We're two weeks away from releasing our annual Vault Accounting 50, a ranking of the best accounting firms to work for in North America. And, this year, as in the past two, the Vault 50 doesn't only rank firms in the area of prestige, but also in other important "quality of life" categories. This year, allong with prestige, the Vault 50 takes into account compensation, firm culture, overall job satisfaction, business outlook, and, that often vague but very important category, work/life balance. And it's this category that I want to talk about for a few minutes.
First, I have to admit that, over the years, the term "work/life balance" (which apparently came into existence in the U.S. in the 1980s) has greatly confused me, and I found it hard to define. In this respect, I believe I'm not alone. To this day, I've never come across a simple, clear definition of the term. And whenever I ask someone to tell me what the term means to them I typically receive blank stares and/or looks of confusion.
In addition, gauging by the responses to our annual accounting survey, there seems to be varying ideas as to what the term means. However, there does seem to be a consensus on at least a few things related to its general meaning. And, based on this feedback (thank you, accounting professionals), I'd like to present the below; my current (and new) understanding of work/life balance:
Work/life balance has nothing to do with the number of hours spent on the job. Work/life balance does have a lot do with the flexibility you have in creating your schedule. Work/life balance has nothing to do with the amount of overtime you have to work. Work/life balance does have a lot do with how and if you're compensated for putting in overtime (and/or for working above and beyond what's expected of you). Work/life balance doesn't have that much to do with the number of days you are allotted for vacation. Work/life balance does have a lot to do with if your firm encourages or discourages you from using all of these so-called vacation days it has alloted to you. Work/life balance doesn't have a lot to do with how often your boss hits you up at two in the morning on your BlackBerry. Work/life balance does have a lot to do if your boss acknowledges all the time you've been connected to work and, during slow times of year with respect to workload, allows you to work fewer hours while, of course, you still get the job done. Work life/balance means: flex-schedules, understanding managers, managers that don't handhold or micromanage, the ability to work remotely, getting paid reasonably for your time, and firms that don't just talk about work/life balance but try to implement it.
Of course, it also means a bunch of other things. But I hope that has cleared some things up. And, if not (or even if so), I'd very much like to hear what work/life balance means to you. So, please, by all means, fire away those definitions.
Follow me on Twitter: @vaultfinance.
Take the 2012 Accounting Survey Quiz
Deloitte, PwC or E&Y: Which is Most Prestigious?