5 Women & Nonbinary People Share What It Was Like To Leave A Job For Better Work-Life Balance

by JR Thorpe
Oleh Slepchenko/Shutterstock

Work-life balance is an area that challenges a lot of us. At the start of your career, young women are often expected to prioritize work — a positive thing, to be sure, after hundreds of years of being kept out of the workforce — and leave other aspects of your life till "later." This, of course, doesn't leave room for the messy, unexpected ways life inserts itself despite your best planning. While it's sometimes possible to negotiate a better balance at your present job, there's also a scarier but potentially more fulfilling option: getting out. As these five people tell Bustle, leaving a job for better work-life balance can be terrifying, but also highly rewarding.

Nearly 40 percent of respondents to a recent Bustle Hive survey said that they'd left a job because of a lack of work-life balance, and 48 percent said they currently lack work-life balance. People who change jobs for better work-life balance "are just realizing that they want to get more out of their profession," Gretchen Jacobi, Flatiron School's Head of Career Services, tells Bustle. "They want a change and that might be on the balance front, but it's also [has to do] with their [career] growth."

There are many factors that can make a job's work-life balance unhealthy, including poor management, expectations about working long hours or being available after hours, and a "sleep when you're dead" company mentality. It's also not a problem confined to one particular industry. Women and nonbinary people tell Bustle that they worked in areas as diverse as law, finance, non-profit companies, and management consultancy — and they all discovered that their over-emphasis on work was seriously impacting their quality of life. Here's what they learned from the experience of walking away.

Penelope, 38

Penelope tells Bustle she left a university administration job to become a freelance proofreader and indexer. First, however, she says she tried to renegotiate her job to make it work a little better.

"I applied for my job to be made into a job-share. I wanted to just quit outright, but couldn't afford to. I filled out the 12-page form and sat through four meetings. Nothing happened. At the end of three months, HR announced that they had lost the paperwork and we would have to start the process again. My doctor immediately signed me off work with stress, I think mainly because I had been wondering aloud if it was possible to murder somebody with a pen. Then I went back to work just long enough to quit."

"I learnt: A) Never, ever work for people who don't value you. NEVER. B) Never, ever do a job you suck at thinking you will get better. You will get a little bit better, but not enough to enjoy it. Don't waste your time; do something else. C) The best boss I could ever have is me."

"There is a lot of bollocks talked about the work-life balance being something the individual employee is responsible for striking, but we don't have that kind of power. Employers have to take responsibility for making every person's workload manageable. This is why I now work for myself the majority of the time, and only work for anyone else if they pay me a lot of money."

Charli, 32

Charli left a non-profit to start her own copywriting business, Minerva Creative.

"Part of the reason I quit was because my work-life balance was skewed too much towards work," she tells Bustle. "I'd come home after an 11-hour day feeling exhausted, which was exacerbated by the fact that I suffer from insomnia. I knew it wasn't a sustainable lifestyle in the long term, so I saved hard until I could leave to pursue my own venture."

Eloise, 30

Eloise worked in management consultancy for three years, then left to pursue other opportunities.

"Like the proverbial boiled frog, the unhealthy work-life balance crept up on me: first it’s having to cancel weekend plans last minute for another emergency assignment, then the work days get longer and longer as responsibilities pile on. But, in the end, it wasn’t the endless 80-hour weeks, the months without a manager, or even the recurrent panic attacks that made me realize I had to leave my job. It was a single conversation with a junior employee. She described me as 'the office ghost — because you are always here, and you never speak to anyone.' I didn’t want to be that person, and I was willing to risk everything to never be that person again."

"The clearest warning sign for a bad work-life balance job is if there are no clear expectations for what your job should entail, and no predictability in your daily/weekly schedule. Even in a job where long hours are the norm, it is possible to have a regular, manageable workweek where you know what time is yours and what belongs to your job. And when things, inevitably, go wrong, good management should care about the impact this has on you, and be willing to learn from their mistakes."


Matt tells Bustle they left Wall Street to create the company RizKnows, which creates technology reviews.

"Previously, I worked for an investment bank that promoted a very stressful company culture. I worked longed hours, was constantly attached to my Blackberry and had very little flexibility in terms of scheduling. My work-life balance was an absolute mess to say the least."

"It was even difficult to schedule something as simple as a dentist appointment. I first had to get permission from my superiors and then once it got cleared, I still felt burdened to get back to the office as quickly as possible.

"Needless to say, I developed a strong desire for a job that offered more flexibility, a better work-life balance and more power to create my own schedule. Although I do employ 10 people and that comes with a lot of responsibility, there's still an innate sense of independence that comes with operating your own business."

Melissa, 28

Melissa entered the law field after graduating college, then left a major law firm to create her own practice.

"It was a very fast-paced, demanding job. And although some people thrive off of that, I am not one of those," she tells Bustle. "It finally hit me when I realized I hadn't had a proper dinner with my husband in about a month. We hadn't had a sit-down, just you and me, no work talk conversation in what felt like ages ... And I hadn't even been at the firm for a year. We were newlyweds at the time, barely past our first year of marriage, and it came to my attention that if I didn't find a better way I'd become one of those statistics of attorneys who got divorced soon after starting their career.

"That's when I decided to start The Hive Law. I always wanted to be my own boss, but it was a super scary thought. But I also knew that it was the only way that I'd be able to make the money I wanted, safeguard my time, and protect my relationship."

Whether you're contemplating renegotiating your position, moving from one job to another that would offer you better conditions, or striking out on your own, the consensus is clear: work-life balance is important. It can be very damaging to stay in a role that doesn't allow you to keep a healthy harmony between important areas of your life, and while making a change can be scary, for these people, it was ultimately worth it.