Work-Life Balance In Tech: Is It Really Possible?

by | Career Growth, Mental Health

With more tech companies mandating that employees return to the office, you might be asking whether work-life balance in the tech industry is really possible or simply a big farce.

As a tech career coach, I’ve found that tech jobs and employees vary dramatically when it comes to work-life balance. Some leaders have a healthy work-life balance while others struggle with stress, fatigue, and burnout.

In this article, I answer several common questions related to work-life balance in tech:

  • Do tech jobs have a good work-life balance?
  • What is work-life balance like in tech?
  • What is considered a good work-life balance?
  • What is an unhealthy work-life balance?
  • How do I improve my work-life balance?

A quick note before diving in: A lot of feelings come up when it comes to the concept of “work-life balance,” and phrases like “work-life blend,” “work-life integration,” and “work-life harmony” have popped up in recent years to describe the dichotomy between professional and personal. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on mental health and could spend hours enthusiastically debating the semantics. However, for simplicity’s sake, I’ll simply use “work-life balance” throughout this article.

Do Tech Jobs Have A Good Work-Life Balance?

Generally speaking, tech jobs aren’t known for having the best work-life balance. That said, work-life balance can vary significantly depending on your functional area, specific role, and level within the organization.

As I shared in this Forbes article, there’s often a tradeoff between compensation and time when you work in tech, and this discrepancy tends to grow as you climb the ladder. However, not all tech workers have the same experiences with work-life balance.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my clients in similar roles at Meta and Google have had vastly different experiences because of their managers’ unique leadership styles and expectations around work.

What Is Work-Life Balance Like In Tech?

Work-life balance looks different from company to company and team to team. Two of the biggest indicators of potential work-life balance are the company culture and your manager’s leadership style.

Other factors, like company size and growth stage, can also impact your ability to attain work-life balance in the tech industry. If work-life balance is important to you, a hyper-growth startup, for instance, might not be the best fit.

That said, tech companies also experience ebbs and flows, and these can be more or less dramatic depending on the company and its business model.

[Read: What To Look For In A Job: 9 Factors To Consider]

Your working style will further influence how many hours you put in, since how you work can impact your ability to leave work at work and effectively disconnect after hours.

What Is Considered A Good Work-Life Balance?

A healthy work-life balance looks different for everyone, so it can be helpful to define what a “good” work-life balance looks like for you, and how many hours you want to dedicate to your career each week.

You might find it helpful to carve out time monthly or quarterly to review your calendar and ask yourself, “How do I feel about the way I spend my time? What brings me energy? What drains my energy?”

Note: Your definition of a “good” work-life balance will likely vary depending on the season of your life and your commitments and goals outside of work. I find my coaching clients’ expectations around their workloads often shift as they deal with parenting and caregiving responsibilities, return to school, or climb the career ladder, for instance.

What Is An Unhealthy Work-Life Balance?

So how do you know when your work-life balance is out of alignment? While everyone’s expectations and realities are different, if you’re unable to keep up with your obligations outside of work, it may be a sign that you have an unhealthy work-life balance.

You also want to be on the lookout for being assigned more work than you can complete, as this can be a sign of a toxic work environment. Although long hours and 50 and 60+-hour workweeks are typical in tech, your boss shouldn’t assign you more than you can realistically finish.

How Do I Improve My Work-Life Balance?

When you work in tech and love what you do, your job can quickly consume your life, so it’s helpful to have clear boundaries between professional and personal time if you want to improve your balance.

Put yourself first.

One of the first pieces of “homework” I assign my coaching clients who want to improve their work-life balance is to set clear work hours.

I further recommend that you intentionally carve out time on your calendar for yourself. This might look like blocking out time each week for exercise, brunch with friends, or another form of self-care. Everyone is different, though, so you will need to find what works for you and your individual self-care needs.

Practice assertive communication and good boundaries.

Clear and assertive communication is an additional must if you want to achieve work-life balance. As a recovering people pleaser, I appreciate Dr. Nedra Glover Tawwab’s advice in her book, Set Boundaries, Find Peace, to not provide a reason when you say no, so you don’t get into an argument.

Of course, there are nuances when saying no in the workplace, particularly when dealing with your boss, but learning how to clearly communicate your boundaries is still important.

Learn how to delegate and ask for help.

Another skill worth learning is the art of delegation, especially if you’re a manager, since this will not only free up your time to focus on high-level strategy but also empower your team as they grow in their own careers.

While on the topic of delegation, don’t be afraid to ask for help, both at work and at home. Personally speaking, this has included hiring a freelance graphic designer and website administrator (shout out to Christa Fleming Design), proofreader (thanks, Jennifer George), and housekeeper.

You don’t have to go it alone either. Asking your manager, friend, or partner to hold you accountable for not eating lunch at your desk or logging off email at a certain time each evening can be a game changer as you get used to new work-life boundaries.

You might also consider investing in an executive coach, especially if you’re navigating a transition in your career or life, as they can help you ensure you’re set up for success.

[Read: How Much Does Executive Coaching Cost?] 

Final Thoughts: Work-Life Balance In The Tech Industry

So, back to my original question: Is work-life balance really possible? It depends — on a lot, including, but not limited to, the company, the culture, your position, and your individual manager.

Plus, your definition of and expectations around work-life balance will also impact your ability to attain and maintain work-life balance. Recognizing the ebbs and flows associated with a job in tech and being easier on yourself if you’re new to the industry can help make the transition a bit more manageable, too. And remember: Your take on work-life balance and how you choose to implement it will shift and evolve with time and practice.

[Read: Work Addiction: How To Stop Being A Workaholic]

If you’re struggling with work-life balance, give yourself some grace and try implementing a few of the tips in this article. You’re also welcome to contact me or schedule a consultation. I’m here for you! You’ve got this!

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

Dr. Kyle Elliott is the founder and career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com. His expertise is in Silicon Valley and high-tech. As a result of working with Dr. Elliott, senior managers and executives have landed jobs at Meta, Amazon, Google, and nearly every other tech giant you can imagine.

A trusted career expert, Dr. Elliott’s words have been featured on Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, among dozens of other leading publications. He has been recognized as a Best Career & Interview Coach, Best Resume Writer for Silicon Valley/Tech Managers & Executives, and LinkedIn Top Voice (the platform’s highest honor).

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