Careers Insight: Assessing the work-life balance


It is vital to weigh up exactly what you are prepared to sacrifice outside work before taking on a new role

There was a time when the boundaries between work and home were fairly clear; however the advent of mobile communications and digital solutions has meant that interruptions could be 24/7. Moreover, culturally there’s been a big shift towards people commuting further to their place of work, especially when it comes to careers in the City.

Ultimately people find the rhythm to their life that suits their personal situation, and understanding how someone balances their work and life is a massive factor in ensuring that a recruiter understands if a candidate is a good fit for a role.

By understanding the expectations within a role I challenge the individual to find out the hours they regularly work, and then importantly try to find what they feel is their capacity to accelerate the next phase of their career and, indeed, what they might sacrifice in their personal situation if the new role requires a few different or extra hours.

Even if only to get fully up to date with company policies, systems or procedures when going to a new employer, the previous pattern that will have been established in their existing role has been broken.

Evaluate the role
It is important therefore to have a healthy discussion about what someone takes on both at home and work, and my judgement has taught me that the candidates who show how well controlled and balanced they are, whilst achieving, are those that have greater scope for the next challenge in their career.

I pay great attention to how an individual evaluates an opportunity, and by exploring how someone manages their work and career I can have confidence in their capacity for a move.

Let’s face it there are not many roles where the competencies exclude the need for organisational skills and the ability to prioritise but these are often focused on how they do that in work. Extending the question to cover how these are applied in an overall lifestyle can be much more illuminating.

There are those who believe that you need to work long hours in order to progress. The culture of presenteeism is more pronounced in some worlds than others, but this underplays the need for effectiveness of hours worked, and I’ve noticed a cultural shift towards empowering individuals and focusing on the outputs rather than the inputs.

Moreover, you hear the phrase from candidates that the company expects its ‘pound of flesh’, but any robust selection process must not let a work ethic have more emphasis than the quality of decisions made and what will most satisfy the requirements of the role and the business in the longer term.

There are roles that are not particularly conducive to a satisfying family life. A national account manager for a lender often has to make sacrifices in terms of time away from home.

This can be exacerbated the role is with a lender preparing to launch into the market, and the focus of the business is on announcing its arrival, educating and influencing to ensure the brand is understood and traction is gained.

Therefore, while the concept of being part of something from the outset has many attractions it has to be tested against the personal situation of the individual and how well they can apply the focus necessary to make things happen.

Assess your limits
The lure of the potential rewards can mean that the wider considerations of the impact on work-life balance and the overall career opportunity get lost. People say ”why wouldn’t I move to do the same sort of job but earn £xxx more”, which misses the importance of assessing the investment you want to make in your career versus what is needed of you outside of the workplace.

You should know your own equilibrium. It’s up to you to prioritise, make adjustments and decide what you are and are not prepared to do to advance your career.

The level of recruitment activity will lead to you being approached sometime soon, so start paying attention to your own needs and ask “am I ready for a new commitment and challenge and what adjustments am I prepared to make?”

Peter Gwilliam is owner of Virtus Search