We Talked To Experts About The Most Valuable Things In A Job & These Are The 6 To Keep In Mind

Live to work or work to live? Americans are notorious workaholics, but in recent years, many of us have started becoming more mindful of striking a better harmony between our office life and our personal life. We've begun to prioritize jobs that allow for the much needed flexibility to be successful in the corporate world and also at home. To better understand what kind of employer benefits can best empower you to make that happen, we talked to career experts about some of the most valuable things in a job for work-life balance.

Endless research has gone into determining just how obsessed we are with work. We're so obsessed, in fact, that even when offered vacation time, we don't take it. MarketWatch referenced a survey by Glassdoor of more than 2,200 workers and found that the average U.S. worker only takes about half of their vacation days. The biggest reason why? They're scared of falling behind on their work.

Most of us are no strangers to that fear; in a recent survey of 283 Bustle readers, 74 percent of respondents said they were “nervous” to negotiate for better work-life balance. The research seems to reflect that while we are not unaware of what makes for an appropriate balance, many of us are in positions where we feel like the consequences of advocating for ourselves wouldn't be worth the risk.

It may be why, increasingly, millennials are exploring freelancing careers and alternative options that allow us more flexibility in life; 36 percent of Bustle readers surveyed revealed that their work schedules don't fit into a typical 9-to-5, and 26.5 percent work more than one job, which may reflect recent research from MetLife indicating a millennial shift into nontraditional work paths for the pursuit of better work-life balance. What's more, 40 percent of Bustle readers surveyed on the topic said that they have left previous jobs in pursuit of better work-life balance.

It's clear from these shifts that finding the right job for you is crucial to finding said balance, and that we are becoming more willing to seek that kind of job out. So, what qualities should you look for, specifically? Here are just a few that experts recommend.

1. Flexible Hours/Work-From-Home Opportunities

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This one's a biggie.

A two-year study conducted by Stanford researchers revealed that employees who work from home indeed work more, are less distracted, and have fewer sick days. Plus, employee attrition decreased by half. While working remotely may not be the right lifestyle for everyone, remote working certainly is on the rise, and it's something you might want to consider when looking for a new job — even if it's just one day a week.

Jennifer Yeko — PR, HR, and hiring at True Talent PR — agrees. She tells Bustle, "Working from home can obviously be a huge help to a healthy work/life balance."

Even if you don't have the option to work from home, at the very least, look for a job that allows for flexible office hours. Gregory Pontrelli, President and Chief People Strategist of Lausanne Business Solutions, tells Bustle in an email, "Flexible work hours, often referred to as 'flex-time,' can be a great foundational building block for work-life balance. After all, our personal obligations almost never arise at opportune times. Providing the ability to organize work schedules (within set parameters like total hours worked) is a thoughtful and pragmatic benefit to offer employees."

Erica B. McCurdy, MCC further emphasizes the importance of flexibility. "This is the single most important thing an employer can give. These days, flexibility is critical for all of us. Some things we need to take care of, such as running a quick errand or making a call to schedule an appointment, simply cannot be handled after hours. Employers who understand that allowing an employee to have the flexibility to take a yoga class or who provide a space for meditation tend to have higher employee satisfaction rates and better retention." She notes, however, that it needs to be a two-way street.

2. Health Insurance And Other Total Wellness Perks

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It's always important to read the fine print, and that's especially crucial when it comes to the health benefits an employer offers — if any.

If they don't offer any benefits, keep this in mind, because it's one more expense that's going to come out of your own paycheck.

If they do offer benefits, what kind? What's covered? What are your options for the medical professionals you're allowed to see? Is the health insurance catastrophic (meaning they only cover your medical expenses for extreme scenarios), or is it more expansive?

What about dental and vision? Are mental health services covered at all? As society is finally starting to understand and implement structures to accommodate, mental health is as vital to your overall wellbeing as physical health. In fact, the two are overwhelmingly intertwined.

Sanji Moore, Vice President of People & Operations for Praytell, emphasizes the need for mental health as a priority. She tells Bustle in an email, "In addition to traditional benefits, such as medical insurance, that support work/life balance, employees should look for perks that facilitate physical and mental wellness. Everyone needs something different for their personal wellness, so programs that give employees options and choices are especially key. At Praytell, we offer employees an annual wellness stipend, unlimited vacation, and flexible schedules to make sure each staff member has the opportunity to customize their work/life balance."

3. Parental Leave

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Falling under the umbrella of those benefits that the experts we spoke to put such importance on is parental leave, which is important to keep yourself informed of regardless of whether you're planning to have a child. The law that helps protect employees when they leave to raise their newborn is called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If your position fits into the umbrella of what it covers, this protects your job for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption. You can't be penalized for taking that time off, and your job will be waiting for you when you return.

However, it doesn't require you to be paid for this time off. So, here are a few things you should check, if your family is expanding:

  • Will your employer pay you for any or all of those 12 weeks?
  • Can you add accrued vacation or sick time onto the 12 weeks?
  • Are you required to use any accrued vacation or sick time as part of the 12 weeks?

What to Expect reminds people to also bear in mind that FMLA doesn't protect everyone. In fact, 41 percent of Americans aren't covered. This is because FMLA only protects people who work in companies with at least 50 employees, who've worked for at least a year at a minimum of 25 hours per week.

4. Assistance With Childcare

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Going on parental leave is one thing. What happens when it's time to return to work? This is something else you might consider looking for in an employer, if you wish to achieve better work-life balance.

"Childcare services are expensive," says Pontrelli to Bustle. "They are also a burden, leading many parents to choose to stay home with their children rather than coming to work. When a company offers childcare services, especially if on-site or near-site, it provides parents with the peace of mind while also allowing them to tackle their work and achieve their professional goals."

Admittedly, the bill for employers to provide childcare services can be a hefty one. Some can't afford it. What then?

Increasingly, employers are starting to consider this problem. A 2016 MarketWatch article said that in the last decade, the number of companies offering infants-at-work policies more than doubled.

Nothing enhances work/life balance like the security of knowing that both you and your family are taken care of; if an employer won't help cover the costs for childcare, see what other compromises can be made, both for your sake and your employer's.

5. Unlimited Paid Time Off

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Unlimited PTO might be the unicorn of the corporate world, but it exists, and it's gaining in popularity.

The concept is built on the belief that it doesn't matter how many hours you work. What matters is that your job gets done and you deliver results.

Pontrelli says to Bustle, "Many employers are scared about the implications of offering unlimited PTO. They worry about scenarios in which employees may decide to shirk all responsibilities and leave on two-month vacations. This is not so. In businesses that offer unlimited PTO, you find employees with their minds on work when they are at work, and their minds on their personal lives when they are at home. This means greater efficiency and productivity."

While it might not be super common yet, it's certainly worth seeing if a possible employer offers unlimited PTO, because it can be a huge help in establishing better work/life balance.

6. Empowerment

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Being micromanaged with your superior breathing down your neck can really cramp your style, not to mention stress you the heck out. While your superior may mean well, it can really take a toll on your work performance.

Having some degree of autonomy and independence can make all the difference in the world. It can help employees feel more valued and trusted.

McCurdy agrees. She points out to Bustle that it's important to have "the ability to make decisions and outsource tasks without needing the approval of someone else ... Learning to outsource and manage tasks is a leadership development exercise. Within certain budgetary constraints, this practice significantly decreases stress, improves balance, and teaches management."