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Stop using “work-life balance” and start using “work-life integration”

4 min read


There’s a “grass is always greener” fallacy in business that can result in looking at people in other sectors and feeling envious of their seemingly ideal work-life balance. Business executives might look at teachers and dream of a scenario where they’d spend four complete weeks during summer with their families, while teachers wish they could get to work at 9 a.m. and leave right at 5 p.m. so they’d have a complete evening to relax.

But the reality is that most professionals will never find the perfect balance between work and home. There will always be that emergency call during dinner or that child’s recital during the workday that make it impossible to fully separate the two.

Especially in a digital world, work and personal life inevitably collide — it’s no longer possible to divide them into two neat little categories. Balance is something that requires practice, skill, and effort. Rather than spend resources teetering and trying not to fall, try integration instead.

Adopt work-life integration

Work-life integration is the idea that you’re the same person, not two separate beings, throughout your day, so you shouldn’t try to switch on and off between work and home. It’s about recognizing when and where it’s okay to weave aspects of one into the other rather than struggle to be in two places at once. When you integrate successfully, you’ll have no guilt in allowing home and business to mix.

“Why does your job always come first?” is a frequent complaint of families of hardworking employees. With work-life integration, there is no “first” — just next to. If you take away the element of competition, there’s less stress and animosity. Rethink where the office actually is, and reimagine work hours when needed. When you do this, you’ll be more present in both places.

Here are three ways to integrate work and home for a happier, healthier lifestyle:

1. Know when to take a break. The adidas Group frames work-life integration as “work adjusting to life.” It’s not an excuse to bring work home; it’s a means of getting home earlier.

Taking the laptop out on your dinner date shows neither balance nor integration, but taking out the laptop after the kids have gone to bed means you got to spend quality time with them beyond a quick “goodnight.” When you integrate, you can take a break for the important moments — both personal and professional.

2. Set boundaries. Work-life integration is only successful when expectations are outlined and managed. You still need to employ some boundaries. Know when and how to integrate and when to say “no.” This approach makes it acceptable to step away from work to have family time on a Monday afternoon — especially when your employees know you’re there to respond to an important email on a Sunday evening.

3. Bring home the good, not the bad. There’s one area of your business life you should never bring home with you: your negative mood. When your workday is tough, leave it at the office, and start with a clean slate in your personal life. Not only will this prevent you from tarnishing your free time with a negative mood, but it will also help you see things differently after you force yourself to refresh.

Work-life integration gives you ownership of your life so you’re never sinking with work on one end of the scale while your personal life is up in the air. It’s about integration, not interjection. Noting that is the key to getting both work and life right, and it will keep the grass just as green on your side of the business world.

Michael O’Hara is chief operating officer of Leadnomics, a digital marketing and technology company with an industry-leading solution and a partner network that jointly create valuable relationships between consumers and service providers.

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