20 Top-Rated Careers for Work-Life Balance

As PepsiCo’s CEO and the media question whether work-life balance is even possible, workers cite the jobs that offer them the most flexibility.

Casey Kelly-Barton
Casey Kelly-Barton
Jul 19, 2014 at 9:17AM
The Business

PepsiCo (NASDAQ:PEP) CEO Indra K. Nooyi blew up the Internet recently with her no-holds-barred remarks on balancing a high-profile C-level career with parenting and family life. Her unvarnished admissions during an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June rekindled the national debate about whether women -- or men -- can "have it all." Her answer was a resounding no. The demands of children, spouses, and aging parents, she said, are in "total, complete conflict" with the arc of a successful career.

Nooyi earned praise for speaking directly about the challenges she's dealt with, but her words also caused a fair bit of despair in working women and among men who fear getting "daddy tracked" if they pursue more time with their kids. If someone who rose to lead a $66-billion company still struggles to balance work and family even with the support of her parents, in-laws, household help, and co-workers -- to say nothing of her multimillion-dollar compensation -- then how are those of us without her resources supposed to make it work?

There may not be a perfect solution to the competing demands of earning a living and maintaining a life, but there are some bright spots. Job site Glassdoor this week released a list of 20 highly rated jobs for work-life balance, based on employee reviews. It could be useful to anyone wondering what they'll do when they grow up or considering a career change. But there are some things to keep in mind.

There's more than one way to define work-life balance

What counts as a beneficial arrangement for one person might be a hassle to another. For instance, one SEO specialist quoted by Glassdoor praised the kind of job perks many tech companies use to draw top talent -- catered lunches, video game breaks, and company-sponsored outings. To a person with few outside commitments or to a high-energy extravert, that built-in social time could be a huge plus. In that case, work-life balance could be defined as lots of engaging breaks from work-related tasks to recharge and build relationships at the office.

But to a parent of small children, someone with a second shift at home caring for a parent, or an introvert who prefers quiet time alone, even the thought of outings with co-workers could be exhausting. Those employees would probably place more value on the flexible scheduling that other Glassdoor reviewers mentioned—an option that lets them arrange the paid work they do around the errands, teacher conferences, and doctor appointments that exist outside their jobs.

Bottom line: Workers and employers need to spell out what they mean by the phrase "work-life balance" to avoid mismatches.

Workers don't always have to sacrifice pay for balance

What about that other trade-off -- lower pay in exchange for more control over your time? The phrase "flexible hours" can be code for "sporadic, low-paying work," but there are fields in which workers can retain some balance without passing up a good paycheck.

Eleven of the 20 jobs on Glassdoor's list offer median salaries higher than the national mean income of $46,440. Perhaps surprisingly, the top-rated occupation on the list is also the highest-paying of the bunch. According to Glassdoor, the national median salary for data scientists is $115,000. Other jobs on the list with above-average salaries are user experience designer, equity trader, investment analyst, real estate broker, and game designer.

Of the positions that offer below-average annual pay, some are seasonal, on-call, or often part-time jobs such as lifeguard, substitute teacher, and office assistant. Those three jobs have annual salaries that range between $20,000 and $29,000, well below the national mean.

Wanted: more tools for finding balance

"Food and beverage conglomerate executive" doesn't appear on Glassdoor's work-life balance list. And it's noteworthy that there are entire categories of jobs that didn't make the cut: health care, academia, CPAs, and many more. It may be that when we encourage young people to choose a career or when we ourselves are thinking about changing tracks, we need to ask not only what we want to do, but how much we can do, both at work and at home.