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Lack of work-life balance and manager support are job 'deal breakers', survey shows
A survey shows, lack of work-life balance and manager support are job 'deal breakers'. - photo by Metro Creative Graphics

When I left my career as a full-time journalist about three years ago, it wasn't because I didn't love the job anymore.
I grew up wanting to be a writer or editor for a newspaper, and I'm grateful that I was able to make a living doing exactly that for decades.

It wasn't even the downturn in the news industry that made me start looking for something different, although that did play a part in my decision.

What really led me to make a career change was the "always-on" aspect of the job, especially when I started working for the paper's website. When every second of every day is your deadline, it's hard to find work-life balance.

I looked at my wife and four children and realized that I wanted to support my family with both my earning power and my time. In order to do the latter, I had to make a change.

I guess you could say that a lack of balance proved to be a deal breaker for my career in journalism. And according to a June survey from Utah-based BambooHR, I'm not alone.

The company's online survey asked 1,034 U.S.-based workers over the age of 18 why they left previous jobs and how annoying various aspects of work were on a scale from "acceptable" to "deal breaker," meaning something that would make them want to leave.

According to the survey, the top reason respondents left their previous jobs was lack of opportunities for advancement, at 22 percent. The top five deal breakers for employees were:

"Your boss doesn't trust/empower you." "You are expected to work/answer emails on sick days, on vacations and/or after work hours." "Management 'passes the buck' when things don't go as planned." "Work is not flexible with regard to your family responsibilities." "You don't get along with your co-workers." Have you noticed what's missing from this list? That's right: money.
"Sure, having a salary that is lower than expected is annoying, but according to the study it doesn’t rank as one of the leading irritations," said a survey summary from BambooHR. "In fact, slights in compensation become increasingly easier to swallow as employees age …

"Complaints related to compensation are highest in the 18–29 age range and steadily decline as employees get older. Conversely, a lack of fringe benefits progressively becomes more of a deal breaker as employees age."

I was surprised to see that salary issues didn't make the top five deal-breakers list, but as I thought about it, it made sense.
While I believe that people can be lured away from a job by a significantly better financial offer from another company, my personal experience and my years of writing about work-life balance have taught me that family issues should not be overlooked when it comes to a person's job satisfaction.

That's not to say that everyone feels exactly the same about these issues. The BambooHR survey showed that the response regarding working or answering emails after hours was polarizing, with some people seeing it as one of the most acceptable issues.

"Men find it more acceptable (1 in 5 men vs. 1 in 10 women), and women see it as more of a deal breaker (1 in 3 women vs. 1 in 5 men)," the survey summary said.

That gender divide also showed in responses to the item about work not being flexible with regard to family responsibilities. One in four women responded that it was a deal breaker, while only one in eight men said so.

The respondents' ages played a further role in how they felt about work-life issues.

"The age range of 30-44 is disproportionately more annoyed by lack of flexibility when it comes to family responsibilities compared to any other age demographic," the survey summary said. "These people clearly crave flexibility from an employer. Three in four of those in the 30-44 age range marked 'work is not flexible with regard to your family responsibilities' as 'considerably annoying' or a deal breaker."

Even more interesting to me was that managers who responded to the survey seemed willing to accept less flexibility with regard to their families. Only 18 percent of managers marked “You are expected to work/answer emails on sick days, on vacations and/or after work hours” as a deal breaker.

"Forty-five percent of managers vs. 52 percent of non-managers marked 'Work is not flexible with regard to your family responsibilities' as a deal breaker or considerable annoyance," the BambooHR survey summary said.

I guess that makes me an unusual manager. While I expect to have more after-hours responsibilities as part of my job — that's why I make the "big bucks," right? — it was exactly the overwhelming nature of that aspect of my previous occupation that made me consider a change.

On the other hand, I was interested to see the survey results confirm what I've always suspected: that how a person is treated by her boss plays a huge role in how satisfied she is with her job.

Like the respondents in the survey, I want to feel trusted and empowered by my boss, and I don't want him to blame me when something goes wrong (unless it's my fault, in which case I'll own it).

If that's how I want to be treated, I should offer the same respect and opportunities to my team. I also need to have their backs when times are tough. I've always tried to be that kind of manager, and this survey reminds me why it's important.

I'm interested to hear what you think about this. Why did you leave your last job? What is most likely to be a deal breaker for you at work? And how important are financial considerations when you're choosing a job, as compared to work-life questions?
Please send me an email with your ideas, and I'll share some of them in a future column.

Email your comments to Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.