What are some careers with good Work/Life Balance?
June 2, 2013 2:26 PM   Subscribe

What are some careers with good Work/Life Balance? A job I don't have to think about outside of work and one that will not leave me drained at the end of the day so I can do other things and have hobbies. Also, a good amount of vacation time, more than a measly 2 weeks. It would be awesome if I could take a month or two off at a time once a year once I get enough seniority.

I'm not sure what to major in, so I'm compiling a list of careers to shadow. I'm in undergrad now, so I really am trying to figure out my major. Ideally, it would be nice to have something that isn't so narrow that I can't change my mind. Not sure I want to really do grad school, but shoot ideas my way anyway. I value time more than money and grew up poor, so it doesn't have to pay extremely well - however I do want to be able to travel and do outdoorsy hobbies.
posted by eq21 to Work & Money (27 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
While there are definitely some careers that tend to be worse than others I think a lot of what you are looking for is more COMPANY dependent than JOB dependent. I've done the same job at multiple companies and all those things vary wildly based on company culture.

Get a degree in something you enjoy enough to complete well, most officey type jobs don't care all the much what your degree is in, just that you have one.
posted by magnetsphere at 2:42 PM on June 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

actuarial science, but only after you've past many exams; potentially a 5-10 year time frame.
posted by cupcake1337 at 2:48 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Pharmacist. (At least where I live.) It's almost a female dominated career here due to the ability to set your own hours and thus have time for children.
posted by Dynex at 2:54 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Major in French.

But seriously where will probably have a much greater influence than what. This can be Big like what country you choose. France and Australia are well-known for work-life balance. America and China are not.

This can also be Small like which company you choose. Note – not role but company. LinkedIn and REI are said to be great employers. That being said, they have everything from HR jobs to legal departments to IT careers to marketing and sales forces. So it's not about the role as much as the company. For example, eBay and Electronic Arts are known to be quite difficult places to work, as are many banks and law firms. They also have HR jobs, legal departments, IT careers, and marketing and sales forces.

They can also be Small and geographic. You're going to have a different experience in Portland or Denver, as you would in New York or San Francisco. That's Supply and Demand kicking in. The more demand there is to be in a place, the harder you'll have to work to be there. There's great jobs to be had on North Sea oil platforms – high pay and lots of vacation time – for this very reason.

In terms of careers, there probably are general guidelines. Lawyers and bankers work legendary hours. And by legendary, I mean lots.

Careers known for work-life balance are teaching (natural breaks), medicine (hard to get into), firemen (hard to get into) and entrepreneurship (you're the boss). That doesn't mean people in these fields work less, but rather the time is allocated differently. A teacher has three months a year "off". Doctors and firemen can often have bulked schedules around certain days. Entrepreneurs work heaps but have more control of their time.

So if you want the best work-life balance possible, I would say it's probably that of a teacher or doctor in Bordeaux, or potentially an entrepreneur in Perth. Maybe it's not a job working for Electronic Arts in New York or eBay in San Francisco.

Overall, if you want the best work-life balance possible work hard now. The more desirable you are to employers later – in any field – the more shots you'll get to call. If you are a chemical engineer with a minor in Finance that speaks fluent English, Arabic, and Mandarin with a 4.0 GPA, you will probably have a very good work-life balance. If you are a liberal arts major with a 2.0 GPA and no extracurricular activities, you will probably also have a very good work-life balance, because you will be unemployed and on benefits. Everything else will be somewhere in the middle.

Point being, choose something you love doing, and do well at it. And minor in French.
posted by nickrussell at 2:59 PM on June 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

You'll be better off doing something you love, or at least like. And as mentioned, said job satisfaction with a healthy work/life balance is company dependent.

With that in mind, I've always thought it'd be cool to have one of those jobs in software or web development where you can work from 'anywhere'.
posted by matty at 3:00 PM on June 2, 2013

Husbunny was a nurse now he's an actuary. He says both require a set of aptitudes. You can't decide you want it, you have to have the aptitude for it.

My undergrad is in English and I have an MBA. I've been a sales engineer and I'm a software admin now.

My advice, major in something you enjoy and learn how to learn. You'll be learning throuout your career.

I got my telecom job and because I was willing to keep learning new things I was there for 25 years. When it was time to move on, I learned a new skill, and I like my new job too.

Your not going to have the luxury of demanding vacation, but being employable and open to learning throughout you life, you'll have the best opportunity of being happy employed.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:00 PM on June 2, 2013

The standard for academic librarians (as far as I know) is about 20 vacation days a year to start, although whether or not that increases probably depends on the institution. And your best chance of getting a job in an academic library is to get a master's in library science and then a second master's in something science/math-y.
posted by jabes at 3:12 PM on June 2, 2013

Get rare and valuable skills, then you'll have options for high pay or more time off. Specifically, choose a technology field where the founders of the industry are alive today, such as chemical engineering, computer science (NOT technology/IT), biomedical engineering, or another engineering/science topic with good growth. Also, get into research-- if you work on research projects and get a high GPA as an undergrad, you can get into a fully-funded PhD program. After getting a PhD in a growing technical field, you'll have many options for high-paying or more-flexible jobs. Many of these jobs would be fun enough that you would not need 2 months/year off, because you'd have control, recognition, and purpose. Don't major in a liberal art if you can at all help it. Don't major in econ unless you're an outgoing bro and also are double-majoring in math. Don't major in business for any reason. Go to the best school you can get in to, study enough (and get mental health issues treated) to get excellent grades, and get involved with research. Yes, shadowing, working for or at least talking to people in different careers is an excellent idea. You're young enough that settling for work-life balance isn't something you have to do just yet-- do the work now to get really good at something cool/powerful, and you'll be set.
posted by sninctown at 3:12 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need both work-life balance and stability-- so that you don't have to worry about losing your job and having to prove what a great had worker you are in order to keep your job or get a new one. This is going to be limited to credentialed jobs where your credential and experience is more important than "commitment to the firm." Pharmacist, Physical Therapist, Dentist, optometrist, actuary. Many government lawyers seem to do pretty well for themselves as far as work/life balance, but those jobs seem to be hard to get these days, based on my friends' experience trying to get out of life in a law firm. Actually, many "second line" government jobs are good for this. My job as a government scientist was as stressful as any other science job outside of academia, but the administrative staff didn't seem to be facing a large worktime stress, and they accrued vacation at the same rate as the rest of us.

Actually, the physical therapists I know seem to thread this needle pretty well.
posted by deanc at 3:13 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't have any specific career suggestions, other than to suggest that you focus on something that you'll enjoy doing. Even if you have good work/life balance and loads of vacation time, you'll still have to spend a large chunk of your daily life at work - might as well be something that you enjoy doing.

Also, my experience has been that employer/company makes a huge difference here. I work as an engineer - my current job (public sector/government) has great work/life balance, but my last two jobs were at small private-sector companies where I had hardly any life outside of work. That being said, I don't regret those jobs - they gave me the skills and experience to transition into something better. I guess my point is that you might not have the luxury of a job with large amounts of time off right after graduating, but you could always look at it as building up a resume & saving up money - both of which will give you more options a few years down the road.
posted by photo guy at 3:13 PM on June 2, 2013

Careers known for work-life balance are teaching (natural breaks)

Teaching fails all the OP's criteria except time off.
posted by hoyland at 3:38 PM on June 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

Academia is known for really good vacation policies. You get paid below market wages, but it's not uncommon to start out with 4 weeks vacation plus all the holidays.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:43 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree that this is strongly dependent upon the company, morse than the role or industry. I've worked in management consulting and advertising, two industries famous for horrible work life balances, but was lucky to work at two firms that happened to be outrageously different from the norm and had terrific work life balances.

Pick a job you would like to do, and then prioritize finding a company with great work life balance. This will usually mean deprioritizing other factors like salary, prestige, or location. Keep that in mind as well. People don't work themselves to the bone for no reason.
posted by telegraph at 3:49 PM on June 2, 2013

Nursing ticks many of your boxes. Your work environment and work hours can be almost whatever you want them to be. You can work days or nights, weekdays or weekends, 9-5 or 12+ hours in a row. You can work in a hospital, a rehab facility, a doctor's office, a school, or in patients' homes. I can easily take eight days off in a row every month without using a single vacation day (and usually do). You can make good money working a small number of days per month. If you don't need benefits through your job (if you have them through a partner or spouse, for example), you can even make decent money working part time.

Many of the other jobs people have listed here typically pay very well, but also require years of graduate school before you can even begin your career. Nursing doesn't. I know many nurses who started at the bedside and went back to graduate school while working, ending up debt-free. I also know dentists who started their careers with $100k+ in debt. They make excellent money and they'll be able to pay it off, but it's still a weight hanging over their head for the next couple of decades. It's all about what trade-offs you're willing to make.

Being able to leave the job at the door depends on your ability to compartmentalize. For me, it's easy; I rarely think about patients at home and I do not become personally entangled in their stories because my providing excellent care requires this. Also, nursing is a physical career; for this reason, you will be drained at the end of the day, but you'll also have the flexibility to only work 3 days (or fewer) per week. It also goes without saying that nursing isn't a glamorous job. Many people look down on nursing. It's (wrongly) seen as a physical, skills-oriented job; and, of course, it's performed mostly by women. You almost certainly will be talked down to by a doctor at least once - probably many times. If you seek prestige, it may be harder to find in nursing, though it's not impossible.
posted by pecanpies at 4:26 PM on June 2, 2013

I'm a tenured academic and I love my job, but it is exactly the opposite of what you're asking about here. You want a job you don't have to think about outside of work, but when you're an academic there is no outside of work. You work at night and you work on weekends, and summertime is not vacation time, it is time off one part of work that makes room for you to do more of other kinds of work.

If you really and truly care about the work you're doing, it's awesome. But if you're looking for a job that funds the activities you really care about but otherwise stays out of your way, it would be a pretty lousy choice.
posted by escabeche at 4:32 PM on June 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

France and Australia are well-known for work-life balance.

It pays to check facts:

"Despite this, Australia still has a higher proportion of workers putting in long hours than other comparable countries. This emerged in the Better Life Index released on Tuesday which compared the 34 developed country members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"Australia topped the overall rankings but performed poorly when it came to balancing work and life. The report also showed Australians devote less time each day to eating, sleeping and leisure (such as socialising, hobbies, games, computer and television use) than the OECD average."
posted by smoke at 4:40 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

The key, as I see it, is the word "career". In this country (USA), that word often implies someone who will sacrifice a fair amount of personal time for their career (not job).
Also, IME, higher pay is directly linked to longer hours - maybe not continuously, but there are fire drills, and many long days/weekends to get executive presentations just so. This probably varies by field, but I've seen it in Retail Buying/Merchandising, High-tech (Project Managers, Program Managers), and management in general.
Now, a job where you can punch in/out, make decent money, and not have to spend unpaid overtime hours - that would be something in Gov't, Defense, or manufacturing - often unionized, and protected from the kinds of things mentioned above. You may not love it, and in fact, I've seen many die immediately after leaving such jobs (because they were so tied up in it as part of their identity - oddly).
Anyway, finding work you love and making it a career is probably the best of both worlds, just be careful what you wish for.
posted by dbmcd at 4:49 PM on June 2, 2013

Academia is known for really good vacation policies. You get paid below market wages, but it's not uncommon to start out with 4 weeks vacation plus all the holidays.

...during which you will likely be doing research, applying for grants, writing/publishing, working on committees, obliged to answer students' emails, rotating through departmental administrative duties, preparing coursework and syllabi for next semester, etc. (Which is all a way of saying that among the academics I know, virtually all of them work in some way over a fairly significant portion of their vacations and holidays.)
posted by scody at 4:53 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Government jobs, be they state or federal, tend to have an excellent work-life balance. On the positive side, there's a wide array of fields you could study. On the negative side, these jobs can be few and far between right now. Again on the positive side, the economic ridiculousness that is the sequester is making a lot of people decide it's time to retire, so that may start to open up positions in the future. Again on the negative side, the ability to not think about work while at home is sometimes counterbalanced by the sheer insanity while at work.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 5:07 PM on June 2, 2013

Sorry - I should clarify what I mean by "academis"

I meant doing non-academic jobs at an academic institution. I'm an IT employee at a local university, and one of the reasons I took the job (and its attendant pay cut) was lots of vacation time and a somewhat slower pace than the depths of corporate hell. There's craziness (and political bs that tries my ability to let things roll off my back), but overall less stress than corporate life.

I recognize that actual academic jobs are full of work and not a lot of pay.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:12 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'll second rmd1023. Non-academic jobs (administration, IT, etc) at academic institutions seem to offer what you're looking for.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:40 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Materials Science, my job, ended up as #2 on a list of highest paying - low stress jobs. It's been a good gig for me.
posted by Edward L at 5:47 PM on June 2, 2013

Higher education administration.

I worked for a short time at a selective private college where the standard full-time work week was 35 hours and very few administrators stayed past 5pm. Pay might be a little below average, but I think that type of environment is quite ideal if you want work-life balance.
posted by yonglin at 6:06 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

You'll be better off doing something you love, or at least like.

This presumes that what you love or like doing is at least reasonably marketable. A whole lot of people got the "do what you love" advice, proceeded to major in some completely unmarketable field, and are now staggeringly in debt. (And certainly not working in their fields.) There is no guarantee that the world will be willing to pay you for what you love to do, simply because you love to do it.

My advice: minor in something that you love; major in something that will get you a job.

That said, resist the temptation to get some sort of hyper-specific "hot field" degree; you don't want to have something on your (very expensive, presumably) diploma that will be the educational equivalent of acid-washed jeans in a couple of years. If it's a field that didn't exist 10 or 20 years ago, consider the possibility that it might not exist in another 10 or 20 and think hard about betting tens of thousands of dollars on it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:10 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I feel like I should say something about tech (software engineer, product manager, qa, etc.).

Tech has been given a bad rep due to startup culture, the idea that you have to be a genius to get anything done, and video game companies.

Most tech jobs don't require you to put in twelve hour days or superhuman levels of talent. For every employee at Google that invented a programming language, or the startup founder who slept underneath their desk, there are tons of normal, 9-5 corporate tech jobs (probably even at Google itself). They're in boring, non-glamorous fields like enterprise software, middleware, or data analysis.

You don't hear about them because these companies have no desire to change the world, and are not pushing the limits of technology. The jobs often consist of non-cutting edge tasks like replacing eight-year-old technologies with two-year-old ones, or making yet another permutation of the CRUD app.

Even if you ignore industry trends, there's a lot of old stuff out there that needs maintenance and can't be replaced, so your obsolete knowledge is in demand somewhere.

Advanced degrees are rare and often looked upon with suspicion. You are unlikely to require another $100K in debt in addition to an undergraduate degree.

Going to have to repeat what others have said - work / life balance is something that you'll have to demand from your company and make it work yourself. But in tech, you'll be paid significantly above average - if you want that month long vacation, but you only get two weeks paid, just take the next two weeks unpaid, if that puts you into poverty then you're spending too close to your means. The cool thing about computers is that they literally run themselves - you don't need to be physically be around for things to work (if you built it correctly).

While mobile phones seem to allow your employer to contact you at all hours, technology offers a more common benefit - you can telecommute, avoiding time spent commuting and possibly a costly move. You can see your family more, or work from non-home locations.

In the long term you can work as a highly skilled contractor and choose your own hours (and work only as much as you need to survive).
posted by meowzilla at 11:33 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Dental hygiene. I believe the industry standard is part-time work.
posted by aniola at 5:05 PM on June 3, 2013

I was a contractor in a university admin setting. I envied those people so much. Butter.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:29 PM on June 4, 2013

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