Work-life balance is a term we typically call on to describe how we would like to navigate the distribution of our time and priorities. Our ability to reasonably manage our time and priorities is usually considered before we accept a new position or make a career change. Our work and related commitments take up a good portion of our time and are interconnected with other areas of life. Whether we are building a career or simply there for the transaction of a paycheck, the average person is estimated to work 90,000 hours over a lifetime. Creating a way to distribute time that enhances our lives, work included, while avoiding a clash is the ultimate goal.
When I hear the word “balance,” I envision the metal seesaws that were abundant on playgrounds in the seventies and eighties. What fun they were! Friends would push up and down, taking turns of who was in the air and who had a seat on the ground. Without getting into the depths of seesaw physics, it is possible to find balance by inching the heavier participant closer to the pivot point at the center.
Finding the balancing moment on a seesaw, while possible, still takes adjustment and recognizing that both participants are not the same. Plus, creating balance results in immobility with no place to go. In comparison, the meaning of work-life balance may vary by individual, especially if we expect to have places to go and opportunities in work and career. The notion of equalizing all time and priorities isn’t very realistic, but inching larger priorities toward the center while integrating smaller tasks and responsibilities can keep the theoretical work-life seesaw in motion and making progress.
Work-life views have increasingly taken on a narrative of opposing forces, especially since the pandemic when employee priorities changed rapidly. Incorporating a mindset of work-life integration minimizes resistance by identifying where work and life complement one another. Of course, both the individual and employer must adopt this philosophy for it to work. Integrating work-life priorities doesn’t take away accountability or reduce responsibility but creates options and opportunities to achieve comprehensive success for all involved.
- Avoid comparing work-life positioning with job satisfaction. Every minute spent at a job that we are unhappy at feels like a minute too much. However, this is not a clash of work and life. It is a misalignment between the individual, the job, and/or company. Make sure to consider work circumstances, including options for change, as you define what you want to achieve from work-life integration.
- Tap into an entrepreneurial spirit by seeking out new opportunities to grow that will drive purpose and fulfillment related to work but also enrich your life.
- Contrary to popular belief, our work is an aspect of our identity. The work we do is an extension of ourselves, though we are not an extension of our work. If our identity succumbs to losing ourselves in a company and/or job title, that’s a very dangerous and unhealthy space to be in and not a characteristic of work-life integration. Showing up in work and career with our own values, personal and professional goals, and being prepared to develop into who YOU aspire to be are encouraged through work-life integration.
- Work-life integration encourages workforce participation and retention. This is especially true for women re-entering the workforce. Grow your talent pool by connecting with untapped talent and identifying areas where your company can leverage work-life integration through effective workflow, policies, and benefits.
- Use technology when streamlining communication to offer increased flexibility and accessibility. There are the obvious risks of not being able to disconnect and having an over-reliance on technology. Still, the responsible use of technology can go a long way to enhance performance and broaden the reach of our interactions.
- There will always be employees who take advantage of autonomy. It’s not uncommon for this to paralyze progress for employers when considering extending elements of work-life integration. As the employer, the ball is in your court to compose (and enforce) policies and practices with parameters that weed out employees who seek to take advantage. Don’t give a few bad apples the power to spoil the barrels that are the employees you want to retain.
Work-life integration is a dual strategy to empower the individual through greater levels of autonomy that result in increased morale, engagement, and quality outcomes for the employer. At the end of the day, it takes intention and commitment by both parties to make work-life integration successful. There is value in the concept of balance, and some individuals and jobs may function better under a more defined dynamic.
The workplace consists of adults with project deadlines, sick children, rushing home to meet the repair technician, and all the similar moving pieces that become our daily reality inside and outside of work and career. It encourages people to accept all these responsibilities and know they are supported instead of creating competition and being forced to pick and choose. Work-life integration also includes self-care that working adults so urgently need to prioritize.