boss–who is likely a complete Type A–can ping you at 9:30 pm and get a quick answer.

It’s that access and iteration pace that alpha leaders want out of their people. If you’re looking for work/life balance, that’s the bad news. But if you’re looking for max flexibility about when and where you work and if you can go to the Thursday afternoon soccer game, it might be the type of work/life balance you’re looking for.

That’s it, gotta go. Have another candidate interview coming up. Going to do it in the sun, by the pool. Then I’ll probably hit the beach.

Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.