Let’s begin with the understanding that some people are going to hate this idea. Work-life integration? Work seeping into all areas of your life at all hours of the day sounds awful, right? Isn’t it already happening? It is likely that most of you thought about an upcoming deadline, had a great idea on that report you needed to finish, or thought about how to approach a coworker about an issue while binge watching Netflix, right? Work-life integration is happening whether you like it or not and it has become a very important work style that allows us to successfully manage our workloads and our home. The key is embracing it correctly and managing it well, resulting in increased engagement and productivity for all involved.
So what is work-life integration? In the past, we commonly referred to work-life balance and stressed with employees the need to separate the two and maintain a balanced life. The idea ties closely to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” work reference where the buzzer rings at 5 p.m. and we go home. No work. No email checking. No after-hours phone calls. This was your time for friends and family. You work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and check out for the evening. Work-life integration on the other hand allows for an integration of work into your “life” activities and vice versa. For example, you could work from home from 6 a.m. until 8 a.m. at which time you stop and run the kids to school. You arrive at the office around 9 a.m. and work till Noon when you hit the gym for your spin class. Come back to the office around 2 p.m. and eat lunch at your desk. Pick up the kids from school at 4 p.m., run an errand, and cook dinner. Hop back on your laptop at 9 p.m. to finish up your work and check missed email. That is integration at its peak. According to UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, work-life integration is “an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define ‘life’: work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health.”
Today, the boundaries between work and home are incredibly blurry. It’s impossible to think that work doesn’t happen outside of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and that “life” doesn’t happen during the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To that end, integrating and blending the two worlds seems the most logical solution. But is it really doable? Not only is it doable, it is essential. In 2018, the Harvard Business Review conducted a study on workplace flexibility. In that study, 96% of employees said they need flexibility, yet only 47% reported having access to the types of flexibility they need — a gap of 53%.
There are obviously many factors to consider in engaging in this type of culture and implementing such program but here are some of the most important factors to consider:
- The job. The most important factor is if the job can allow for such a privilege. Work-life integration is not an option for some positions with limited flexibility. Nursing and those on machine assembly lines for example may not be viable candidates for this type of work style. Don’t just assume, however, that it won’t work. Be creative… even traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs may be able to be adapted.
- Company culture. If your company has never supported this type of integrated work style this may be a challenge. The best approach in combating this is showing the positive impact and letting the company know this kind of flexibility is worth the trouble. Flexibility in work is viewed as one of the top employee perks you can offer. Metlife’s 2019 Employee Benefit Trend Survey boasts that 31% of employees interested in “gig work” are interested because of the flexible schedule it offers. Offering an environment that mimics that type of schedule may meet a need for your staff. The results? Increases in productivity, retention, and the happiness factor!
- Managing the expectations. In many instances, management sees these types of programs as a potential for huge areas of abuse. We have all seen situations where this has occurred and the employee who takes advantage of flexible schedules. They are never available, delayed in returning calls and emails, and are more away than at work. For success, management must MANAGE this! Supervisors must keep an eye on performance and actively manage an individual’s work to make this successful. It may take some time to earn the trust but if the manager is keenly aware of the requirements of the job, active performance management will keep this in check. Don’t be afraid to discipline or tighten an employee’s schedule if the program isn’t working. Be clear that it is not a refusal to allow a flexible schedule, but rather their inability to complete work tasks that is the source of the change and try to correct the course. The benefit is a privilege, remind folks of that.
Successful work-life integration allows us to focus on more of a balance and smoothly transition from one to the other. Conference calls in the car during half-time of the game are doable. A vacation away while conferencing in for a client call can be done. No one enjoys the thought of returning from vacation with 300+ emails waiting for us. Integration will allow us to blend these essential parts of our lives and enjoy work and our home life without isolation. Embrace these ideas of integration to meet your company and personal needs.
As with all great ideas, there are always words of caution. With work-life integration, it will be essential to maintain boundaries. Boundaries with integration? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Sort of. Always keep in mind that it can be very easy to allow work to creep into everything. It’s important to prioritize and look realistically about expectations, etc. and maintain boundaries. Turn the notifications off on your phone during certain hours. Allow the integration but also allow the down time. Work already bleeds into your home life in one way or another. Technology has allowed that. Our own desire for instant gratification and responses feed that. Allow it and take advantage of it by allowing yourself some ‘me’ time as well and truly turning off once in a while. Your body and mind will thank you.
Thank you to Patti Dunham, Director, HR Solutions and Lisa Degaro, HR Consultant, both with strategic HR inc., for sharing their insights on work-life integration. If you have any questions or would like to share your comments, contact us at info@strategicHRinc.com.