The Upgrade: Work-Life Balance to Work-Life Integration
The concept of work-life balance has a long history. As hippies grew into boomers, the need to reduce stress from overwork meant keeping work and the home front separate - at least, in theory.
Then, America’s gold standard of work evolved. It meant abilities and success were inextricably measured by a relentless work ethic. Workers who took breaks were somehow less dedicated. This personification led to only 54% of US workers taking their allotted vacation; even microbreaks have become dismal with 22% feeling guilty if they step away for lunch.
Overworking became the ideal, even romanticized. In the end, it has reaped fewer rewards with higher costs to our health and our personal communities.
Then, in 2020, the pandemic hit. The traditional model of the two worlds were no longer separate and the veil was torn down. Suddenly, our home life with our pets and our children began appearing in our work meetings, on our Zoom calls. With this behind-the-scenes look at our colleagues’ lives, the workplace suddenly became more humanized. The dynamics of integration were ushered in.
It also changed the home life. Children became an integral part of the workday vs. the anecdotal "take your child to work" day. They could begin to visualize their own career. At the same time, pressures on parents became enormous.
The boundaries between work and life were no longer rigid – and the moral obligation to sustain them started to collapse.
The author of “The Great Resignation” phrase, Anthony Klotz, quickly concluded that flexibility and well-being are imperatives for workers today. SHRM Foundation’s survey found 58% of employees ranked importance of flexibility and a healthy work/life balance over financial compensation. This evolution ushered in The Great Reset.
How To Accomplish A Work-Life Integration
Such an emphasis on integration over balance recognizes the whole person.
Let’s start with a sense of self. We face a constant flux of changing priorities, as we age and grow. A sense of self is unique to the individual with stressors, needs, health conditions, and the evolving priorities. An (on-going) assessment to create a sense of balance/integration must be individualized.
For some, a sense of self may be difficult to separate out from work. Thinking about the age-old question, “Do you live to work, or do you work to live?” might be applicable.
There is no denying we have a huge investment in our work (hours + money), but embracing other elements of ourselves and building a more complex sense of self external to work has its own rewards. It puts less pressure (and stress) on us to always find balance. We manage our lives, our health, and our energy on a micro-level vs. a broader level – and enjoy our lunch breaks again.
Purpose has also taken on new meaning in our lives, including our work lives. Yes, there is integration. Gen Z, the newest generation in the workplace, insist on work that inspires harmony between who they are and what they do. It makes them more engaged, productive, and loyal. They feel they are working toward something larger than themselves and giving their (whole) lives more meaning and more fulfillment.
Employers, leaders, and managers have a responsibility to empower a culture with a work-life integration. They must show employees that they understand the 24-hour version of the employee and the business considers their goals and pursuits outside of working hours are just as valuable. It allows flexibility for childcare, sports games, or to run errands, go for a walk during the workday, without fear or guilt. The employer trusts employees to do their work. In turn, employees are happier, healthier, and more present.
Integration: Putting It Together
Work-Life integration may not be the perfect fit for everyone. It doesn’t align with all jobs, individual preferences, or even personalities.
Yet, the differences between the two models of balance vs. integration are obvious: one is dualistic, the other holistic; one is rigid, the other fluid. The rigidity serves some, but holds back others.
Bottom line, we only have a finite amount of time and energy in each day. With integration, it means we choose quality vs. quantity. It means we find the discipline to stick to our choices and let go of the rest.
If integration aligns with your profession and your work adds value across your life, it can be a path forward to break down any contrived boundaries for you (and your employer) – and to achieve a richer, more-fulfilling life.
If you’d like to dig deeper on an individual level and map out a path for your own work-life integration, you’ll find a breadth of available Guides across these applicable topics, Work Life & Leadership, Home Life & Relationships, as well as Prosperity.
By Sharon Steeley, Sr. Director of Marketing, LifeGuides