Every time I write about flexible schedules and working from home, I receive messages from readers who are eager to tell me the tales of their own quests for work-life balance.
These readers don't always agree with me, but I appreciate their willingness to share their experiences.
Because I always learn from their comments, I figured other readers might, too. So I'm sharing a few recent messages with you this week.
For example, last week's column about the most surprising flexible jobs of 2013 resulted in one reader posting an online comment in which he wrote that he loves the flexibility of his position in the Internet industry.
"True, I'm required to work a lot of nights and weekends, but that work happens mostly from home," he wrote. "And the off-hours work allows me to come and go as I need during the day. Over the past 16 years I've discovered that a flexible employer/job is more valuable than big $$$."
Many people agree that flexibility has tangible value. In fact, I've written before about surveys that show some workers would take a pay cut in exchange for more work-from-home time. (I'm still interested in how much pay people are willing to sacrifice if they could telecommute more often, so please drop me a line if you have ideas about that.)
I do hope that this particular reader is not working every night and weekend, even if he is at home. That kind of schedule likely wouldn't be sustainable in the long term. But if it works for you, dear reader, that's the most important thing.
Another reader, Vic, sent me an email to say he agrees with a flexible schedule regardless of circumstances as long as it's fair to everyone.
I agree that fairness is absolutely vital in such cases. If there's any hint of a supervisor playing favorites, allowing some people to work from home but forbidding telecommuting for others when they do the same jobs, trouble is sure to come.
But that doesn't mean companies should be scared of offering work-life balance options to employees. Another reader's message shows just how important such balance can be.
This reader is now a work-from-home mom who has been steadily decreasing her work hours during the last few years. However, she wrote, she started working for a nonprofit in 2008, and the culture there was "toxic."
"While they preached fun and work-life balance, I felt I was looked down on if I actually left work on time," she wrote. "Being insanely busy was a strange badge of honor, yet the vibe there was extremely negative. I've never met a more unhappy group of people.
"I ended up working a minimum of 50 hours a week, and during our 'busy season' it was closer to 70. This job was terribly damaging to me, both mentally and physically. I've never been more unhealthy or more depressed."
After two years of suffering in that atmosphere, she quit and took a part-time job working for a local TV station's website.
"I can't even describe the night-and-day difference — shocking, since a newsroom is one of the most stressful workplaces I can imagine," she wrote. "I was on the clock 28 hours a week, but I didn't mind if I had to stay late and finish a story because the vibe ... was actually very relaxed.
"I attribute this to a fantastic manager who cared about people more than the job, and a team who made coming to work a blast. We were always laughing, and work was a joy, despite the inherent stresses of keeping up with TV news. I felt like my brain was actually switched on for the first time in years. Best of all, my health returned and then some."
She quit to be a full-time mom when her son was 9 months old, and while she still misses the job, she wrote that she doesn't regret her decision.
"Being a parent is even more high-stakes than working in a newsroom, and I'm pretty much on the clock 24/7," she wrote. "But you can't quantify the rewards, and the payoffs are continual. I love my life, and while I miss my old job and coworkers, I've never felt more at the top of my game than I do now."
As this reader clearly states, the definition of work-life balance will be different for everyone. In fact, it's likely to change over the course of a person's career.
It's changed drastically for me over the years. When I was in my early 20s, just starting my career, I didn't mind spending long hours at work. I worked with my wife, and we thoroughly enjoyed our lives as young reporters, chasing down stories at all hours of the day and night.
As we got older and started having children, though, I found my priorities changing. I wanted to spend more time with my wife, who became a stay-at-home mom, and our kids, and that led me to change careers a couple of years ago. Like this last reader, I have no regrets.
Here's hoping all of you are able to find success in your own quests for balance. And keep your stories coming!