Beyond the 9 to 5: Finding Balance Between Work and Life

By Donna L. Rimmel
2009, Vol. 1 No. 11 | pg. 1/1

Many people today are seeking flexibility at work.  Parents, for instance, may want more time for family.  Students hope to fit employment into a busy class schedule.  And some people look for work after retirement.  Whatever the situation, they’re not alone in wanting a job or career that’s a much better match for their lives.  According to Sheley (1996, 2004), everyone has preferences regarding flexibility and work. 

For some, the ideal flexibility might mean bringing an infant to work for onsite childcare.  For others, it might mean choosing the types of tasks that they do.  Still others might seek a career that lets them leave their job for a while, and then return later without having to take a cut in pay or seniority. 

Your own preferences for flexibility and the types of jobs you’ll consider may depend on personal needs, skills, educational background, and other factors.  But whatever your circumstances, there are some general ways to enhance the flexibility of your work, either by making a current job more flexible, changing to a more accommodating one or the ultimate flexibility, to work for one’s self (Sheley, 1994 & 1996).

Popular Work Options

The most popular flexible options are those that involve the least change for both employers and employees.  Flextime and compressed work weeks, for example, call for the same number of hours, at the same workplace, as in traditional work arrangements (Sheley, 1994 & 1996).  For those who do not want drastic changes in their work schedules, your best options might include flexible scheduling, compressed workweeks, or compensatory time off.  Workers on these particular schedules—commonly called flextime arrangements, or “flex-time”—can alter start and stop times to fit their needs.  In some arrangements, a worker’s schedule might vary daily.  Alternatively, workers change their hours only periodically.  A compressed workweek schedule involves working more hours on some days and having other days off.  For example, a person might work 9-hour days in a 10-day period, with every other Friday off.   Still another option is compensatory time off, often called “comp time.”  With this arrangement, people who work more than the required number of hours are able to accumulate the extra hours, for example, within a certain pay period, and take time off  later (Torpey, Summer 2007).

Another popular option is telecommuting, which is gaining ground because of changes in technology that allow better communication with the office via email, voice mail and other means.  Global technology has quickly progressed to provide more accessible business modes of communication.  Telecommuting, which is described as the practice of establishing, developing and maintaining successful off-site business practices through telecommunication practices, is currently paving its way to a potentially more efficient communication system in the workplace.  Current workplace trends are promoting more flexibility for employees and tailoring jobs to fit individual needs.  The image of the traditional workplace as a particular place to go to work is being replaced with employees working wherever they can be most efficient and productive, whether at home, on a plane, on the road, or a telework center.  Telecommuting is a work option that has steadily gained popularity and commands a strong position as a viable alternative in the business world.  Benefits for employees included improved work environment; increased productivity; more autonomy; greater lifestyle flexibility; reduced stress; work satisfaction; motivation; and decreased transportation, food and clothing costs (Green, Lopez, Wysocki  & Kepner, April 2003).  But this option, while very popular, is not for everyone.  Some do not possess the required qualities or discipline.  For example, a desire to work at home does not automatically qualify an employee for this line of work.  (Sheley, 1994 & 1996).

It is imperative to understand that telecommunication is an alternative option and not a substitute for person-to-person contact associated with traditional business settings.  When it comes to understanding, research has suggested that 75 percent of communication is non-verbal (Management Today, 2000).  This is alarming when considering telecommuting as a viable business alternative.  Because of this knowledge, it may be more beneficial to use telecommuting in conjunction with traditional forms and methods of business practices (Green, Lopez, Wysocki & Kepner, April 2003).

If the traditional 40-hour, 9-to-5 schedule sounds like too much, then maybe a part time arrangement may work best for you.  As defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), working part-time is working between 1 and 34 hours per week.  BLS data show that in 2006, most people who worked part time did so due to personal reasons such as childcare, school or retirement from a full-time job.  The advantages of this work option are that you have more time & flexibility to do the things one would normally not have the luxury of doing with a full-time position.  Some disadvantages are that part-timers received reduced benefits which mean more money out of pocket.  Also, some part-timers say it’s difficult to do their jobs well in a limited amount of time (Torpey, Summer 2007).

Another flexible work option is job sharing which allows one to cut back on work hours and still get their tasks done—with the help of another employee.  Basically a type of part-time work, job sharing is an arrangement in which two or more workers are responsible for the duties and tasks of one full-time position.  Job sharers usually coordinate their schedules – often planning to overlap some hours so they can fill each other in on what the other missed.  Job sharers allow part-time workers to fill positions that typically require full-time work.  And, sometimes, this arrangement allows workers to keep half the benefits of a full-time job.  If you enjoy working as part of a team and are open to letting someone else take over some of your duties, then you might be well-suited to job sharing.  Occupations with easily divisible tasks, such as dental hygienists, are more conducive to sharing (Torpey, Summer 2007).

Maybe you would prefer working as needed, provided it fit your particular schedule.  Perhaps you want to work 2 days one week and 4-5 the next.  To increase your time off, you could consider work that involves on-call, temporary, contract, or seasonal work.  On-call arrangements involve working as needed—and, sometimes, at the last minute.  For example, nurses work on-call schedules.  If the hospital needs someone to cover a shift, they can be called on if needed, but have the option of saying yes or no.  Typically, a certain number of hours have to be worked in order to continue this type of arrangement (Torpey, Summer 2007).

Temping is another option to choose for those wanting to build up their skills while learning about a specific industry.  Temps are individuals who get hired by temporary agencies specific kinds of work.  The agency takes responsibility to find short or long-term work assignments with companies that need your particular expertise.  Savvy temps register with several agencies to see which one produces the best assignments.  It’s not surprising that temping is one of the fastest growing sectors of the job market (Elster & Crowley, 1997).

Contract arrangements can also give workers control over their assignments and hours.  Some contractors are hired by a consulting firm to perform a job, often for a specified time or job.  Others are independently working in wage and salary positions, but many others are self-employed and find their own jobs.

The Ultimate Flexibility: Self-Employment

If you are thinking of “going indie,” you are on the verge of the smartest career move of your life.  The current job market and the next millennium belongs to indies—independent individuals who take sole responsibility for generating their income and directing their careers.  An indie might be classified as a temp, a part-time worker, a freelance consultant, or a business owner.  The common denominator is self-employment.  In one way or another, indies are out there on their own, selling their services and products in the marketplace (Elster & Crowley, 1997).  The following passages are taken from the following publication:

“The modern world is on the verge of another huge leap in creativity and productivity, but the traditional job is not going to be part of tomorrow’s economic reality.  There still is and will always be enormous amounts of work to do, but it is not going to be contained in the familiar envelopes we call jobs.  In fact, many organizations are today well along the path toward being de-jobbed.” (William Bridges, “The End of the Job,” Fortune, September 19, 1994).

“Risk and responsibility have been redefined.  The good job, once the definition of responsibility, is now a very risky business, and the old kind of freelance activity that was once risky is now in tune with the future and is becoming the choice of many people who want to act responsibly.”  (William Bridges, “The End of the Job,” Fortune, September 19, 1994).

The above-mentioned words are so true—they are on the verge of coming true even as these words are being typed.  Many people say that self-employment provides the ultimate flexibility, because you are on your own, you set your own schedule.  And about half of the self-employed—or around 7 million people—worked at home each week in May 2004, according to BLS.  Self-employed people operate all types of businesses, including stores and restaurants.  Two-thirds of the self-employed who worked at home had home-based businesses.  Self-employed workers’ degree of independence is, in ways, unparalleled.  And is the feeling of accomplishing that is all yours is hard to beat.  But self-employment requires a lot of discipline and hard work, especially when starting up, without a guaranteed return.  Any benefits received you have to acquire on your own.  In addition, depending on the type of business, self-employed workers may not be able to work from home.  All in all, self-employment might be best for you if you are comfortable with financial risk and with promoting yourself and your services (Torpey, Summer 2007).  Many people who hope to work for themselves reduce the risk by starting a business part-time while still working full-time.  They wait until the time is right to quit their full-time job and venture out on their own. 

Advantages for the Employer: Business First

Workplace flexibility might strike some as old news, with flextime now almost as common as the coffee break.  But as hard data on the subject begin to replace anecdotes, flexible work options are gaining strength both as a business imperative and as a new direction (Sheley, 1994 & 1996).  Many organizations offer programs to help employees balance their work family lives.  Such initiatives go far beyond measures decreed by the Family and Medical Leave Act and other laws.  They represent a growing trend in business that doing so is not only ethical and proper, but also necessary to attract and keep valuable employees.  A recent study by the Families and Work Institute reports that among organizations that provide at least eight work-life initiatives for their employees, an overwhelming majority does so mostly for business reasons, not personal ones.  Most feel that work-life initiatives, such as flex time and elder care assistance, enhance productivity and commitment.  Typically, management views the policies not as an employee benefit, but as a two-way partnership between the company and the employee (Harris, April 2007).

An increasingly important component of work-life programs is the training of employees to handle their freedoms responsibly, and of managers to properly assess employee requests and to supervise workers engaged in work-life initiatives.  Supervisors also are learning how to identify skills gaps and ensure completion of job-sharing duties, for example. 

In the case of flexible working arrangements, certain employees won’t elect to participate, but still appreciate that the policy is available when and/or needed.  They may view it like insurance, which might be useful in the future.  Meanwhile, employers want the best return on their investment—policies and programs that are useful to the widest range of employees both early and late in their careers (Harris, April 2007).

The Future

Despite their well-publicized difficulties, American businesses are not yet an endangered species.  Surviving in today’s job market requires strong executive leadership, flexibility, an intense focus on customers and their needs, and superior process design and execution.  This involves a process called reengineering.  Reengineering is one of the tools companies must possess and know how to use to acquire those prerequisites for success.

More and more people in the workforce will have to manage themselves.  They will have to place themselves where they can make the greatest contribution: they will have to learn to develop themselves.  They will have to learn how and when to change what they do, how they do it and when they do it (Drucker, 1993).  This way of thinking ties into the flex work options – these options give employees a sense of satisfaction and energy they might not experience otherwise if not given options.

Greater work-life balance helps ensure overall employee satisfaction, and contented employees help ensure financial success for business (Harris, April 2007).

Drucker, P.  (1999). Management Challenges for the 21st Century.  New York:  Harper Collins.

Elster, K. & Crowley, K.  (1997). Going Indie: Self-Employment, Freelance & Temping Opportunities.  New York: Kaplan.

Green, K., Lopez, M., Wysocki, A., & Kepner, K.  (April 2003).  Telecommuting as a True Workplace Alternative.  Retrieved March 8, 2008, from

Hammer, M. & Champy, J.  (1993). Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto.  New York: Harper Collins.

Harris, P.  (April 2007).  Flexible Work Policies Mean Business.  T&D. 

Sheley, E. (1994 & 1996).  Beyond the 9 to 5.  HRM Magazine.  Retrieved March 8, 2008, from

Torpey, E.M.  (Summer 2007).  Flexible Work: Adjusting the When & Where of Your Job.  Occupational Outlook Quarterly.

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