Work/Life Balance, or Work/Life Integration?

work integration and balance

73% of employees have said that flexible work arrangements increased their satisfaction at work and 78% have said that flexible work arrangements made them more productive. (Source: Workest, 2018)

According to Indeed.com, that number of businesses in the tech sector alone offering unlimited vacation time had climbed to 65%.

Now consider concepts like compressed workweeks, flexible scheduling, and working remotely across the entire economy. Were those ideas around or as popular 15 or 20 years ago?

These newer work arrangements demonstrate that the way we work has changed. But, has our relationship to work and personal life also changed to reflect these new work arrangements? 

For many of you, the answer to that question is no. Instead, you want a newer framework to think about the work/life relationship.

One innovative way is to think about integrating the two rather than balancing them. What do I mean by integrate? I’ll answer that question and show you how to integrate your work life and personal life successfully. 

What Is “Work/Life Balance?” 

First, let’s quickly review the concept of work/life balance. An article on WorkLifeBalancec.com explains, “work-life balance does not mean an equal balance.” It goes on to say that few people have found a single definition for the concept of work/life balance.

In other words, there is no set formula. Another article from Forbes states, “we all have our idea of what is comfortable, tolerable, and acceptable. Our secret power is recognizing and accepting that what we need now—in this very moment—to create balance is different than what we will need in 12 months or 2, 5, 7, or 10 years from now. “

When I think of my own experience and the advice above, I realize that when we talk about balance, it doesn’t mean an equal amount of time between work and non-work endeavors. It means that the amount of time you spend at work is acceptable compared to the time you spend outside of work. But this idea is starting to seem dated because more and more people have less traditional office jobs. And as Business Inside notes, more companies are offering flexible work arrangements, and these companies will attract more talent.   

For some, thinking about a balance between work and personal life creates tension rather than harmony. Put differently, thinking of them as entirely separate places them in competition with each other. You’re almost setting yourself up for more stress because you imagine that the two can’t coexist. But with the idea of integration, they can.

How We Work Has Changed

Before explaining integration and how it meets today’s workforce needs, it’s important to understand how the work landscape has changed.

As economists note, we are continuing to move toward a gig economy. This economy is based on temporary and contract work and is also seeing a rise in self-employment and comprises 36 percent of the population. Forbes notes that workers in this economy are usually: 

  • Between jobs 
  • Cannot find jobs 
  • Require more flexibility than traditional roles provide

This last point is especially crucial because it cues on a significant theme of the modern workforce—Flexibility. One recent study by International Workplace Group (IWG) found, more than 80 percent of U.S. employees would choose a job that offered a flexible work schedule over one that didn’t. What’s more, The Global Talent Trends study of 2018 reveals the flexibility ranks first in the top three desires of current workers across the economy

  • Permanent workplace flexibility
  • A commitment to health and well-being
  • Working with a purpose

Well-being, which is about happiness both in and out of work, is also on the list. When combined with flexibility, workers in the modern workforce are prioritizing work arrangements that will allow them to pursue both. According to ReadCouk, Integration, as both a mindset and way of living, provides them with a more suitable arrangement for flexibility and wellbeing.

Where and when we work has also changed. For example, we can collaborate more efficiently and work virtually with the aid of technology. In turn, we have more flexibility in where we work—we are not tied to an office.

In addition to this shifting landscape of work, research shows that while we aren’t busier now than in the past, we feel more harried than ever before. So why do we feel so busy? It’s difficult to say, but part of the answer may be we haven’t found the recipe for harmoniously merging our lives and work.

What Is Work/Life Integration? 

In the modern way of working and living, it’s not surprising that we’re searching for new ways to handle this pace of life. Work/life integration is one way to meet the changing ways we work. According to Berkeley’s Haas School, work/life integration is “an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define “life”: work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health.” The goal of achieving integration is to have a life where you can:

  • Meet your needs
  • Manage the boundaries of work and personal life.

With integration, the idea that you have to juggle between work and your personal life no longer exists. Instead, it’s a great way to give equal time and attention to all areas of your life, without having to sacrifice one for the other.

Finally, I look at work/life integration as both a practice and a mindset. Practically, there are some tactical things you can do, like working from home more. But, as a mindset, integration is about letting go of that sharp division between work and your personal life. This type of release has helped me be less frustrated when I want to or need to work on a Saturday or in times where I previously would have never worked.

What Are The Benefits Of Work/Life Integration?

It’s a realistic approach 

Considering the way we work, one of the most significant benefits of work/life integration is that it’s more realistic. With the idea of balance, creating a division between work and home might be your goal. But this division isn’t always doable, which can mean your mood is affected if the balance is altered (e.g., you have to work overtime).

More time with loved ones

Combining work with your personal life could make your day-to-day less monotonous. Instead of counting down the hours until you’re able to spend time with loved ones, you could be working from home and enjoying their company simultaneously. 

Prepare for today and tomorrow

Integrating your work and personal life is a fantastic way to prioritize effectively. By mixing up your day with both work and home-based duties, you’ll be able to manage your tasks in a way that suits your needs. Likewise, creating the habits that allow you to be flexible today will set you up for success later. What if you get a new job? What if you have kids? Being flexible now will help you meet the challenges that tomorrow will bring. 

How to achieve work/life integration 

Some of your ability to combine work and your personal life will depend on where you work. While we’re moving away from 9 to 5 jobs, many of us work for organizations that require more traditional hours. If you’re in a more conventional office setting, then you will be limited. But if you’re working from home or self-employed, you’ll have more freedom to integrate all parts of your life.

Create and enforce boundaries

EmployWise notes, “Today, technology means that we’re all available 24/7. And, because everyone demands instant gratification and instant connectivity, there are no boundaries, no breaks.” 

When it comes to how we work, we are segmenting our time into smaller chunks. Instead of working eight hours at an office, we are working 20 minutes at home, then answering emails while waiting in a doctor’s office. This tactic offers more freedom and flexibility while keeping us in the loop with work. Yet, we still need time to check out from work. So, set aside a time when you’re not working or thinking about work (or not supposed to think about work). If you want more guidance, check out these 7 tips for setting boundaries for work.

Prioritize

The ultimate goal is to have meaningful work and relationships. Work/life integration is a helpful framework to do this. But the secret to prioritizing what we value most is in the execution. I like to use the Eisenhower matrix (shown below) to help me understand the things I need to do as opposed to those that can wait.

goal setting

Spend a little time to understand the difference between important and urgent and how they relate to one another. Here’s some more reading on how to prioritize when everything feels like it’s number one.

Create a schedule and guard your time

Put both work and non-work items in your calendar. This step will ensure that you are reserving time in your day to focus on priorities outside of work. It may feel odd to formally schedule activities like “movie time” or “working out,” but doing so will make you more dedicated to completing these personal tasks.

Coordinate with your partner/family

If you have a partner, coordinate your plans with them. You can use apps like google calendar so you can see each other’s schedules. Having a common schedule will also allow you to understand what’s essential for your family. Remember, the idea behind integration is partly to make sure you’re spending time with loved ones and that it’s easier to do this. 

Work purposefully 

Decide when it’s time to work, and when it’s time to play. Most importantly, have a goal, even for small chunks of time. This tactic is a way to create little victories for yourself and to ensure your actions are meaningful. Don’t just log time. Read this article for tips on how to work with a purpose.

Take vacations

According to INC. Americans use an average of 10 vacation days each year. That’s not enough, according to brain researchers. If that’s all you have with work, then take them. But, if you can take more, do so. Vacations are one of the best ways to recharge. But with an integration mindset, be prepared to work a little while on vacation.

Work in bursts

Try breaking up your workday into small segments. For example, sit down with one achievable goal in mind and get it done in 30-45 minutes. After you finish that task, do something fun—go for a walk, hang out with your family, or relax. Check out this article for 7 smart ways to structure your day for max productivity.

 Rely on technology

Your phone can do wonders for time management and scheduling. It also allows you to leave the office or your home but stay connected. Even if you’re self-employed, invest in mobile technology and software that helps you be able to work from anywhere and anytime effectively. Forbes has insightful ideas about using tech to improve your work/life relationship.

Find your ideal work environment.

Some friends I know like to work in coffee shops. Others go to the library. Some people thrive on structure and in a team environment, like an office, while others find clarity and energy by working privately somewhere else. We can’t control our office policies, but chances are you have some flexibility. Take advantage of it. 

Work efficiently, not longer 

It hardly matters how many hours you spend a day working if you’re not productive. Instead, how much you’ve accomplished by the end of the day is a better metric of success. Being efficient will allow you to spend more time with family and friends. Read these 5 Easy Ways to Work Smarter, Not Longer.

Adjust your expectations

Some days will feel heavy, while others will feel light. If you’ve prepared yourself and understand that work may need to occur at hours outside of the typical 9-5 workday, then you’ll be well equipped.

Be mindful of not overworking 

I say this because it’s easy to let work sneak into nearly every crevice of your life—especially when you’re not in a traditional work setting. Work can often feel both important and urgent. But if you continuously focus on work instead of other priorities, you’ll neglect important parts of your life. But, it can be challenging to know if you’re overworking. Here are 7 red Flags You’re Working Too Much.

Do what works for you 

I want to close by reminding you to find a solution that works best for you. If work/life balance is working for you, then keep marching on. I don’t want you to feel like you have to choose between “balance” and “integration” in the same way many of us feel like we have to choose between work and personal life. Instead, perhaps the best piece of advice I can give is to follow your instincts. I’ve followed mine, and they’ve taught me well.  

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