I started writing this article with my own philosophy of work-life balance and it is pretty simple – I don’t believe in it. I lean towards the idea of work-life integration. However, as I researched and conducted interviews regarding the ideas of work-life balance versus work-life integration, the concepts around this topic expanded.
For this article, we will discuss the basics of work-life balance and introduce the concept of work-life integration. If you have a hard-formed opinion on one or the other as I did, please share your opinion in the comment section below. This will help with the ongoing research and writing around this topic.
Other topics that came up during my research on work-life balance, such as ‘finding purpose in the workplace’, ‘autonomy in the workplace’, and ‘understanding the whole person’, will be addressed in future articles (so make sure to subscribe below).
Let’s dive into why I don’t subscribe to this balance idea…
A Brief History of Work-Life Balance
According to Kumanu, “The actual term “work-life balance” first appears in the U.K. in the 80’s as a plank in the Women’s Liberation Movement. The movement advocated for flexible schedules and maternity leave for women.”
The Industrial Age (1750-1914) and post-Industrial Age (1939-1964) mentality of micro-managed repetitive and monotonous work took several decades to wear off. Many men and women in the 1980s were still working jobs with routine tasks and exhaustive 10-14 hour shifts.
The evolution of computers replaced many of these Industrial Age repetitive, mind-numbing widget-making jobs.
Why I don’t subscribe to Work-Life Balance
Let’s start with one definition of Balance –
“a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions”
Over the past few decades, every self-help, self-improvement guru has talked about this illusion of balancing work and life. Millions of people have gone on a quest to find the elusive equilibrium. Yet to have true balance, you have to have a divide between work and life. You have to be able to close the door on one and step into the other, with equal distribution of energy.
Admittedly the idea of shutting off our work brain is attractive but is it doable? When we look at all of the elements of life in this equation, we see our personal life involves self, family, hobbies, passions, spirituality, relationships, etc. How can we balance all of life in equal proportions with work? Just like you can’t turn off your work thoughts, you can’t turn off your personal thoughts either. They follow you and flow through the day with you.
Are we actually seeking balance?
How we handle situations at work will directly influence how we handle them at home, and vice versa. Maybe the solution is allowing harmony. Heather S. McMillan, Assistant Professor of Management, Southeast Missouri State University, in a recent research publication titled, “Introduction of the Concept of Work/Life Harmony” describes this as,
“Cross-domain effects are defined as those experiences and decisions that occur in one domain and are capable of influencing outcomes in the other domain.”
Maybe it is just the use of the word “balance” I am hung up on. Who am I kidding? It is definitely the word “balance” that I am hung up on. It’s been improperly used since the first appearance of the concept as stated above.
According to the same Kumanu article above,
“men were socially unencumbered to pursue their career goals without worrying about housekeeping and family-raising, working women were expected to work and maintain responsibility for housekeeping and family rearing. In the 80s a frequent refrain pointed out this obvious work-life imbalance asking could women in the workplace really have it all”
Balance was not what was being sought. It sounds more like equality and relief to me. This means we erroneously used a term, built a concept around it, and then ventured on a pursuit to find it. Chasing this illusion is like seeking the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Introduction to Work-Life Integration
What I have found in my experience is the need for Work-Life Integration. As smart as I thought I was for coining the term for myself many years ago, I guess I wasn’t the first 🙂 ADP, the HR and payroll company, published an article on their website called, The Evolution From Work-Life Balance to Work-Life Integration. According to the article,
“Work-life integration has emerged as the term du jour for describing the holistic employee experience that today’s organizations seek to provide. Instead of looking at work in terms of how much time it takes away from other employee responsibilities or interests, HR leaders are shifting to explore work and life as one integrated experience.”
It feels appropriate to also explore the definition of integration (or integrate)
“combine (one thing) with another so that they become a whole.”
Work-life Integration isn’t new but it hasn’t had the popularity of its balancing counterpart. Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the co-founder of the field of positive psychology, started researching the idea back in the 60s and published his best-selling book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience in 1990. Regarding the concepts of work and life, Dr. C wrote,
“There is no reason to believe any longer that only irrelevant “play” can be enjoyed, while the serious business of life must be borne as a burdensome cross. Once we realize that the boundaries between work and play are artificial, we can take matters in hand and begin the difficult task of making life more livable.”
Work-life integration is focused on the whole person, the one with a personal and professional life.
Personalizing the concepts
From the time my daughter was 6 until she turned 18, I led the charge of the most prominent real estate brokerage in the area. When she was only 8 I left my marriage. I was young, single, and responsible for raising my daughter and launching a major franchise. I didn’t know how to be a good mom, I didn’t know how to run an office, and I didn’t know if I would survive on my own.
Instead of allowing fear to hold me back, I dove headfirst into every leadership, management, business book, course, or video I could find. Every day I practiced and implemented what I was learning. HERE IS THE KEY! I didn’t just learn, I practiced and implemented the concepts in every aspect of my life. I didn’t just practice at work, I practiced it at home with my daughter. Heck, I even practiced the lessons with my ex-husband while trying to communicate through a divorce and co-parenting.
After several years of “practicing” on my daughter, she would say, “Mom, don’t talk to me like I am a Realtor.” Then one day she was in the office and I was leading a mastermind session that she was sitting through. I stopped, looked at her, and said, “See baby, I don’t talk to you like you are a Realtor. I talk to them like they are my children.”
My daughter grew up in that real estate office inundated by concepts of business, leadership, coaching, teamwork, community, marketing, advertising, operations, and more. Now she is 20 and I watch her use the information at work and in life, in her communications with others, how she sets goals, manages her money, etc.
The lessons learned from raising an emotional teenage daughter were integrated into handling emotional situations with independent contractors at work. The lessons learned from coaching Realtors to accomplish goals were integrated to raise my daughter. Confidence, compassion, growth, goals, empathy, and communication can’t be divided and expected to live at work or at home. These lessons must be integrated, especially when we are looking at the whole person.
An attempt to summarize…
My opinion of balance hasn’t changed. However, as I was writing this article I interviewed several people from different industries. One, in particular, was definitely seeking a work-life balance. I expressed my opinion about balance but it didn’t sway her. What I learned was she has very little balance. Actually, she has very little personal life – no hobbies, girlfriends, or passions outside of work. She just works. Therefore, the idea of something on the other side of work is very attractive to her, which is completely understandable! I hope she finds this elusive balance.
While my opinion did not change, I did find so many additional worthwhile topics to include but for the sake of your time and readability, I will save those for the following posts. Please subscribe so you will be one of the first to read the next article. If you have comments and/or opinions about this topic, PLEASE leave them below. If you would like to be interviewed on this subject or future subjects, please contact me here.