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Work/life balance more important than money for some
By Susan Bowles, Special to Gannett
Money isn't manna to 25-year-old John, a general assignment reporter for a small Southeastern newspaper. What's heaven-sent for him is the time he has for himself and his wife of two years.

"All I want is to be financially stable, not financially wealthy," says the reporter, who asked that his real name not be used. "I don't want work to be my entire life."

Unfortunately, John's bosses want an ever-larger piece of his life a tradeoff he isn't willing to make. John now is looking for a job that will honor his commitment to work/life balance. As he puts it: "I don't want to wait until retirement to start living."

John isn't alone. Workers today are looking for jobs that strike a balance between office and home. And while younger people may be more vocal about their work/life desires, the trend cuts across generations.

"Companies need to recognize that this issue is growing in importance. And it's growing fast," says John Izzo, president and CEO of Izzo Consulting in Vancouver, British Columbia, and co-author of Values Shift: The New Work Ethic & What It Means For Business. "This is not a temporary trend."

According to this year's Job Satisfaction Survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, slightly more than 60 percent of workers up to age 55 list work/life balance as one of the top five ways they find satisfaction from their careers.

"What I think is interesting," says Jennifer Schramm, the society's manager of workplace trends and forecasting, "is that the different generations look so similar."

Yet older workers may just be learning the importance of balance, experts say. Their younger colleagues consider it crucial as soon as they enter the job market.

That's because many in the younger set watched their parents make work a religion, says Claire Raines, CEO of Claire Raines & Associates in Denver and co-author of Generations At Work: Managing The Clash Of Veterans, Boomers, Xers & Nexters In Your Workplace. They watched as their parents were shown the door during the downsizing of the late 1980s and early '90s. And they paid a personal price when their mothers and fathers worked evenings and weekends.

"I think Gen-Xers really reacted to that," Raines says. "It's a different world now. They don't identify themselves with their jobs."

To compensate, "companies are going to have to be a lot more creative," Izzo says. Among his suggestions:

  • Realize that productivity and quality don't depend on how much time employees spend at their desks.

  • Begin thinking of time as a form of compensation.

  • Practice the work/life balance that's preached. If, for instance, a business says it's okay not to answer emails over the weekend, its top managers shouldn't spend all day Saturday and Sunday answering messages.

Of course, employees can do a lot to ensure a work/life balance themselves. And the best place to start is when looking for a job.

Take John. As he begins interviewing potential employers, he should follow some basic strategies. Among them:

  • Research the culture. Look at company literature, Schramm says, to try to gauge how balance is valued. It's best to know the work/life culture before you accept a job because "even if you can negotiate a certain level of flexibility with your time, if you're not in a culture that accepts that, there may not be a way to do it that isn't problematic."

  • Ask direct questions. Raines suggests several: What policies does your company have that help employees with work/life issues? Do you offer flexible scheduling? Do you offer tuition reimbursements?

  • Be a contrarian. Flip the work/life equation, Izzo suggests, and ask the person interviewing you how the company makes it difficult to achieve work/life balance." Be sensitive. Remember that you're interviewing for work so make it clear that work is important to you. "It's touchy," Raines says. "You have to be careful."

  • Be willing to sacrifice. You can't have it all, Izzo says. If striking a balance between office and home is all-important, then you may have to trim your expectations. A balanced life might mean less income or slower progress in your career. "You have to have some courage," he says, "and make some changes."

Today's emphasis on work/life balance isn't going to fade. Even with the recent economic downturn, people's attention to time and family has continued to grow, "which to me is a sign of how robust this value is," Izzo says.

Besides, the younger workers who hold balance dear will carry that value as they move through the workforce. In many cases, they've seen the alternative. And it's no place they want to go.

"I just don't feel like giving myself completely to a job. I've seen people who do that, and they look miserable," John says. "I don't want to be miserable."


Susan Bowles is a business journalist based in Washington, DC. She has 20 years journalism experience and has written for USA Today, USATODAY.com, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post.

For more information about John Izzo, his book or Izzo Consulting, visit his website at www.izzoconsulting.com.