I have been trying to make more of an effort to be active in social media. I will admit, a trip to the dentist to have a root canal is more appealing but we all know social media is a necessary evil.
During one of my attempts to be more engaging, I posted a survey on LinkedIn:
Despite the compelling argument by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, most people still believe in having a Work/Life Balance versus sharing the (what some have deemed) workaholic or employer-centric enthusiasm of Work/Life Integration.
The primary rationale creating this great divide – the need for boundaries.
Let’s take a step back and look at each idea.
Work/Life Balance refers to the practice of maintaining a healthy equilibrium between an individual’s professional and personal life. It involves ensuring that work commitments do not encroach on personal time and vice versa.
It often implies a clear boundary between work and non-work activities, with an aim to allocate time and energy to each entity separately. This approach can help individuals prioritize their personal time and maintain a sense of control over their work responsibilities.
Generally speaking, the overall idea is to place the two concepts in their respective boxes – keeping them from bleeding into one another – stealing time, energy, or focus.
When you are at work, you are at work. That is where your attention is, your focus lies, and nothing else matters. This will then invoke the same respect within the realms of your personal life.
When you are home, you are home. Work problems are checked at the door, personal obligations takes the forefront, your time is yours to do as you please without the infiltration of the professional world.
Trust that I am aware that for some of you reading this, it sounds like a fantasy. To be so balanced that work commitments hardly, if ever, encroach on personal time and vice versa. To have such control over two separate yet demanding obligations in your life is wishful thinking.
As a mom, I am fully aware that the illnesses of my children are not going to respect that I am on the clock. I have had to abruptly excuse myself from a client meeting because of an emergency school dismissal.
Translation, I have had my personal life sneak into my work life and whisper “You will never win. We can take control any time we want because we know her #1 priority.”
Is it fair? No.
Is that life? Yes.
So is Work/Life Balance – a true balance, possible?
While I respect the phrase “Nothing is impossible” (with the disclaimer: when given enough time) – I will say it is highly improbable depending on who you are.
I can only speak from my own experience and as a military spouse and mother of two kids who has been an entrepreneur for 15+ years, it has yet to happen. That scale between work and life will always favor life mainly because of my children and my husband’s military obligations.
For others, it may favor life because of a parent that they care for, a significant other, extracurricular activities, or a number of other things that individuals have decided – if forced into an ultimatum, they would choose over work.
They do not want the blend a work/life integration can provide.
While they may welcome the flexibility allotted with a fluid integration, they may not appreciate the expectations in return – i.e. responding to emails or attending virtual meetings while at a child’s soccer game, doctor’s appointment, or while on vacation.
Work-life integration involves melding your professional and personal life seamlessly. It recognizes that work and personal life are interconnected and interdependent, and that individuals may find value in combining both worlds to achieve their goals.
This approach can entail combining work and personal activities, using flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting/working remotely, and leveraging technology to allow for work to be done outside traditional work hours.
It can help individuals achieve greater flexibility in their schedule and can help them meet, if not exceed, their work and personal goals simultaneously.
While I am sure it is only a coincidence, I do find it interesting that most people who praise Work/Life Integration are Founders and CEOs of companies. From Netflix Founder Reed Hastings, to Jeff Bezos, to David Solomon, these are men who stated in this Forbes article that they found themselves so dedicated to work, that they no longer had a personal life. By accepting a blend of the two worlds, they were able to incorporate more personal activities while still being productive.
Again, while this approach, in theory, sounds promising – in actuality, you are now opening the door to be contacted after hours, on weekends, etc.
Granted, this also means you can choose to work form home during the week if you have to wait for a contractor, need to make an appointment during business hours, or anything else that would normally require you to take a day off, reserving your paid time off for those moments when you really need to disconnect.
If Work/Life Balance is Improbable For Some, Is Work/Life Integration More Achievable For All?
While the probability (and success) of Work/Life Balance is easily narrowed down to the individual, the achievement of Work/Life Integration is heavily dependent on the obligations of the employer.
For some employees, their concern is giving an employer an inch, only to watch them take a mile. When does a few emails outside of business hours or late night calls become the norm? When do exceptions become expectations?
While I don’t believe any genuine setup will be as bad as the 98 hour weekly expectation at Goldman Sach for their junior bankers, the fear of many employees and contractors is opening up the door to allowing work to bleed into personal can potentially tip the needle in that direction.
With that being said, the concern is not one-sided. Employers have the same hesitation as mentioned in a recent article from ClearLink CEO James Clarke. He found that individuals were still collecting paychecks but had not logged into their system in over a month – quietly quitting but still financially benefitting.
So Which One Is Right For You?
Work/life balance emphasizes maintaining boundaries between work and personal life, while work/life integration aims to create a more fluid and flexible balance between the two.
The approach that is most suitable will depend on individual preferences, work and life circumstances, and personal goals.
Have an honest conversation with yourself and then with your employer/clients and determine how you want to present the gate to your personal life.
Choose what is best for you first because it is easier to open the flood gates than it is to close it.
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