Work-life integration is the new balance

It's about viewing an employee as a whole person, not just a worker

Work-life integration is the new balance

by Marni Johnson

As the world of work and employee preferences change, the concept of work-life integration is replacing work-life balance. The key differences are viewing the employee as a whole person, rather than simply a worker, and as a result incorporating flexibility into work practices.

“Work-life balance” typically compares time spent in the office versus outside it, implying that work and life are separate, in competition and ideally equal, a goal rarely attainable.

Today, “work” isn’t defined by a set number of hours or location. The lines between work and non-work have blurred through technology that enables mobile work and “always-on” availability. As a result of COVID-19, the lines have further blurred as many more employees are working from home. 

Many of us connect our identity with our work – we don’t turn off our “work selves” when we leave the office, just as we don’t turn off the rest of who we are when we leave home.  Our well-being at work carries into our personal lives and vice-versa. The workplace can provide aspects of well-being such as purpose, camaraderie and intellectual challenge.

High-performing organizations strive to create flexible work environments that honour employees’ preferred ways of working and priorities beyond work – allowing integration of their work and non-work lives, while advancing the organization’s objectives.

I asked colleagues for their perspectives on work-life integration and how to attain it.

Work-life integration means different things to different people 

There’s no one size fits all. What works may vary with lifestage, career path, personal priorities, and the demands of your current role. 

Anna Hardy, director of governance and legislative affairs at BlueShore Financial, prefers to delineate her time at work versus her time with family but is flexible as needed. This helps her focus and maximize productivity without feeling she should be elsewhere. She notes, “Clock-watching is archaic. It’s not about the time spent at your desk, it’s about the results you deliver.”

Michele Matthews, executive vice president at AG Hair, sees her work and non-work activities as part of the larger picture of her life, and they may overlap on any given day. “My colleagues understand my family priorities and my family understands the importance of work.”

Ezekiel Chhoa, vice president of risk and compliance at BlueShore Financial, describes work-life integration as a feeling of being at peace with his work and his non-work. His holistic view of his life and purpose helps him set priorities. 

“At work, my mind is free to focus on my tasks and at home I don’t feel guilty for not being at work.” Effective integration is the ability to hold both these states in various combinations, as circumstances dictate.

Jessica Macht, partner in financial services, leader-BC Region at PwC, works a flexible schedule and encourages her team to do so. “Flexibility is a business imperative to attract and retain talent.”

Effective work-life integration is a shared responsibility… and must be mutually beneficial

Employers can promote work-life integration through programs like flexible working hours and remote working. Effectiveness depends on leaders’ visible support, high levels of trust and employee willingness to be flexible.

Macht’s email signature states that regardless of when the email was sent, she expects no response or action outside the recipient’s own working hours – giving employees freedom to respond in the way that works for them. Her team creates a “flexibility calendar” with everyone’s commitments so they can support each other during peak times. She notes, “You can have policies in place but the magic happens when you empower people to create their own possibilities.”

Chhoa agrees leaders must model the behaviours, and encourage employees to make time for themselves. For example, Chhoa took parental leave, and felt strongly supported by BlueShore Financial in doing so.

Open communication is essential. Matthews probes what’s important to her team members, and how she can support them. Together they co-create a mutually beneficial strategy.

Work-life integration is fluid and imperfect

It’s important to manage your expectations. Perfect integration is unachievable. At times work will require more focus than other parts of your life and vice-versa.

“You can’t be everything to everyone or you will crash and burn. Be clear about your priorities at any given period of your life,” says Hardy.

Matthews establishes a framework for work-life integration by selecting an annual theme for her personal and professional goals. This helps her ensure all aspects of her life get the appropriate attention.  For example, the theme “adventure” has informed her professional development activities as well as family vacations.  She asks family and co-workers to help hold her accountable.

Ultimately, the integration of work and life rests with you -- how you choose to spend your time and energy.  As the author Sadhguru says: “There is no such thing as work-life balance – it is all life. The balance has to be within you.”

Marni Johnson is senior vice president of HR and corporate affairs at BlueShore Financial. She can be reached at marni.johnson@blueshorefinanicial.com.

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