There’s a general consensus that we Americans struggle with the notion of a work/life balance. Certainly, there’s also a general feeling that Europe is ahead of the curve, and that the US is lagging behind somewhat when it comes to getting the balance between work and life right.

That statement might not be substantiated with any hard statistical evidence. However, anecdotally, the point is clear. In 2017, the French Government introduced a law that allows employees to disconnect from their work email when they are out of the office. That’s a concept that will seem completely alien to most American workers – and it will probably cause a fair bit of jealousy too.  Can you imagine?  Speaking for myself, I can not.

In general, regulations and laws around employment – from the number of hours that can be worked in a week to maternity and paternity rights – in continental Europe seem to promote work/life balance more positively than in America.

Trends and methods

Of course, America has made progress with work/life balance in recent years. Some companies have followed the lead set by the French Government in limiting email access for employees on weekends.

Telecommuting and a flexible approach to the working week, moving away from the traditional 9-5 model, are also becoming more common. Similarly, part-time arrangements and job shares are other methods that some companies have been trying.

First of all, it’s encouraging to know that it has never been easier to gain an insight into a company’s culture than it is today. Platforms such as Glassdoor make it easy to glean useful nuggets of information about the working hours, benefits and general expectations within an organization. Crucially, you can discover all this information at the click of a button – and without actually having to ask any questions about it.

Indeed, asking questions about work/life balance can be tricky.  It’s not really advisable to broach the subject in an interview. Rightly or wrongly, these types of questions can be misconstrued as an indication that a candidate is not wholly job-focused.

It’s really quite interesting when you think about it.  You may think you are simply asking about the work/life balance so you have an idea of what you are getting yourself into and the interviewer hears, “I don’t want to work past 5 ever.”  Of course this is not what you are saying or even what you mean.  It’s the same when you ask about vacation.  You may simply want to know how much vacation you’ll be eligible for and the interviewer hears, “I don’t want to work.”

How and when you ask such questions needs to be carefully considered and it’s not advisable to bring these matters up early on in the process.

The best strategy is to look for examples of work/life balance methods within your current or prospective organization before pushing the issue yourself. As previously stated, it’s easy enough to do independent research to find out the extent to which work/life balance is embraced in a company.  Is the company sending you emails late at night or over the weekend?  This may or may not be a sign that you too will be expected to do this.  To be fair, sending a quick email is not necessarily that big a deal but, how many, how often and how involved do these messages need to be?

One very positive indicator would be iIf you see evidence, particularly in senior positions, then it looks more likely that the company will be supportive of work/life balance requests.  I will tell you, from what I’ve witnessed personally though, what matters most is the attitude of your direct manager regardless of what the company policy may be.  So look closely and pay attention to the cues you may be seeing.  It’s not unheard of for managers to say that they support requests for flexible working schedules and other methods when they actually don’t.

In conclusion, work/life balance is being embraced more and more by companies across the US, but the issue still needs to be approached with a degree of caution.