A work life integration strategy is one that creates a single schedule for personal and professional work. It essentially makes work a part of your everyday life. With remote work becoming normalized, expectations on employee availability, participation, and responsiveness during business hours have changed, too.
The majority of the workforce has reported it challenging to draw the line separating professional and personal commitments. As a result, many have started merging their hours for both, giving rise to work-life integration. After all, a business doesn’t stop running when a worker is off duty or on leave.
Why then, does work-life integration sound similar to work-life balance?
Broadly speaking, both aim to harmonize life. The difference is that work-life balance believes in letting employees unplug from work after fulfilling the required number of hours. Work-life integration, on the other hand, has no such off-switch.
This post will explore the work life integration strategy, along with more differences between work-life balance and work life integration.
The differences between work-life balance and work-life integration
Work life balance creates a separation between work and personal responsibilities. You leave work ‘at the office’ after logging out and do not answer calls and messages beyond a certain hour.
Work life integration, on the other hand, is about working in a predetermined window of productivity. It’s more suited to entrepreneurs and lean organizations. Practitioners of the work-life integration strategy find time to work throughout their day while being socially active. Let’s compile both terms into a table for a better understanding:
|Work life integration||Work Life balance|
|Focuses on the ‘best’ time to do work rather than setting aside personal time and professional time separately. For example, the employee may work late at night for work with an upcoming deadline and still respond to emails during the daytime.||It sets aside business hours( say 8 hours a day for a 5-day work week). In this time, they have to log in and report for work meetings, decision making, and strategizing. After logging out, they need not respond to action items and messages.|
|Creates a synergy for everything coming under the term ‘life,’ i.e., work, family, caregiving and socializing||Prevents employees from working off the clock or running personal errands while on the clock.|
|It is ideal for people who are capable of multitasking and shaping their workday around several personal and professional projects.||It is ideal for people who want to unplug from work and not put in unusual hours. Professional commitments don’t get in the way of one’s personal life.|
|Work-life integration examples include bringing your pets or kids to work, taking calls before or after hitting the gym.||Examples include clubbing all leaves into paid time off. Employees don’t have to account for how they spent their time away from work.|
How Did Work Life Integration Originate?
In order to understand what work-life integration strategy is, we should first understand how the concept of work-life balance came about. The term work-life balance first surfaced early in the United Kingdom and the U.S. in the ’70s. It was part of the Women’s Liberation movement. This was a time when working for 14- 16 hours a day for six days of the week was considered normal for both men and women. It did, however, come at the cost of a drop in health and productivity.
In the ’80s, there was a gender divide on work-life balance. Men were free to pursue their professional interests without worrying about raising families. Women, on the other hand, were expected to do full justice to work both outside and at home. Predictably, this led to more overwork. Unfair expectations and rigid business practices led to many women leaving their careers. The notion that women could “have it all” drew skepticism.
The work-life balance we know today has evolved to become more gender-neutral. It aims to help employees manage their time better. It also includes ways to reduce stress and prevent fatigue arising from overwork.
With health concerns brought on by the Covid-19 outbreak, the number of remote workers in the U.S. alone has gone up. 64% of the U.S. workforce is currently working from home. Most managers expect employees to be available earlier and for a longer stretch of time. This has prompted workers to adopt a work-life integration strategy.
When it comes to a work-life integration strategy, it’s no coincidence that millennial workers are increasingly moving towards it. As a generation born during the digital innovation wave, they are no strangers to technical product advancements. In fact, the modern-day workforce comprising millennials and Generation Z, use multiple devices to stay connected throughout the day, access work and communicate with fellow coworkers.
Interestingly 59% of businesses encourage a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work policy, with 66% of employees using two or more devices. As a result, businesses report their employees getting an extra 240 hours of work done per year due to mobile working.
Bear in mind, though, the trade-offs that come with work life integration aren’t for everyone. The next section contains a questionnaire to help you figure out whether a work-life integration strategy is sustainable in the long-term for your team or business.
Work-life integration Questionnaire
Is it that easy to accept the expectation that you should be “on-call” any time of the day?
Work-life balance is where work stays at work, and life goes on at home. Work-life integration is all about taking every opportunity to make work happen. So far, so good.
The question is, will you truly enjoy your working holiday with family or friends knowing there’s a conference call to take?
You need to ask yourself the following few questions to determine if you’re ready for what it entails, and here they are:
- What does balance mean to you?
This is subjective. Balance can mean 45 hours of work per week to one individual and 70 hours of work to another.
- How do you feel about being a remote worker?
If you’re comfortable being managed remotely, you can stay productive in the absence of face-to-face supervision.
- Do you think your firm’s current workplace policies are fair and flexible?
Employees that get a say in how they work can give inputs valuable for pilot programs. Businesses can test work-life integration strategies out on a focus group first before going big. This lets both the employer and employees see how well it works.
- What does your current work environment look like?
Your location and living space determine your connectivity and ability to stay organized at any hour of the day. Work-life integration may require you to keep unusual hours in order to make the deadline.
- What do you fear missing out on if you get onto work-life integration?
Everyone’s personal commitments differ according to their living arrangements, especially if there are young children, pets, or the elderly at home.
- What do you need to make your workspace at home feel like the office?
From having a work-device to ergonomic office comforts, decor can set the tone for professionalism no matter where you work.
- Is your workplace equipped with the right tools?
Employees who work for businesses that already use the latest technology stack are better equipped to live a more integrated work life.
Having and using the right technologies ensure work stays on track when teams are remote. It also makes both remote managers and their teams more reachable. Your responses to the questionnaire above is an indication of how ready everyone is to embrace work-life integration training.
How to Achieve Work Life Integrations
Prioritizing self-management is the first step to achieving work-life integrations. It’s not always easy to balance work and life. Sometimes, it’s difficult to decide what to give more preference.
The important thing to remember is to adjust your expectations before embarking on a work-life integration strategy. Blend responsibilities such that you can work remotely and run personal errands without worrying about doing it on company time. This takes the pressure off of having to compensate for those hours that personal work took up. Here are a few tips for work-life integrations;
- Identify your productivity hour: Productivity fluctuates throughout the day. Some workers are more productive at dawn, while others towards the quiet of the night. Make a note of those hours that you find yourself getting the most out of—schedule priority work to be completed during this window of productivity. You can follow the Two-Minute rule. It says that if something can be completed in less than two minutes, then do it immediately.
- Regulate breaks and time offs: As a telecommuter, you would spend most of your day seated and glued to your device screens. An increasingly sedentary lifestyle not only impacts your posture but also causes eye strain over a period of time. Remember to take walking breaks regularly, stay hydrated, and eat on time. Plan your work ahead such that you can enjoy your break guilt-free.
- Create a flexible calendar: Fit personal errands (for example, driving your kids to soccer practice) into your work schedule. Strange as it sounds, creating one schedule for personal and professional commitments makes it more accessible. It actualizes the actions, making it more likely that it will happen.
- Take cognizance of your work set up: Set up a workspace and boundaries as to who you let in, and when. Inform whoever you are living with of the times you’re working to minimize the likelihood of being interrupted during calls if you’re taking a working holiday, set up reminders and notifications at fixed intervals to avoid constantly checking your phone.
- Prioritize value over increased hours: Noone expects you to integrate work into life fully. The point is that you are accountable for work, not for the number of hours you spend on a task. In order to do so, you should prioritize work such that you can produce value during those hours that you’re most productive. This also means learning when and what to say no to. For example, projects that have you clocking in more weekend-time and late-nighters.
- Manage success: In theory, success is expected to be measurable. Practically though, it isn’t always so. Success varies from person to person. Success is when you’re able to map out a goal and have realistic means and timelines to reach it. Managing this success lets you set goals in the context of broader life goals without compromising the quality of work.
Over to You
Most employees welcome the flexibility of work-integration and work-life balance. As with any change, moving to a work-life integration strategy requires self-discipline and training. Only then can you power through your schedule.
What are your opinions on both work life balance and work life integration? Which one would you recommend, and why? Share your experiences with me in the comments below!