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It's commonly claimed that one shouldn't directly ask about a firm's work-life balance during a job interview.

Once a job candidate is tendered a verbal offer, is it common for the candidate to ask about work-life balance?

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    I don't recall seeing that advice, and I disagree with it. Ask about that in the interview because it will affect things like how much money you ask for. In Australia and New Zealand waiting until the offer is made would be unusual. In larger companies you're often dealing with two different people - the owner/MD/CEO does the pay offer and negotiation, your team leader/manager controls the work-life balance. – Móż Nov 9 '15 at 4:31
  • never heard that it shouldn't be asked then, are we all working off the same definition of work-life balance – Kilisi Nov 9 '15 at 6:40
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    Don't use the words "work-life balance" when asking about this, but rather go directly to specific issues that are important to you and answerable. e.g. normal working hours, overtime, working occasional late hours, crunch time, coming in on the weekends, obligatory attendance of non-work functions, etc. – Brandin Nov 9 '15 at 8:46
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    Your question is starting from a false premise and entirely too broad. There are arguments to be made for bringing work-life balance up at any point in the interview process depending on the location, the job, the company's reputation and your priorities. – Lilienthal Nov 9 '15 at 12:11
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    Perhaps it's a cultural thing, but for me one of the main things I ask about in an initial interview is the working culture of the company. They won't outright tell you if the hours are excessive, but if you ask the right questions and listen closely to the answers you can get a pretty good idea. A job interview is intended for both candidate and company to get to know eachother, how can you decide whether or not the company is a good fit for you if you don't know if their working culture matches? – Cronax Nov 9 '15 at 13:47
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If you have needs outside of traditional employment expectations to balance your work and your personal life in order to be effective in both, then addressing it up front is important. People that disrespect their work responsibilities in order to handle personal matters create the apprehension in asking about this directly.

To address your concern appropriately, first consider how you would feel if your employer had hidden expectations about your job and responsibilities that are not disclosed to you until after you "verbally accept" their offer. And then they say, "Well, before we make this 'official' we want to clarify a few things..." That's not exactly a trust-building situation.

The key is to be able to articulate your needs and concerns appropriately during the interview process. If you are confident in your ability to be successful in the job for which you are interviewing, then it is critical that you understand company's policies and expectations that impact "work-life balance." How you communicate your needs, concerns and desires is very important, just like the employer should communicate their expectations and policies. Clearly, timing of those questions is an important aspect of your communication.

If you are dedicated to your work and advancing the pursuits of the company that is considering you as a candidate, then you should emphasize your confidence and demonstrate your ability achieve this during your interview. You should also be able to demonstrate or explain how you can do this based on your personal situation (which is what "work-life balance" is really about - personalizing your employment). Potential employers that are not convinced of this during the interview process are unlikely to be open to changing their "successful company" during your employment, creating post-hire conflict.

So if you do not get a job because of your work-life balance inquiries then it's likely that your situation is not compatible with company. If you end up employed by the company you will likely have contentious encounters during your employment, adding stress and difficulty to your life when you have already expressed a desire to find an employer that values and supports your work-life balance interests.

People that advise that you should not ask about this upfront put you at risk of finding yourself in employment situations with which you are unhappy, discontent or in other ways dysfunctional. However, you should practice articulating your needs and concerns, thoroughly research any potential employer and expect that some employers, no matter how attractive at first, will not be compatible with your circumstances.

EDIT:

"Traditional employment" is established based on employer/employee habits, standards, regulations, etc. In the US we consider 40 hours to be a "typical" workweek. Employers should then reasonably expect a "full time" employee to be present and engaged during those 40 hours. Additionally, there are laws regarding employment practices, most salaried people being "exempt" from overtime pay since the employer is paying for a job to get done, not for the hours worked.

"Work-life balance" questions usually are focused on two aspects of this: presence and expected work hours. Because of the nature of some jobs, employees need to be present and engaged more than 40 hours a week at times. Usually compensation for these jobs is higher than for other similar jobs, which is how employers attract employees into these jobs.

If you are sincerely interested in, are professional about and require "work life balance" options, then negotiating office presence and work hours is a natural part of the interview conversation. For example, if your potential employer does not offer health insurance benefits that does not mean you will not accept the job, but if they disclose this after a verbal offer is made, the conversation can be very awkward.

Likewise, during your conversations with a potential employer, you can ask questions like, "do you expect me to be available to work off site or while I am home sick?" If the answer to that question is "yes" then it stands to reason you can also work offsite while you are not sick. Similarly, asking about core office hours and how frequently people work outside of those hours and whether or not that is expected will help you and your potential employer set the proper expectations about presence in the office.

Trying to negotiate the same salary as another person in the office that is willing and able to work longer hours does not sound appropriate. Trying to negotiate working from home for a job where the employer does not know how to manage that or is not prepared to support can create immediate tension, no doubt.

But an interview is a process that involves negotiating a complex set of agreements, setting expectations and trying to predict the success of a potential relationship. If your potential employer makes a statement like, "you will be responsible for creating weekly reports, and we may call you if you are home sick to locate them," that is not the same as, "if you are home sick, you may still be asked to finish up reports that are not done, or respond to calls and emails to help someone else complete them."

In other words, if you want to be able to go to a kid's basketball game while others are "still in the office" or you get too stressed with the confines of sitting in an office 40+ hours a week, but being available, engaged and productive is something you can perform outside the office, then you can negotiate your hours of presence in the office.

Likewise, if a 40+ workweek is excessive for personal reasons, you may be able to negotiate a shorter workweek while still receiving a salary, but maybe it is reduced. This one is more tricky because work standards are established around 40 hour workweeks.

For example, some health insurance programs measure the number of "full time employees" based on hours worked, impacting the availability and cost of the programs. Your negotiation for reduced hours can then have an impact far beyond the negotiation of your particular job, and therefore you may be denied the request for reasons that are not obvious or clear to you.

Also, some employers have tried non-traditional policies and get burned. Things like "no formal sick days - just don't show up to work sick." In my own experience with that one, I had to pull out a calendar to determine that my salaried receptionist (a young person) had been "sick" 12 days in 6 months, always on Monday's and Friday's. Had I maintained the policy, that would have resulted in about 25 sick days + 10 vacation days for the year - over two months for a otherwise "healthy" 20 year old. This kind of experience creates apprehension in employers when asked about "flexible time" because often enough it is a request to get paid the same to work less.

Similarly I have tried having some employees work reduced hour workweeks. This has had success in some cases. At other times it has led to other employees also reducing their own hours despite awareness that there were differences in compensation. This led to uncomfortable discussions about reduced compensation for the other employees and even less productivity. Likewise for "work from home" options where the employee just appears, to other employees, to be absent.

So negotiating non-traditional benefits can be complex, lead to anxiety and potentially result in missed job "opportunities." However, if you are sincerely looking for a better balance between hours in the office and hours outside the office, then exploring options like working from home or a reduced work hours outside "traditional employment" works for some companies and some people.

If you wait to try to negotiate this until after you get a verbal offer, you risk appearing dishonest or not forthright with your expectations and intentions before your first day of employment. For employers that are open to these options, it's like asking about other benefits after you receive a verbal offer - an "oh yeah, I should tell you about that." Those employers would also have been happy to address them before the verbal offer. Similarly, if you forget to ask about these options, that is fine also except you risk that the employer's policy does not match your desires; but that may be no worse than disliking the health insurance option offered - not ideal, but the rest of the job prospects make it worth it.

But after a verbal offer has been tendered, the best move for most people is to focus on whatever points of negotiation remained from any interview conversations (start date, salary, title, etc.) and that could also include benefits, personal needs or work-life balance options that where still unresolved. This is generally a bad time to surprise the person making the offer (they have probably already told their boss and maybe key employees about the verbal offer - throwing a curve-ball at them at that time may be the worst thing you could do).

  • What are the "traditional employment expectations" that you mention? There's something about this answer I don't like, but I can't put my finger on it, and I think it might be hidden inside what you think the traditional expectations are... – Erik Nov 9 '15 at 8:40
  • @Jim: "If you have needs outside of traditional employment expectations to balance your work and your personal life in order to be effective in both, then addressing it up front is important." I'm in the US. Traditional employment expectations are 40 hours/week for a salaried employee. But in some sectors that could mean anywhere from 40 to 70 hours/week. – user1071847 Nov 10 '15 at 14:22
  • I edited my already long answer... to make it longer. The misperception here is that a "negotiating trick" or procrastinating a potentially sensitive topic is a good idea when it generally isn't. – Jim Nov 10 '15 at 21:35
  • @Jim: Thanks for the lengthy, informative response. I agree with your sentiment, but like I say the bulk of the advice out there is "don't ask explicitly." My vibe for this place is that the work hours aren't unreasonable, but I'll ask if they make me an offer or request another interview. Then again, maybe they'll just turn me down in which case the issue is moot. – user1071847 Nov 10 '15 at 21:58
4

Once a job candidate is tendered a verbal offer, is it common for the candidate to ask about work-life balance?

Yes, once the initial interview is done, you can ask about the Work-Life balance questions directly or indirectly during the subsequent interviews or even during the salary negotiation phase too.

  • The tendered offer will be after several interviews. Your two sentences apply to different times i.e. you ask about work-life balance before the tendered offer – Mark Nov 9 '15 at 11:56
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It's commonly claimed that one shouldn't directly ask about a firm's work-life balance during a job interview.

I've never heard that claim before. Where have you heard it? To me, that makes no sense.

Interviews serve several purposes.

  1. The hiring company tries to determine if you will be a good fit for their needs.
  2. You try to determine if the company and position will be a good fit for your needs.

Part of your needs involve your life outside of work. You need to be sure that your personal needs won't be disrupted by the company needs.

Thus, you need to determine what the work requirements are, what the company culture is like, what the pay and benefits are, etc, etc. Basically, anything that impacts your home life.

For me, a key aspect in recent years has been travel. Any amount of business travel would be unacceptable, as it would impact the needs of my family negatively.

You likely have home needs that concern you. So you should find a way to learn how these will be impacted by a new job.

You might be able to learn some of them by looking at the company's website. A site like GlassDoor might provide some insight. But often, you must ask questions during the interview process. I often find that talking to a potential peer is a good source of information for questions about work-life balance. Questions like "What do you like most about working here?", "What's it like working for [the hiring manager]?", "How often are people expected to work overtime?" can often lead to good discussions.

Once a job candidate is tendered a verbal offer, is it common for the candidate to ask about work-life balance?

For me, waiting until after an offer is tendered is too late.

If work-life balance is important to you (and I'm assuming you wouldn't have asked the question if it wasn't), then you should find out about it earlier in the process - before an offer is made. That way, you won't be under time pressure to accept the offer, and can make a choice that is good for you both personally and professionally.

  • "I've never heard that claim before. Where have you heard it? To me, that makes no sense." I agree that it doesn't make sense, but googling "work life balance interview" shows lots of advice saying don't ask at all, or ask only in very indirect ways. – user1071847 Nov 10 '15 at 14:25

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