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Work-Life Integration v.s. Work/Life Balance

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There has always been work that’s needed to be done. Whether it’s plowing your father’s field, making mud bricks or collating insurance claims, work makes the world go round and has since the dawn of society. Yep, work is a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean that everyone out there can face the facts. Right now, the majority of the workers in this country, 70% to be exact, are reporting that they are either “disengaged” or “actively disengaged” from their work. A disengaged employee has little to no connection with the work that they do and, consequently, doesn’t care enough to do more than the bare minimum required of them. An actively disengaged employee will take this detachment even further, caring so little for their position that they try to get away with sub-standard work and may even be actively working against the company’s interests.

A company made up of disengaged workers is not one that’s thriving. Disengagement causes productivity to drop, turnover to rise and quality to falter across the board. Do you really want employees to be thinking “Eh, good enough. Time to go home,” when they finish a project or do you want them thinking, “Huh, could this use some more work?” The difference between a disengaged employee and the kind you want can be the difference between mistakes getting fixed and mistakes getting covered up. While there plenty of reasons why someone might not like their job, one of the most common is feeling like you have a bad work/life balance. Today, we’ll be talking about how companies are addressing the issue of the work/life balance and how the term “work/life balance” might even be part of the problem with reconciling the two.

First of all, let’s talk about this whole “balance” thing. A balance is achieved when two opposing forces meet at a midpoint, such as a scale measuring two objects of the same weight. If you were representing this paradigm like a scale, with life on the one side and work on the other, then you’re setting the two up as opposing forces. Instead of looking at work and life as opposites that must be precariously balanced, it’s better to look at them as different sides of the same coin. I mean, you don’t stop being alive when you go to work and you definitely don’t stop thinking about work just because you’re at home.

At a recent event organized by Cielo Talent Solutions, a group of senior HR leadership met to discuss, among other things, a better way of addressing this whole working while living thing. One HR leader in attendance explained why “work/life balance” may be on the way out, “As important as our talent is, we don’t talk about work-life balance. We talk about aligning work-style and life-style. Really, it’s about what the employee is trying to achieve in their personal and professional lives.” As another attendee so snappily put it,  ”We’re migrating to calling it ‘work-life integration.’ That is, as the employer, meeting the demands of employees’ personal lives—families, relationships, health, values and finances.”

Work is a fact of life. You go to your job, which gives you money, which gives you the means to survive and enjoy premium cable and wonderful life experiences and so on. Work enables life in many ways, but work is still, well…work. It’s hard! It takes all day, happens almost every day and demands the sum total of your life’s learning and experience! It’s a lot to ask of someone, even if you’re paying them. Even if you were of the viewpoint that an employee is strictly an investment, a matter of cost analysis and ROI, you’ve still got to recognize the importance that a good work-life integration plays in an employee’s long term success.

Some people are less equipped to deal with stress than others and just because they aren’t literally pulling their hair out doesn’t mean that they’re not feeling the pressures of work. And these pressures only build over time. When you experience stress, the same neurotransmitters are firing as when someone is firing a gun at you. There are negative health effects that result from prolonged stress are well documented and, if the pressure becomes too great, a hard working employee can go from towing the line to perpetually falling behind.

That’s why it’s important for people to have time away from work to decompress and recover from the demands of their jobs. Like I said at the beginning of this article, most employees aren’t engaged with their jobs, which means that there is less goodwill than ever before for employers. In light of the fact that 70% of the workforce might appreciate some extra PTO, many companies have started putting more of an emphasis on work-life integration. According to the same Cielo article, “…another global organization, considered highly decentralized, leaders close the corporate office during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s. This policy is in addition to employees’ personal PTO. Employees are expected to check email and make certain important tasks are completed or covered, but there is no in-office requirement during this period.”

So, I guess the take-away here is, if work and life are integrated more smoothly, then there really isn’t a need for a balancing act in the first place.

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