Before the time of turmoil and readjustment that was 2020, most of us spent a designated number of hours every day working jobs and then ideally left them behind once those working hours were over.
“Work-life integration is, at its best, a way to help individuals both improve their well-being and enhance their performance at work,” says Stephanie Harrison, founder and CEO of The New Happy, and an expert in well-being and lasting behavioral change.
“I personally define work-life integration as a constantly-evolving, self-determined way of living that allows you to engage as your best self in the various parts of your life — like your home, your community, and of course, your work.”
While the idea of blending your work and personal life may appear unwieldy, it doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it seems. Establishing a new system starts with evaluating your current rhythm.
Unlike the compartmentalized nature of work-life balance where you have clear divides of time and energy, work-life integration is about blending both work and personal life into one entity. The key is making sure these different aspects of your life are not at odds but flow together to create steadiness in your day.
|Work-life integration||Work-life balance|
|You put your exercise time in the middle of your workday, perhaps during your lunch break, or you schedule an “active meeting.”||You exercise either in the morning before you start work or in the evening after you leave work.|
|You spend much of your morning helping your child with their home-school work and catch up on your own work in the evening.||You and your chid attend work and school during the week and catch up on quality family time over the weekend.|
|You run errands, clean, or take care of the kids while your spouse or partner works for half the day. Then you switch places for the second half.||You and your spouse or partner take turns picking the kids up from school/daycare pending your schedules.|
|You take your laptop along on a family trip to get some work done while you’re away.||After a long stretch of working nonstop, you cash-in a bunch of your vacation days and unplug from work.|
“When you read about work-life balance, you’ll see an image of a scale with work on one side competing for your time and energy with your personal life,” says Tess Brigham, MFT, a psychotherapist, certified life coach, and public speaker. “Work-life integration isn’t about putting two aspects of your life at odds, it’s about finding a way to blend it all together so one aspect doesn’t take over and become the only thing we do with our time.”
Here’s how you can begin the process of integrating work and your personal life.
1. Define your specific vision for work-integration
While work-life integration is an overall approach, it looks different for everyone. “Your vision is unique and personal, depending on the circumstances of your life, your personality, your goals, and your needs,” says Harrison.
“A helpful question to ask yourself is, ‘What would an ideal week look like for me?'”
2. Brainstorm steps to implement your vision
Think about your priorities and the immediate steps needed to achieve them. “Once you have a few ideas, start to brainstorm how you might implement them and what type of support you need to make the vision a reality,” says Harrison.
3. Make a weekly schedule
A bit of organization helps ensure the success of work-life integration. “Creating and adhering to a schedule is vital. Take a look at your week ahead and schedule when you’re going to workout, or meal prep, or whatever else you do for your health,” says Brigham.
When you make your schedule, think about time for your loved ones and for you to relax and recharge. “Once you have that in place when you start your workday, you know when you need to take a break and workout or help your child with a project,” she says.
4. Form firm boundaries
With everything in your life integrated, it can be all too easy for boundaries to fall to the wayside.
“When it’s time to stop working, it’s really important for you to honor yourself and your commitments,” says Brigham. “If you do have to schedule a meeting during a time you earmarked for something personal, make sure you find a time to replace that activity later in the week.”
5. Communicate with your place of employment
The choice to speak to your company about work-life integration is a personal one. “Depending on your relationship with your boss and your company’s culture, you might be able to have an honest conversation about what you need and decide what will work for both of you,” says Harrison.
If you’re in a managerial position, speak to your employees about the change, and how work-life integration can benefit everyone.
If your company doesn’t support a work-life integration approach, Harrison suggests blocking time off on your calendar to set some personal boundaries on your own.
There are some immediate and long-term benefits of work-life integration.
When you aren’t sacrificing things that make you happy or give you fulfillment, you achieve greater well-being. A lack of stress from trying to balance too many things without order can also add to this.
Improved performance at work
When you have time explicitly designated to work, you can more easily perform successfully without worrying that your attention should be elsewhere.
Allows you to more evenly distribute your focus and energy
In place of focusing on nothing but work for 8 hours a day and giving whatever remaining energy you have to everything else, work-life integration allows you to create an environment of more well-rounded stimulus and interaction.
You’ll feel more fulfilled
Work-life integration gives you space to pursue what truly fulfills you. “Because work-life integration gives us a chance to make choices that work for us, based on what is important and meaningful in our lives, it allows us to craft a unique, authentic way of being tied to our values and goals,” says Harrison.
With implementing any life-change, there are some risks to be aware of.
Less time to recharge
“There’s an argument to be made that work-life integration is just ‘work without boundaries’ gussied up in a more appealing term,” says Harrison. “If you’re always integrated with work, you never have time to recharge —which is essential for performance.”
Naturally, when you’re drawing fewer lines between work and life, fewer boundaries may remain. This could potentially lead to working when you’re supposed to be with family or vice versa.
It might create problems around less flexible work hours
If your company is aware that you’re taking a work-life integration approach from home, the hours dedicated to work may become more concrete. While this can help maintain personal boundaries, it can limit your ability to be as flexible with all the aspects of your life.
Butting heads with your place of employment
Companies may not support your work-life integration approach. “Without the appropriate support from leadership, the implementation of policies, and the support to draw and maintain personal boundaries, companies could exploit this desire for work-life integration, which would, in turn, lead to increased employee stress and burnout,” says Harrison.
Traditional ideas about performance might push back
“The gap between believing in work-life integration and actually embodying it is, in large part, the continued presence of old, incorrect beliefs about work,” says Harrison. “[Examples include] ‘face time’ is how performance should be measured, our best work happens between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and that you need to be ‘always on.'”
The synergy from work-life integration can lead to greater well-being and a sense of fulfillment. However, it may also limit your boundaries and recharge time. Planning out how you want to bring work-life integration into your life can help center the benefits of this approach.