Can You Find A “Work-Life Balance” Anywhere?

fashion-legs-notebook-working copy

THESE DAYS, everyone is talking about “work-life balance,” but it’s sort of a one-way conversation. It asks, Do you work too much?, but no one’s really suggesting that people have too much life on their hands, whatever that means. Of course, we all know what it means. The work-life balance is a dichotomy. There’s work, and then there is everything else: partners, parents, hobbies, children, pets, and entertainment. For a person like me, who actually likes to work, the insinuation that her job isn’t a part of her real life is, well, kind of offensive.

Regardless of how you feel about work-life balance, the good news is that there are employment options in all fields and at all education levels that allow workers the flexibility to spend time and curate healthy relationships outside the office. I’m not talking about part-time jobs, either, but careers with bread-winning salaries.

Listing income information, job satisfaction survey data, and the number of available positions, jobs website Glassdoor recently identified the best jobs for work-life balance. Topping the list are data scientists, with average salaries approaching $120K and a reported work-life balance rating of 4.2 out of 5. With nearly half of all data scientists holding doctoral degrees, however, that obviously isn’t a career path that many can embark on lightly.

But other jobs on Glassdoor‘s list require little more than a bachelor’s degree. Careers in human resources — such as recruiting coordinator (#6) and client manager (#13) — sport salaries in the $60-80K range, are open to candidates who have completed 4-year programs in almost any discipline, and provide position-holders the opportunity to leave work at the office or relocate it to the home.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are substitute teachers, who hold tight at the #5 spot. These individuals bring home less than $25K each year and aren’t generally able to work out of their living rooms. But for those of us who piece together full-time employment out of part-time gigs, having a job that only occasionally calls us out of the house grants us both the flexibility to take care of family obligations and just enough fresh air to keep us from going all Yellow Wallpaper.

The prevalence of free Wi-Fi and affordable computing options have made flexible, remote employment available to almost every individual who wants it. And, let’s face it: working in your pajamas holds a certain allure for anyone who has ever been cut off in rush-hour traffic or lost a lunch to a break-room thief.

Still, I’m sure some of the uninitiated might be suspicious of the idea that working from home would increase one’s ability to balance work and family life. After all, how can you guarantee your productivity with a rambunctious toddler running circles around your desk chair? And how on Earth are you supposed to keep your work problems at the office when the office abuts your living room? I can’t answer these questions for you, but I can tell you — speaking personally — that I have never been happier or closer to my family at any point in my adult life than I am now.

Regardless of the favorable climate for remote employment, most of us still have choices to make regarding how and where we invest our time and energy. But hope remains for those workers who feel they spend too much time in the office and away from their families. Most of the careers featured on Glassdoor‘s lists fall into the same fields: computer programming, human resources, and business administration. Although career shifts can be chaotic, these listings reveal possible avenues for those who want to spend more time at home to do so with only slight changes in career direction and salary.

For decades, people of all political, religious, and ideological stripes have been asking whether women can “have it all,” — the all being a lucrative career, a loving marriage, close friends, well-raised children, and time to spare. Anti-feminists parsed women’s attempts at winning the trifecta of success — a career, marriage, and children — with questions about childcare, partner involvement, maternity leave, and salaries. Obviously, no one was ever asking whether men could have it all; they had wives to love them and raise their children, making work their top priority and obligation.

So when I say that “work-life balance” is the new “having it all” (check out Having it All, a new film by Seattle filmmaker Vlada Knowlton exploring just that issue), understand that I don’t think that’s necessarily all-bad. We all wanted those obnoxious, “having it all” questions to just end already, and — well, at least we now have an alternative. More importantly, in shifting the conversation to the work-life balance, we’re now looking at men’s relationships with their families and careers as well, courtesy of Paul Ryan. Make no mistake: the focus still lies overwhelmingly on women. But asking whether men can be good husbands and fathers while working 80 hours a week is a step toward gender equity.