Can you ditch working long hours?

In our increasingly connected, always-on world, finding a balance between work and life can be a challenge. Here are some tips.

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In our increasingly connected, always-on world, the line between work and home life has become more and more blurred.

Some people like it that way; for others, it can be exhausting and overwhelming. No matter which side you come down on, though, it’s still a tough choice: Should you pursue a career or position that has loads of opportunity but requires you to work or at least be available after-hours? Or should you choose one that allows you to check out after the workday ends, but likely pays less and offers fewer chances for advancement?

For Seattle resident Jenn Farber Dohy, the decision was easy. Before she took a position as a barista at Starbucks, Farber had worked in jobs ranging from selling restaurant supplies and medical devices, to social work. All those jobs had one thing in common: no quitting time. They all came home with her at the end of the day in some way, whether it was catching up on emails or following up on an ailing patient.

You literally could walk out the door and not think about it until the next day.

But that changed when she decided to forego those more lucrative positions and signed on at Starbucks. It was just what Dohy, a busy mom of a young son and two teenage stepdaughters, needed at the time. “You literally could walk out the door and not think about it until the next day,” she said.

For the rest of us, however, the decision—and loss of salary—often isn’t so black and white. Here’s how to break it down.

The big picture

Rather than simply examine two job paths, think about your end goal, said Rebecca Kiki Weingarten, a New York-based career and executive coach and consultant, in an email. This could be reaching an executive position, retiring early, or having more vacation time.

Also, define your priorities in life and work, as well as your priorities around professional identity. “With the end goal in mind, the questions are easier to answer, and all point to the right decision for each person individually,” Weingarten said.

Ask yourself the following question, she suggested: Where does your ambition and professional success stand on your list of life goals? “For some people, at certain points in their lives, these are the most important things.” If that’s true, their personal relationships take a back seat. “A single, 20- or 30-something might decide to devote more time to their career and put off thinking about their family situations and wishes,” said Weingarten.

Personal decision

For parents returning to work after the arrival of a baby, Weingarten likes to ask them: How important is their role within the family? Is this a time that their families can do without them? “This is a question that comes very often, at many points in people's lives,” she said. “Each person must decide this for themselves, very honestly.”

Some liked it. Some were miserable; some actually became physically or psychologically ill

It's important to take into consideration how much people need their professional identity, as well as the energy and sense of accomplishment they get from work, Weingarten said. “I've worked with mothers who were at the C-level (executive level) who stayed home after they had children because it was what they believed they should do. Some liked it. Some were miserable; some actually became physically or psychologically ill.”

Easy choice for some

For some lucky people, the choice between a work-all-day-and-into-the-evening job, and one that shuts off at quitting time is easy, especially if finances aren’t a big concern. It all comes down to needs—personal, career and circumstances, said Berlin-based Konstantin Korotov, director of European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) Centre for Leadership Development Research, in an email.

For many, work is “the main source of their energy, drive, sense of belonging and meaning,” Korotov said.

Work can also be an escape when challenging life changes occur, such as children leaving home, divorce or death of a spouse, Korotov said.

“For those individuals, ‘work-life balance’ at that particular time in their lives actually means to have all their time devoted to work,” he said. This, of course, can change if they meet someone and fall in love.

But it’s a more complicated decision for people with strong personal interests outside of work and lives filled with people they love. “Sometimes taking work home may be considered as an investment into the family’s future,” Korotov said. Of course, that bleed of work into home has potential risks, from less socializing (who has time when there’s always work to do at home?), less time for fun activities with a partner, spouse or children and, even a drop in productivity at work because there’s too little down time to recharge.

Goals for now and later

When deciding between two courses, be clear which will “allow you to best meet your short and long-term career goals,” said Jesse Siegal, New York-based senior managing director at The Execu|Search Group, in an email. “If the job that demands more of your personal time is truly aligned with your passions and long-term career goals, then the extra work shouldn’t feel like a burden.”

But if your personal obligations won't allow you to fully commit to the more demanding position, ask yourself if you are “willing and able to give up a higher salary in return for fewer responsibilities," said Siegal.

Put it down on paper

Jayne Mattson, a senior vice president at Keystone Associates, a Boston-based career management consulting firm, suggests creating a spreadsheet in which one column has the components of the offer and the other column lists your career goals, values, career satisfiers and ‘dissatisfiers’.

“Don’t compare one offer against each other, but against what you are looking for,” she said in an email. “It will help you make a sound career decision for you and your family. Maybe you are at a juncture of your career where leaving the job behind at the end of the day versus making more money is right for you.”

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This article was written by Elizabeth Garone from BBC and was licensed as an article reprint from September 14, 2015. Article copyright 2015 by BBC.
The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Fidelity Investments cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any statements or data.
This reprint is supplied by Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC.
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