Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Integration

Semantics? Maybe. Or maybe not. There are certainly merits to both. Companies have success with both philosophies. But which is right for your people? Let’s dive in:

A couple definitions

In case you’re not familiar with the difference, here’s a basic definition of each philosophy:

· Work-Life Balance is a workplace ideal that suggests employees shouldn’t be entirely consumed by work responsibilities. Companies with this approach are more likely to have generous, but still defined, vacation policies. They encourage employees to work a pretty normal schedule (9-5ish) with a little flexibility and discourage workaholics. Think of it as a hard, defined line between work and life designed to keep one from encroaching on the other.

·Work-Life Integration posits that the best approach is to incorporate work and life into one conglomerate, fulfilling purpose. Companies with a work-life integration philosophy are more likely to have an unlimited vacation policy (with the understanding that employees won’t abuse it). They are more likely to have a “just get the job done” attitude and not caring in which hours the work is getting done. Think of it as a more blurred line between work and life (but ideally, employees don’t become overwhelmed by work or too consumed by life).

A day in the life of

A work-life balancer:

Jenny gets to work ten minutes early and dives in, working hard until lunch time, then dives right back in after lunch. When the clock hits five, she packs up and leaves to meet some friends—no need to keep her phone too close as her colleagues won’t be calling after hours about anything work-related. She is free to leave during work hours to take care of personal things but tries to make it a rare occurrence. The executives at her organization value their employees and give them four weeks of vacation a year. Jenny is excited to take a week off this summer. She also appreciates that her manager doesn’t expect her to check her email or be available during her time off.

A work-life integrator:

Jake wakes up at 6am and takes an hour to get through his emails and check his schedule. After helping his kids get ready for school and sitting down for breakfast, he’s off to work. He gets in around 10am and works hard until 2pm—time to hit the golf course with a few work friends. Jake knows he’ll be able to conference in on his smartphone from the clubhouse for a quick meeting with a contractor at 4pm so there’s no rush to get back to the office. Jake gets home around 6pm, cooks dinner and gets his kids to bed. At 8pm, he hops back on his laptop to work for a few more hours before going to bed. Since he has unlimited vacation time, Jake looks forward to a 10-day trip to Hawaii with his family next month. He’ll have to spend a couple hours each day taking care of emails, but he’s okay with that. He feels it’s a small price to pay for flexibility.

Both the balancer and the integrator have time for personal time and work responsibilities. They both make sure they get their expected work hours in. They just do it in very different ways.

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What the work-life advocates say

Team work-life balance:

· A blurred line lacks the ability to escape work. People should be able to leave work behind at the end of the day.

· Protected time is important, especially when there’s so much technology making it easier to contact anyone at anytime.

· Defined hours keep people honest. It’s much easier to avoid problems (both of people working too much and not enough) when you ask them to come in at defined times.

· Vacations are a time to disconnect. Once again, it’s a good thing to leave work behind.

Team work-life integration:

· People work best at different times and in different locations. If burning the midnight oil is how you work best, great. If you want to work from a vacation house in Oregon, awesome.

· Use the flexibility technology offers to our advantage. If clients have questions at 11pm, what’s wrong with providing a quick answer before bed?

· People want to be trusted. I don’t need to tell employees precisely when to be in the office.

· Working a little bit doesn’t kill a vacation. In fact, some employees find it easier to relax if they know work isn’t piling up for them back at the office.

Here’s how I see it: Any strategy designed to help employees have better lives is good in my book—especially since a Harvard study found that 94 percent of people are working more than 50 hours a week and almost half of them work more than 65 hours a week. Whether you want your employees integrating or balancing, kudos to you for actually considering their sanity in the first place. We applaud you!