DOES WORK/LIFE INTEGRATION WORK?

How integrating work and home time could reduce your stress.

The pandemic’s threats and restrictions placed a spotlight on the stress that exists in our everyday work environment. Challenging how we address and describe this complex evolution of our work ethic, a new term has taken on traction: work/life integration, challenging the unrealistic concept of work/life balance. This article was originally published in November 2022, when we experienced the first ebbing of co-vid in the US; we continue to feel the effects of those years.

Work/life integration seeks to make the parts of life and work coexist, bringing life elements together to flow with evolving change. The concept replaces the implication that a ‘balance’ can be achieved by weighing options and managing schedules1 for separate life and work activities. Seeking a balance fails to acknowledge that attempting to manage fluid commitments and obligations can be as frustrating as sitting through a two-hour meeting that could have been addressed in an email. To complicate time management priorities further, many of us have the added pressures of raising a family or caring for others.

As a result, 2022 has been a transition year for many of us. For me, this is the first time during my 25 years as an Executive Coach that I was honored to coach more women than men during the first quarter. By the end of the year, the ratio was about equal, still a marked improvement from the early days of coaching and a confirmation that women are assuming greater responsibility and power in the workforce. As women traditionally served as the family caregiver, the impact of our (I include myself as I have broken barriers in my career) success has magnified the need to address the importance of personal time management for both men and women.

The January 2022 edition of Fortune Magazine article “It’s time to replace work-life balance with ‘life-work integration’” by Adrianna Huffington and Jen Fisher addressed these issues:

“The Great Resignation has led to a Great Reevaluation about the place of work in our lives. People aren’t just quitting their jobs; they’re rethinking what they want out of life. What people are resigning from is a culture of “workism”: the idea that we’re defined primarily by our work, and everything else—i.e. life—must fit into the increasingly small space that is left. And they are realizing how backwards our thinking about work-life has been.” 2

Until the Pandemic kept us in our homes, few people challenged the traditional career path of investing 90,000 hours of their lives at work. By 2015, workplace stress was “linked to health problems ranging from metabolic syndrome to cardiovascular disease and mortality.” 3 We knew we were killing ourselves.

WHAT IS WORK/LIFE INTEGRATION?
When we give something a name, we give it meaning, it takes on a power that allows others to share our interpretation of the phenomena. Work/life integration is our best option to address the unknown, unpredictable, and random cost in time and stress that plays heavily on the minds of entry-level as well as highly experienced leaders. The goal is to manage our time while we define our own basic wants and needs.

Challenging a culture of “workism” acknowledges our need to broaden our individual worlds as well as maintain our personal set of values at home and at work. Gina LeProvost states in AP Group newsletter published November 2021:

“Instead of forcing employees to choose between work and a personal life, companies are pushing work-life integration, effectively blurring the lines between the two. The end game? Results matter more than punching a time clock.4

Invariably whenever I meet with a new client the first discussion is an exchange of how we invest our time outside of work. The client may be a parent or maintain the well- being of another, cherishes a pet or is committed to a sport, hobby, or cultural purpose. We recognize that all our activities may not have equal altruism: the events are simply important to us. I speak from experience as before we had children my husband and I participated in dog sledding, requiring a kennel of dogs and regular 3-5 mile runs at 6 a.m.

“HOW WE SPEND OUR DAYS IS, OF COURSE, HOW WE SPEND OUR LIVES” — Annie Dillard

Personally, I believe that like millions of others I began to integrate life and work when I started my first job. I am now a grandmother for the first time. I am not the decision-maker in this relationship and must conform to my schedule to meet his needs. Those restrictions do not diminish my satisfaction as I do appreciate watching him go home with his parents after a full day of play.

His parents, like the high-potential women and men I coach, ‘need’ to work to pay the bills, provide the lifestyle they choose for themselves and their dependents. They give no thought to the fantasy of work/life balance because their life cannot be managed solely by uncompromising schedules. They may determine it best to complete a work project at 8 p.m. to be able to attend a soccer game at 4 p.m.

Humans have unceremoniously accomplished extraordinary feats providing food, clothing, and medical care to obtain security for their families. Isn’t that what we continue to do today, when we unite with a partner, team, family, or company to combine and focus our efforts on a goal often elusive to an isolated individual? As leaders know, every member of any group has separate and respected intentions that are integrated into a continually evolving support relationship to satisfy individual as well as mutually beneficial needs.

  • Objective NEEDS are tangible and measurable. Survival requires food, water, shelter and even air.
  • Subjective NEEDS are unseen and unmeasurable. Self-esteem and mental health require a sense of security and approval.

Limiting our focus only to NEEDS, the factors necessary to live and function, undermines our constant striving for our basic WANTS, critical to improving our quality of life. In pressure situations, caring adults may choose to ignore their personal wants as a solution to critical and immediate needs. This choice may get us past the moment at a price that has negative long-term effects.

Finding value in work without being defined by it requires that we embrace our ever-changing WANTS. Accepting that we desire recognition, job satisfaction, and connections with others reveals both our vulnerability and our strength.

RISK
Can we be certain work/life integration does not simply become a temporary distraction to replace the myth of work/life balance?
With change there is always risk. The cost of holding a job, of working every day in a consuming, challenging career, continues to create feelings of guilt for some: a sense of obligation that we seem to be taking something away from those we care about. These inherited, learned, or developed fears apply when we, as leaders, fail to engage every employee.

Gina LeProvost recognized the possibility that the concept of integration may not convince leaders to act:
“On one hand, this is a major breakthrough in moving towards a more agile and futuristic working environment. On the other hand, there is still a lack of hybrid acceptance from employers or companies’ inability to deliver this level of workplace agility, which is causing great anxiety and burnout amongst staff. Work-life integration is now the buzz word.”5

Leadership that ensures the concept of integration will see benefits in employee commitment and retention. As early as 2015 leaders learned that “when workplaces offered benefits such as flextime and work-from-home opportunities, engagement predicted wellbeing above and beyond anything else”.6 The flexibility of time management through work/life integration gives the control and choice to the individual. The resulting self-respect leads to a positive work environment that in turn offers the opportunity for self-esteem achieved from a job well done.

The significance is not in how we apply the word “integration;” the importance of the concept is to acknowledge the fluidity that is a natural response to the myriad challenges of work/life. The value of rejecting artificial limits on personal time management will be seen in the health of the individual at both home and work.

CAREER AND LIFE TRANSITIONS

Our job satisfaction is reflected by our actions, with greater sharing as a foundation for personal care. Creating an environment that supports the individual’s ability to plan daily activities provides much needed options. Life outside of work is much more than organizing a schedule: the dynamic and intensity of our choices impacts our every decision, and every decision creates new options.

As we transition in our careers and lives, we learn to value all we have achieved. There is a sense of pride in realizing the choices you made enabled you to achieve your work and life goals.

I suspect that like most of us you have already accepted the risk of work and life challenges. It is likely you have created synergies between work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health that can be explored, possibly expanded, or reduced to meet your evolving needs. The most confident people I know in the role of leader, advocate, or parent embrace vulnerability by acknowledging there may be more questions than answers. And that is OK.
Connecting with others requires empathy, offering support rather than issuing commands. You have the gift to lead and to inspire others to understand their wants and needs as they live true to their values.

Every relationship you build connects you to everyone else.
Every bit of information helps you make your decisions.
You have a network to keep you connected: as they succeed, you succeed.
When the road you’re on becomes lonely, crowded, or unsatisfying —
try a new path and let yourself get lost.
Take the risk. –L. Maddalena


  1. https://www.busnessnewsdaily.com/5244-improve-work-life=balance-today. ↩︎
  2. https://fortune.com/2022/01/24/great-resignation-life-work-integration-thrive-global. ↩︎
  3. https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive. ↩︎
  4. https://www.ap-executive.com/blog/2021/11/work-life-integration-will-become-the-trend-in-2022?/source+google.com. ↩︎
  5. Ibid. ↩︎
  6. https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work cultures-are-more-productive. ↩︎
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