How to Stealthily Figure Out if a Company Really Does Believe in Work-Life Balance
Fact: Occasionally working late, heading into the office on a Saturday, and going above and beyond your job description is par for the course when you care about advancing your career. However, that doesn’t negate this other fact: You deserve to work for a company that values your personal life, understands the importance of flexibility, and most of all believes spending time with your family matters.
So, yes, you’ll work late one Friday night. But, you’ll also want to be able to ask your boss to work remotely for a week this summer so that you can join your family’s annual vacation. In addition, you’ll want a place that doesn’t think twice when you duck out earlier on Wednesdays to play kickball on your rec league.
Last, but not, least, even though you might not have children yet, it might be on your mind much more lately, and you want a manager who won’t mind when you have to leave early due to daycare problems.
While conducting interviews for my book, Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood, countless women weighed in on making a career and family life fit together. Spoiler alert: A big part of making it work is finding an organization that truly believes in work-life balance. So, how do you assess that during the interview process without making it sound like you’re already looking for excuses to leave the office early? You’re going to have to be stealthy.
Here are five ways to go about it:
1. Do a Reverse Reference Check
Look through your LinkedIn connections and see if you know anyone who knows any former employees. Ask for an introduction, then reach out to see if the former employee would be willing to talk by phone for 15 minutes.
You could write:
I’m interviewing right now with [Company], and I’d love to hear about your experience there. I’m hoping for some insight into the culture from someone who can be totally candid because they’re no longer at the company.
In order to get the most honest result, you want to try and talk with him in person or over the phone; most people are (understandably) wary of criticizing an ex-employer in writing. Once you’ve got him on the phone, be sure to state upfront that you’re treating this conversation as confidential, then ask him to tell you about his experience.
Some probing questions to consider:
- How would you describe the culture? Or, to dig in even deeper: Is facetime important? Are vacations encouraged or frowned upon? Is there flexibility to work remotely? What are the typical hours?
- Do you think diversity and inclusivity is a priority? Is the company committed to helping all kinds of people succeed? Is there much talk in the office about being family-friendly, or fostering work-life balance?
- If you could have waved a magic wand and changed one thing about the culture, what would be be?
2. Scope Out the Scene
When you’re in the office for your interview, look for family photos and kids’ artwork on your potential boss’ and colleagues’ desks. Yes, even the most workaholic parents could tack up photos—but it’s still a good sign if being a parent is something to be proud of at the organization. If you’re not able to see much on your walk from the lobby to the conference room, you’re allowed to ask for an office tour during final round interviews.
If possible, make your interview for early in the morning or later in the evening. Note how many people are there. Is it 7 PM and everyone’s still chugging away? Or, on the flipside, is it 7 PM and there are only a few stragglers left? If you want to be home by 6 PM every night, and the office vibe’s still going strong at 7:30, that doesn’t bode well.
Really strong signs of a family-friendly culture are on-site daycare facilities and a well-appointed pumping room for breastfeeding moms that looks comfortable and welcoming.
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3. Do Your Due Diligence—Or, Rather, Do Some Online Stalking
Good old Google and social media offer a gold mine of personal information. You’re going to want to pick three tiers of people to check out: an executive, a manager, and an entry-level employee. Make sure one of these people is your potential boss.
You want to look for a few things:
- Are they frequently venting about work? Or posting statuses about working through weekends and holidays?
- Are there vacation photos? More than once a year?
- Do you see kids in their photos? Even if they aren't their kids, seeing that someone is close enough to a friend’s kids to have a photo with them could be a good signifier of empathy toward parents.
- This may be harder to hone in on, but does he or she have a stay-at-home spouse? Regardless of whether you have (or want) kids, having a stay-at-home spouse means that the person’s less likely to be responsible for managing day-to-day realities and details, like taking a pet to the vet or letting the cable guy in. (Some deep Googling can help you turn up a spouse’s name, and then scope out his or her LinkedIn profile. Just make sure you’re searching on incognito mode.)
While social media can never tell the whole story, it can definitely give you insight. And if you see recurring trends, don’t ignore them!
4. Read Up
There are plenty of websites out there that provide useful information about companies and their work-life balance policies (official or unofficial). Maybrooks is building a comprehensive database of various companies’ family leave policies, crowd-sourced from the input of women who work in those companies. Glassdoor compiles employees’ scores of many companies on various categories (like work-balance) as well as reviews of their experiences working in particular positions. Fairygodboss shares company reviews written for women, by women. Just one thing to note when you’re browsing user-submitted reviews, there’s no way to know how accurate or truthful they are so read ’em with a grain of salt.
5. Ask Indirect Questions
It’s perfectly okay to ask direct questions about family-friendliness after you receive an offer; but if you inquire too early in the interview process, you run the risk of getting pigeonholed as uncommitted.
Instead, ask questions during your interview process that might lead someone to volunteer information about work-life balance and the real company culture.
- What do you love about working for this company that has nothing to do with your job?
- If there’s one aspect of culture the company could improve upon, what would it be?
- Can you tell me about the type of person who succeeds here?
- How would you describe the company culture in just a few words?
Here, you’re not just listening for what they’re saying—you also want to hone in on what someone isn’t saying. If you ask these questions in a few different ways and never hear words like supportive, flexible, inclusive, or empowering, that could be a red flag.
Finding the perfect job and the perfect company can be challenging—to say the least. But when you take the time to find a position that checks off all your boxes, it’ll be well worth all the effort it took to get there.
Allyson Downey is the founder of weeSpring, which has been called “Yelp for baby products” by InStyle. She is also the author of Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood (Seal Press, April 2016).More from this Author