All Work and No Play? 8 Best Cities for Work-Life Balance

Some days it's all work and no play, but when your entire week, month, or year tips the scale in the former's direction, it might be time to make a change. While some high-stress cities make attaining a healthy work-life balance nearly impossible, others go the extra mile to encourage the best of both worlds. How does this balance work? As a NerdWallet study suggests, the ideal work-life balance is a perfect mix of weekly hours worked, commute times, and cost of living. Here are eight cities that are doing it right.

Bloomington, Indiana

A top-ranked city for work-life balance, this small metropolis boasts one of the shortest work weeks in the United States. Employees in Bloomington clock an average of just under 32 hours per week. Because this is a small but growing city, workers' commutes tend to be short and unstressful.

The city's top employer is Indiana University, which means academics, college sports managers, and specialists in university administration might be well-suited to life in Bloomington. In addition to providing jobs, the university also offers plenty of extracurricular activities for both employees and community members, including everything from theater performances to athletic events.

Gainesville, Florida

Similar to Bloomington, the local university is the name of the game in Gainesville. The University of Florida, which is the eighth-largest university in the United States, is also one of the city's major employers. With an average commute of just over 16 minutes and a typical workweek of just over 32 hours, Gainesville's appeal to employees is clear. The city's popular college sports teams and frequent arts festivals help make Gainesville a fun and rewarding place to live.

Iowa City, Iowa

Male and Female sitting at desks working on computers

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Designated a City of Literature by UNESCO, it may come as no surprise that this culture-rich city balances work and life effectively. Iowa City's largest employer and major cultural force, the University of Iowa, attracts thousands of employees from across the country and the globe.

Those who opt for a job relocation to Iowa City will appreciate the positive income to cost-of-living ratio along with the short commute, which averages just over 17 minutes. If the close-knit feel of this small city ever starts to feel too cramped, Chicago is just a short drive away.

Provo, Utah

Workers in Provo enjoy some of the shortest overall workweeks, at just under 31 hours on average. The city's low cost of living tempers its slightly lower than average wage, which makes achieving a balanced life in Provo a breeze. One of Provo's secrets is Brigham Young University, which is the third-largest private college in the United States and the largest employer in this small city. Professors, administrators, and support staff all tend to do well in Provo, and everyone appreciates unwinding with family and friends at local favorite Covey Center for the Arts.

Durham, North Carolina

This mid-sized city has made a name for itself in recent years and has successfully rebranded itself as a center for research and technology. Where tobacco mills once ruled the downtown area, Durham's imposing brick warehouses have been repurposed and used to house local startups, cultural organizations, and research institutions. To top it off, commutes in this city are short, and the cost of living remains low, despite Durham's growing desirability.

When the workday is done, there are plenty of craft breweries, locally owned restaurants, and performance venues at which to unwind. Residents and visitors alike give plenty of love to the well-attended Durham Performing Arts Center. For a good meal or drink, several hip bars and dining establishments are just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

San Francisco, California

Careers that offer flexible schedules and fun work environments, such as user experience design, social media management, and other information technology jobs, offer some of the best work-life balances. With so many successful tech companies headquartered here, including Twitter, Pinterest, and Dropbox, it's no wonder San Francisco is a top city for those seeking challenging work and fulfilling personal lives.

Since the city is also regularly voted one of the country's top tourist destinations, there are plenty of fun activities for the hard-working resident to enjoy. From culture to nature to cuisine, San Francisco has it all. If the cost of living in the city inches too high, the Bay Area's inexpensive and convenient public transportation makes commuting from surrounding neighborhoods easy.

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Like other top cities for work-life balance, Kalamazoo offers plenty of opportunities for academics and health care workers. The city's largest employers include Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Pfizer. Commutes average just over 18 minutes, and the city's average rent is among the country's lowest.

Kalamazoo boasts plenty of cultural pursuits to balance out its inhabitants' hard work. Residents flock to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts for cutting-edge visual art exhibitions, and they head outside to the Kalamazoo Nature Center for a breath of fresh air. The city is also home to Bell's Brewery, Michigan's oldest microbrewery.

Denver, Colorado

A push toward greater work-life balance and wider acceptance of flextime leads the way in the Mile High City's economic development. This benefits both busy families and employees with full personal lives and helps engender a more flexible approach to work schedules. Denver may not boast remarkably low costs of living, but popular benefits such as flextime help employees strike a better balance that works well for everyone. 

The city's beautiful setting, easy access to outdoor activities and the Rocky Mountains, cultural pursuits, and a variety of professional sports teams all make it a highly desirable place to live. When the workday is done, it's easy to kick back and relax in this recreation-minded city.

For both employers and employees, encouraging and maintaining a work-life balance is key to a happy work and home life. Lower costs of living in relation to income, shorter commutes, and reduced work hours are just the beginning. A well-developed network of local offerings, activities, and recreational opportunities completes the work-life puzzle.

Contributed to by Kim Hale

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