By Tim Krohn
---- — MANKATO — We have a leisurely, short drive to work. When we get there, we don't work a long week. And we get paid pretty well for it.
On the surface, that's the impression from a new ranking that puts Mankato-North Mankato among the top cities in the nation for "work-life balance."
Mankato-North Mankato was ranked eighth for its short commutes, low median hours worked per week and decent salaries. The report also notes the benefit of Mayo Clinic Health System and Minnesota State University in the community. The report was issued by Nerd Wallet, a website aimed at providing consumer financial comparisons and information.
The mean travel time to work in Mankato is 17 minutes with a median work week at 36.8 hours. The median earnings for a full-time male worker is $40,860 and for a female $33,771.
The top-ranked city — Corvallis, Ore. — by comparison has a male earning $51,380, an 18.4 minute commute and a median work week of 33.4 hours.
The company used census data to determine work-life balance calculations based on the three factors of commutes, hours worked and income.
Lisa Perez, an industrial psychology professor at Minnesota State University who specializes in stress and health in the workplace, said she agrees that two of the three criteria can clearly help indicate a good life-work balance. Cities that offer a short commute and higher average earnings are going to generally provide a better life-work experience. But the numbers of hours worked per week may be less helpful.
"The 36 hours (a week) is great if that's what people want to work. But it's not if they want more hours than that."
Perez said the definition of life-work balance has evolved. "Traditionally we thought of whether work interfered with personal life or if personal life interfered with work. But we've come to realize it's a lot more complicated than that.
"A balance isn't what makes everybody happy. Some people want a life that's dominated by work and some want one that's dominated by personal life."
Perez said she knows one thing for sure that makes people much happier about their work and home life.
"The most important thing people want is some control over their environment and supervisors who allow them flexibility to take care of things in their personal life, taking a child to a doctor's appointment, taking the car in to get fixed."
The complete list of best life-work balance cities, starting with No. 1: Corvallis, Ore.; Ames, Iowa; Ithaca, N.Y.; Bloomington-Normal, Ill.; Champaign-Urbana, Ill.; Lawrence, Kans.; Carson City, Nev.; Mankato-North Mankato; Boulder, Colo.; Grand Forks.
The report can be found at: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2013/best-places-work-life-balance/
While not a criteria in this ranking, some consider working from home a good way to improve work-life balance and Mankato ranks very high in that category as well. Mankato, along with St. Cloud, was listed among the nation’s top cities for working from home, according to a report released in March by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of the total workforce, 7.7 percent in the Mankato-North Mankato metro area and 7.6 percent in St. Cloud cite home as their primary workplace. These numbers put the cities in sixth and eighth place respectively for the largest proportions of stay-at-home workers in the nation.
The top city in the nation for working at home was Boulder, Colo.
Perez said working from home doesn't necessarily lead to the kind of balance people expect. "It seems like a good thing, but what happens is a lot of people lose that boundary between work and home. So people don't disconnect from work when they should."