Work-Life Balance? Try Work-Life Integration

by | Jul 1, 2015 | What We Think

A colleague who has fully integrated her work and life shared a story from before the time of mobile phones. Her team was imagining the features a phone that could go anywhere with us and could track us anywhere should have. She said the device needed to have an off switch. Sometimes, she didn’t want to be found. She sharply divided “work” and “life.”

Fast forward to today’s cell phone ubiquity and 24/7 availability.

Do you sleep with your cell phone by your side? Do you take calls from your boss on the soccer field? Do you sneak out of the office to go to parent-teacher conferences?

Is this how you try to balance work and life?

The underlying problem with “work-life balance” is that it is a throw back to the old idea that work and life don’t mix. It assumes that work and life are different and antagonistic. Work-life balance conjures up a scale, and you take a little from work to add to life or you take away from life to add to work. You keep trying and trying to make it all equal.

But work and life are no longer two distinct spheres. We no longer work 8 hours, pursue family or personal activities for 8 hours, and sleep 8 hours. We no longer lose touch with home when at work, or with work when at home.

Work is part of life, and for many people work is a big part of life. When work interests us, slipping in a meeting or a phone call when at home or on vacation is good; being home for dinner and working a couple of hours after the kids’ bedtime makes sense. And that gives us the perspective to be ok with openly leaving the office for 2 hours to be the guest reader in a kindergarten class. We stay in touch with all aspects of our life.

Weaving together work and life, however, does not mean being available for everyone at all times. It does mean being transparent with colleagues and family. Even better, it can drive greater productivity by encouraging teams to share and coordinate plans. For instance, when teams decide to reserve no-email times, everyone benefits, and no one is left fuming at the lack of an immediate response to a 9PM email.

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