Forget work-life balance, it’s all about work-life integration

The last 2 years have challenged us all to think differently about our workplace. Although most jobs can now be done from anywhere, the abrupt shift to remote working has erased the physical and psychological barriers between home and the workplace. In an interview with New Yorker writer James Surowiecki, David Solomon, then co-global head of Goldman Sachs, said, “Today, technology means we are all available 24/7. And, because everyone demands instant gratification and instant connectivity, there are no boundaries, no breaks. It was 2014, long before COVID turned the world upside down and forced everyone to learn how to work remotely. Now we need to take the next step and consider our relationship to work.

The term “work-life balance” was coined nearly 40 years ago. Since then, it has been widely used to refer to everything from the need for more leisure or family time to personal care. Although well-meaning, the term “work-life balance” is inherently flawed. Work-life balance creates an unrealistic division between work and other areas of a worker’s life, but there is no real separation between work and life. This became evident during the pandemic when employees started working from home. While most appreciated the time they saved by not having to commute, many workers struggled to balance family obligations with work, felt isolated, or worked significantly longer hours than expected. before until they felt exhausted.

The future of work now goes beyond work-life balance and into something more rewarding and conducive—”work-life integration.“Work-life integration is an attempt to bring together all areas of life, such as work, home, family needs, personal interests, health and well-being. It is a realization that everything is interconnected and should be viewed holistically, rather than trying to compartmentalize areas of one’s life. For example, a generation ago, workers were confined to traditional work schedules. People only did work-related activities between certain hours of the day and when the work was done, they could move on to other activities. Today’s global and connected workplace means that the workday would continue to expand to accommodate demands from outside their time zone. The work would be done at the expense of other interests. Instead, work-life integration practitioners consider everything they want to do and decide what time of day is the best time to do it.

Work-life integration depends on flexibility and the ability of workers to determine the best way to do their job. The generation now entering the workforce is leading this transformation and demanding more flexibility. Microsoft recently unveiled the findings of its Asia Workplace 2020 study, which revealed that a large portion of the Gen X and Millennial workforce in India values ​​work-life integration over work-life separation and adopt flexible working arrangements. In some cases, young workers prioritize flexibility over compensation, or at least see flexibility as a key factor in deciding whether or not to accept a job offer. Perhaps because they grew up in a hyperconnected world, young workers recognize that there will be no clear delineation between work and life wherever they go.

Decisions on how best to manage work and other aspects of life are not solely up to the individual. Employers can take several steps to promote work-life integration. First, allowing remote work options regardless of geographic location will provide employees with the flexibility and time to incorporate their areas of interest. This requires leaders to provide a level of autonomy to their team members, trusting them to make the best decisions to achieve business goals. Granting more freedom to employees also means accepting that not everyone will succeed. Some may still struggle and feel overwhelmed. That’s why it’s more important than ever to prioritize mental health and workplace wellbeing. Leaders must take steps to support mental health, such as boosting employee morale, raising awareness, and ensuring that social connections within the company are maintained.

As the workforce spreads geographically with the rise of remote work, planning how one wants to integrate work-life integration can create more fulfillment. The synergy of work-life integration can lead to greater well-being and productivity for the individual. And it can ultimately benefit the organization by attracting more talent, reducing absenteeism and creating a more engaged workforce.



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The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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About Michael G. Walter

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