Career Center Blog

December 31, 2009

Top 5 work/life balance stories of 2009


I could say a lot of bad things about the many ways in which 2009 did a serious number on the workforce. Instead, I'll list what I think were some of the most significant work/life balance stories of the year. If you'd like to weigh in with your own, please do so in the comments below.

Embrasure of the simpler things in life. With less money to burn, less access to credit, and a general paranoia about losing jobs, homes, and solvency, twenty-first century Americans have finally learned to channel their inner cheapskate. Whether a layoff or a general buckling down has forced the issue, many folks have taken to spending more time gardening, cooking, crafting, reading, enjoying family, and entertaining friends at home rather than painting the town.

Stigma associated with alternate forms of work dissipating. Once upon a time, freelancing, temping, working in the trades, working part-time, or taking a mercenary job for which you're overqualified didn't garner the same respect as working a salaried full-time office position. The recession changed all that. With so many people scrambling to find any means of making a living they can, these less conventional ways of working have finally gotten some respect.

Spotlight on the nation's ailing health insurance system. Between the year's sky-high unemployment rates and ubiquitous health care reform debate, it was impossible to overlook the fact that with enough bad luck, any one of us could wind up without adequate -- or worse, any -- health care coverage. No longer is qualifying for and purchasing affordable health insurance merely a concern for the sick, impoverished, self-employed, temporarily employed, and underemployed. With job security something of a pipedream these days and dwindling employee benefits now the norm, it's a concern for us all.

Retirement redefined. In this year of depleted 401(k)s, continuing to work into one's golden years has become a financial necessity for countless Americans. But many wouldn't have it any other way. Whether entering a new field, taking a less stressful role in their current one, or starting their own business, some choose to keep working because it keeps them mentally, socially, and physically engaged.

Women as primary breadwinners. A woman bringing home the bacon is of course nothing new. But The Shriver Report's announcement in October that "for the first time in our nation's history, women are half of all U.S. workers and mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families" was met with much media fanfare. How being a breadwinner affects one's work/life balance -- and that of her partner or family -- has been the subject of untold news stories this decade. I personally look forward to the day when who does the laundry and who earns the mortgage money is no longer a hot news item.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide." E-mail Michelle at

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Another plus (at least for my students) is the "gap in employment" thing.

It has always been a red flag for many employers when they saw this in the past, but now, I think most employers are understanding of longer gaps in employment. It has happened to so many- and many of them- so a gap isn't seen with the stigma it used to be.

Happy New Year!

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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