Mark Mikolajczak and Christina Bilotta would have been anomalies 20 years ago. The accountants work less than 40 hours a week in a field where most people work twice as long. But in 2008, those kinds of hours aren't uncommon. More and more accountants are demanding a better balance between their work and personal lives.

"I still have that same level of work challenge, but I'm working 30 hours a week instead of 60 or 80 hours," says Bilotta.

"The companies like you," adds Mikolajczak. "They're grateful to have you."

Trends

Todd Koch, a partner at John A. Knutson and Co., says that when he started as an accountant, 60- to 80-hour work weeks were the norm.

"That's what was expected," he remembers.

But over time there have been more workers - like Mikolajczak and Bilotta - who want more personal time.

"It's been a gradual changeover, but that movement's been led by the staff," notes Koch. "It's the number one employment issue right now."

Work flexibility has become a huge issue as new hires insist on a work-life balance. As the Baby Boomers retire, more people are leaving the industry than coming into it.

"Generation Y is coming in and they're demanding it," says Amy Langer, partner at SALO.

Balancing Act

Work-life balance doesn't just apply to time spent on the job. Langer says for many of her contractors, work-life balance means taking jobs that are more in tune with the specific types of work they want to do.

Work-life balance isn't just a one-way street. While employees are benefiting from flexibility in their hours, companies expect them to step up during busy times.

"Make sure the flexibility works the other way, too," says Koch. "If the company is giving you flexibility in your schedule, you might need to work during busier times."

Langer says her contractors may be asked to check voice mails or e-mail on non-work days so they can refer the issue to another worker.

"If you're asking for flexibility, make sure you're flexible too," says Langer.

Bring It Up

The work-life balance issue should not be avoided during a job interview. Mentioning it won't make you seem lazy.

"It's something you should bring up," advises Koch. "Because what you're looking for might not be what they're looking for. They may also offer you something better than you expected."

Langer advises interviewees to mention their work-life balance desires, but to also emphasize their achievements.

"Focus on your accomplishments," says Langer. "Instead of saying, `I want to work 32 hours a week,' also say that you're deadline driven, but want to be in the office for 32 hours a week."


Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer from Blaine.