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On work-life balance and total compensation

There’s more than just cash compensation to most job offers. Most of us know this, and when faced with deciding whether a job offer is attractive, we know to do some math on the cost of benefits, and to compare how much your share of the cost is when you access healthcare services. The savvy among us are also asking questions like, how much is the employer matching contribution on the 401(k) plan? Is it subject to vesting? You might even calculate how much more/less your new commute would cost. The value of employer-provided benefits can add up to 20% or more of your salary, and it’s important to get all the details before you sign that offer letter.

Here’s something that’s also important to consider: the work schedule. How many hours a week can you expect to work, and when? Increasingly, people want and need “work-life balance.” I put it in quotation marks because it can be an elusive and ever-changing thing, and means something different to everyone. The joke 20-some years ago was that certain large employers said sure, we have work-life balance – you can work any 70 hours a week you want!

For parents, work-life balance may mean the ability to flex their work hours to accommodate their children’s needs. For some, it might mean commuting earlier or later to avoid the time-wasting height of rush hour. And pretty much everyone wants to be able to deal with personal stuff – doctor’s appointments, trips to the bank, or meeting repairmen at home – during the day if needed without being made to feel guilty about taking that time away from work.

Another thing to explore when considering a job offer is, where will you be working? For many white-collar professionals, telework has been an increasingly desirable perk. Many employers had begun offering discretionary work-from-home policies. Then the coronavirus pandemic happened, and now, many of us whose jobs are doable from home are still working in our home offices (or at our dining room tables, or in a corner in our bedroom) seven months into this thing. While the virus is still very much with us, cautious employers are wisely keeping their employees from circulating in public, which is what happens when one travels from home to the office. Nobody wants to get sick with it, and nobody wants to unknowingly be a carrier who spreads it.

So, telework is a huge factor in work-life balance. But when framed in the context of total compensation, it’s like giving yourself a raise. You’re not paying to park (or for transit) or putting gas in your car. You don’t need to keep buying new office clothes or shoes. You probably aren’t eating lunch out as often, either. It all adds up. (And that’s not to mention that employers who are able to reduce their office space stand to save big bucks in rent.)

Telework has returned to many employees the most precious commodity of all: Time. If you used to commute to an office in a major metropolitan area, I know you feel me when I say it’s going to be really hard to get back into my car, or on the Metro, and spend the better part of an hour, two times a day, getting to and from my office. Also, I finally stopped blow-drying my hair, which gives me back 10-15 minutes every morning, and I think my hair looks healthier, too. (Silver linings!)

My hope is that employers recognize that the significant advantages of telework are a valuable incentive for current employees and an attractive part of their total compensation offering for new hires. It also helps them to expand their pool of qualified job applicants by recruiting talent from beyond the area where their physical office is located. Maybe the employers who were dragging their feet have realized that it actually can work, and be a good thing.

The old-school days of putting on a suit and tie, white shirt and wingtips are long gone. Technology has made it possible for people to consider work separate from where the physical office space is. Work is no longer a place we go – it’s a thing we do. Forward-thinking employers and workers understand that productivity isn’t compromised when employees fit work into their individual lives, instead of everyone rearranging their lives to fit a one-size-fits-all work situation. How grown-up! How liberating! The evolution has begun, hastened by the pandemic. How will you evolve with it?

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