The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new stressors into daily life as employees try to balance potentially longer hours, increased demands at home and continued uncertainty regarding work culture looking forward. As a result, a healthy work-life balance has become increasingly difficult to achieve. A 2021 survey from Indeed says that 52% of workers report feeling burned out, an 11% increase since before the pandemic in 2019.
With employee stress and exhaustion on the rise, some states and businesses are taking action to address this issue and help employees to establish a positive work-life balance. In early 2022, the California legislature proposed shortening the traditional 40-hour work week down to 32 hours, essentially creating a four day work week. While talks on this particular proposal have stalled, it certainly has opened the door to further conversation on work-life balance.
In this study, SmartAsset looked at locational differences in work-life balance, identifying and ranking the cities with the best work-life balances in 2022. We analyzed metrics including work environment, affordability and livability. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, read the Data and Methodology section below.
This is SmartAsset’s fifth study on the cities with the best work-life balance. Check out the previous version here.
- Midwestern cities dominate the top 10. Like last year, Madison, Wisconsin tops our list. Additionally, four other Midwestern cities rank in the top 10, ranking best for metrics focused on the work environment including labor force participation rate, unemployment rate and average hours worked per week.
- Housing costs are more burdensome for residents in bottom-ranking cities. On average, housing costs make up 30% of pre-tax income in the top 10 cities. This aligns with the commonly-cited housing rule of thumb whereby payments should not be more than 30% of gross income. Comparatively, in the bottom 10 cities, that same expense makes up 41% of income on average.
- Shorter commutes are possible in big cities. The average commute time exceeds 30 minutes in just 16 of the 100 big cities in our study. That’s good news for residents who must commute to their workplace either a few days a week or on a full-time basis. Of all the cities we analyzed, Lubbock, Texas has the lowest average commute time, at 16 minutes, while New York, New York has the highest, at 41 minutes.
1. Madison, WI
Madison, Wisconsin remains No. 1 for another year. This city ranks highest in employment metrics: first for average hours worked per week (36.7), fourth-best for its February 2022 unemployment rate (2.3%) and 11th-best for its labor force participation rate (71.7%). The average commute for workers in Madison is 19.8 minutes (ranking ninth-best) and just 2.7% of workers commute longer than 60 minutes (ranking fifth-best).
2. Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis, Minnesota ranks third-best for both its labor force participation rate (74.1%) and February 2022 unemployment rate (2.2%). On average, the typical work week is 37.6 hours (13th-best) and housing costs make up 29.47% of median household income (11th-best). Minneapolis also is the 13th-most walkable city in our study.
3. Arlington, VA
The fifth-largest Virginia city, Arlington, ranks third overall. Arlington ranks best overall for three metrics: labor force participation rate (78.9%), February 2022 unemployment rate (2.1%) and housing costs as a percentage of income (27.20%). Restaurants make up 8.87% of all establishments in the city, a top 15 rate.
4. San Francisco, CA (Tie)
San Francisco, California is the most walkable city in our study. The labor force participation rate stands at 71.2% (14th-best in our study) and February 2022 unemployment rate was 3.0%. Moreover, San Francisco has the fourth-highest concentration of entertainment establishments, with them making up roughly 12% of all establishments.
4. St. Paul, MN (Tie)
The average employee in St. Paul, Minnesota works 37.2 hours per week (ranking sixth-best). The labor force participation rate is 69.9% (24th-best) and in February 2022, the unemployment rate was 2.4% (fifth-lowest). Residents looking for fun activities, can enjoy 281 arts, entertainment and recreation establishments in the city, which make up 2.07% of all establishments (10th-best).
6. Richmond, VA
Richmond, Virginia ranks best for its amenities. Census Bureau data shows that the city offers 124 arts, entertainment and recreation establishments (making up 2% of all establishments and ranking 15th-best) and 574 restaurants (making up 9% of all establishments and ranking 12th-best). In terms of work, employees in Richmond can expect to work about 38 hours per week (ranking 21st-best) and have an average commute of under 22 minutes (ranking 22nd-best).
7. Seattle, WA
Ranking seventh-best overall, Seattle, Washington excelled in work environment metrics such as labor force participation rate (74.0%, ranking fourth-best) and February 2022 unemployment rate (2.9%, ranking 14th-best). Seattle also offers the 19th-best concentration of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments (1329, which accounts for 1.88% of all establishments).
8. Omaha, NE
Omaha, Nebraska ranks in the top 10 for three metrics: seventh-best for its average commute time (19.3 minutes), fifth-best for the percent of workers with a commute longer than 60 minutes (2.7%) and seventh-best for the February 2022 unemployment rate (2.7%). The labor force participation rate in this city is 70.1%, which ranks 23rd-best.
9. Lincoln, NE
Employees in Lincoln, Nebraska work an average of 37.4 hours per week (ranking 11th-lowest overall) and the labor force participation rate is 71.1% (16th-best). In the greater Lancaster County, the February 2022 unemployment rate was 2.1%, which ranks best overall. Commuters spend an average of 18.9 minutes on the road (sixth-best) and just 3.3% of workers experience a commute that is longer than 60 minutes (15th-best).
10. Portland, OR
The City of Roses ranks best for its walkability and available amenities. Specifically, Portland, Oregon earns a walk score of 67.3 (scored on a scale of 0 to 100), which ranks 17th-best across the 100 cities we considered. In terms of amenities, residents have access to over 550 arts, entertainment and recreation establishments (2% of all establishments) and nearly 2,000 restaurants (9% of all establishments). The city ranks 13th- and 17th-best for these two metrics, respectively.
What Experts Have to Say
Do you think that most Americans have a good work-life balance?
“Most people have a work-life balance that functions for them, but rarely is it the most ideal balance possible. I think of it like sleep: Most of us get enough and on a functional schedule, but if you ask someone if they wish they could sleep better or longer, they'll probably say ‘oh, of course!’” says Shawn Plummer, CEO at The Annuity Expert.
Are businesses providing a work environment that is conducive to maintaining a good work-life balance?
“Some businesses, myself included, try their best to provide such work environments, but it's always difficult to go against the culture. I think remote work [has] had a huge impact on promoting good work-life balance, and many businesses are trying to provide environments that foster this,” says Harry Campbell, CEO and Founder at TheRideShareGuy. “We are now focused on productivity rather than time spent at work, and that is a good thing.”
“I see more companies emphasizing the work-life balance of employees in their policies and culture, and the wide-spread adoption of remote work has helped with this, as [have] similar trends like 4-day work weeks and other scheduling flexibility. Having said that, this is far from universal in any industry, and a significant number of the candidates we work with in our recruiting agency (I would estimate around a quarter to a third) are looking for a new job primarily to improve their work-life balance,” says Jon Hill, Chairman & CEO of The Energists
What are some tips to maintain a work-life balance?
“When you log out, don’t be tempted to log back in to do ‘just one last thing,’ says Jeffrey Zhou, Co-Founder and CEO of Fig Loans. “Instead, leave a note for yourself to tackle that ‘one last thing’ first thing tomorrow. Unplug the right way.”
“How individuals should maintain work life balance, in any scenario, is to put family or free time on the schedule and make it non-negotiable, and during that time you have to unplug. You also have to put life first, no matter what,” says Daniel Javor, CEO of Step by Step Business.
Data and Methodology
To find the best cities for work-life balance, we compared 100 of the largest cities in America across the following 10 metrics:
- Walk score. Walk Score measures the walkability of any address based on the distance to nearby places and pedestrian friendliness and is measured on a scale of 0 to 100. Data comes from walkscore.com and is for 2022.
- Concentration of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments. This is the number of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments as a percentage of all establishments. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 County Business Patterns Survey.
- Concentration of restaurants. This is the number of restaurants as a percentage of all establishments. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 County Business Patterns Survey.
- Housing costs as a percentage of income. This is the median housing costs as a percentage of income for full-time workers. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Average weeks worked per year. This is how many weeks per year local employees work. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Average hours worked per week. This is the average number of hours a worker works in a week. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Average commute time. This is the average number of minutes it takes for a worker to commute to work. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Percentage of workers with a commute longer than 60 minutes. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for February 2022.
- Labor force participation rate. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
First, we ranked each city in each metric. We then found the average ranking for each city. Four metrics (weeks worked per year, hours worked per week, average commute time and percentage of workers with a commute longer than 60 minutes) received a half weight. All other metrics were single weighted.
We then compared the cities based on this average ranking. The top city received an index score of 100 and the bottom city received an index score of 0.
Tips for Finding Financial Balance
- Establish boundaries. Budgeting can help you gain financial control and the simplest way to do this is via the 50/30/20 rule. Also, try out our budget calculator, which can give you a clear picture of your current spending but also project the next six months. Then learn tricks to stick to your budget so going forward you will be able to maximize your savings.
- Plan ahead. Whether you are saving for retirement at age 20 or age 50, it is never too late to get started. Learn how to get started on your retirement planning. If you’re a late starter, read our guide on planning moves you should make to get on track.
- Work with an expert. A financial advisor can help you manage and make the most of your money, which could mean less financial stress for you. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
Questions about our study? Contact email@example.com.
Photo credit: ©iStock/Orbon Alija