We are continually connected. We attend meetings via Skype or JoinMe, respond to urgent emails and requests on our phones and tablets, and carry our offices, projects and coworkers around with us at all times. In an ever-changing technological environment, we are more linked than ever before, and while the idea of separating work-life from personal-life sounds ideal, it is unfortunately a luxury that is no longer afforded to many professionals.
In recent years, the emerging concept of “work-life integration” has been developed and adopted by more professionals, and is repeatedly promoted by companies and organizations like Forbes, the Harvard Business Review, Fortune and Entrepreneur. Instead of attempting to separate or draw a distinct line between our professional and personal lives, these organizations suggest that we focus on integrating our family, friends, hobbies and personal objectives into operating as one well-oiled machine. As the technology landscape advances, the demand for us to adapt and move forward becomes more significant every day.
Defining Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is the concept or practice of creating exclusivity between career and home-life. This means that you come in to work at 8 a.m., leave the office at 5 p.m., and every aspect of your work-life stays at the office. You don’t answer emails, or take home work-related projects. You avoid your cell phone, shut down your laptop for the evening and you don’t allow for one area to bleed over into the next area. “Work-life balance” ultimately implies that one can dedicate an equal portion of time to work and personal life without conflict or complications.
Defining Work-Life Integration
We are more connected today than in years past, and that means that we are often handling work-related responsibilities from outside of the office. Work-life integration is the concept or practice of allowing professionals who operate in demanding business environments to have more options for flexibility. While this work-life model recognizes that professionals are often expected to be available outside of normal working hours, it also allows for customized work schedules, telecommuting, and the ability to attend appointments and give attention to other personal commitments, as long as an employee is producing a previously agreed upon quality and quantity of work.
Achieving Work-Life Integration
Many of us dedicate roughly eight hours of our days to work-related tasks or conversations. The accumulation of work-induced stress from long hours can have negative repercussions on a person’s personal life, leading to exhaustion, interruption of personal relationships and a decrease in general happiness. Unhappiness in a person’s personal life can subsequently have a negative effect on productivity at work. Never-ending cycle, anyone?
So, what’s the solution?
Eliminate All Boundaries
While the boundaries between work and home-life are often difficult to distinguish, you can cultivate work-life integration through removing all boundaries that separate your personal life from your professional life, and allow them both to operate as one. By aligning all aspects of your life to work cohesively, you no longer view work as piece of your life you must deal with, but rather an extension of you as an individual. Take the time to engage coworkers in conversations about your friends or family, and likewise, engage your family and friends in conversations about your work. As a leader of a department or organization, you can increase employee drive and reduce stress by allowing employees to choose a work schedule that’s best suited for their personal life, provide the option to telecommute when needed, and make it possible for employee’s to attend personal appointments when appropriate.
Set Attainable Goals
We all have individual goals and objectives for the different areas of our lives. By making it a priority to define success in every area, we make it possible to achieve those goals. Take inventory of yourself in all different areas of your life. As a wife, mother, friend and leader of a Marketing Department, I wear multiple hats. Through examining the different categories of my life, I am able to identify specific actions that will make me feel fulfilled in each category. As a professional, try to make this a weekly ritual and reflect on which category needs the most attention for that week, and then seek out the best ways to address those needs. Share these priorities and goals of success with important people in your life, and that even extends to trusted working relationships – you may even gain some valuable perspective.
Encourage a Healthy Environment and Culture
As a leader, I am responsible for creating a culture of trust, as well as a sustainable work environment for my team. My advice to all managers is to focus on gaining results by setting achievable performance objectives for your employees, which may be specific to them individually, encourage success, and measure outcomes to help facilitate future strategy. While it is vital to ensure that your employees are putting in the required amount of hours in the office, great management tactics can be used to achieve and increase productivity among a team.
Define Your Career Path
Many professionals find true joy in their careers and are motivated to work long hours because they simply want to; however, many people are stuck in a career rut. If your situation sounds like the latter, it is best to remember that you are completely capable of re-defining specific boundaries and taking control of your circumstances. While leaving your current place of employment may not be an option, you should put energy into taking care of your body and mindset, spending quality time with family and friends, and engaging in activities that recharge you and promote productivity. Take the time to proactively manage the trajectory of your career, and remember that you are the only one who can dictate your success.
For further reading on work-life balance versus work-life integration, check out…
- Work Life Integration: The New Norm by Dan Schawbel, a Forbes Contributor
- Work-life balance is dead — here’s why that might be a good thing by Laura Vanderkam, a Fortune Contributor
- What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like bu Stew Friedman, a Harvard Business Review Contributor