Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Integration: What’s the difference?

what is work life balance and what is work life integration?

It is crucial to find a balance between the time spent in our professional and personal lives. This balance, however, may look different for each person. While some professionals strive for work-life balance, others strive for work-life integration – these two phrases, while they may look similar, are quite unique actually.

There is a distinction between work-life balance and work-life integration, and it is one that many people are grappling with as we attempt to emerge from our pandemic work situations,” said Stephen Kohler, CEO, and creator of Audira Labs.

What’s the Difference Between Work-Life Balance and Work-Life Integration? 🤷‍♂️

Before we delve deep into the topic let’s address the elephant in the room what is really the difference between these two things? 

Stephen Kohler explained work-life balance and work-life integration as

“While work-life balance emphasizes keeping your professional and personal lives separate but equal, work-life integration is based on the concept that there is no separation between the two and that they must coexist in harmony.”

Work-life balance aims to establish an ideal situation in which work and life coexist and thrive separately; work-life integration focuses on integrating your work and life together as one.

Professionals who integrate their professional and personal lives take less notice of what defines “work time” and “personal time” and instead focus on the optimal time to accomplish these tasks. This may be working later in the day in order to concentrate on a personal project in the morning, or checking email after hours but also checking and replying to personal email during the workday.

In other words, work-life integration views all of your daily activities collectively and is less concerned with compartmentalization.

But one thing to note is that both work-life balance and work-life integration aim to create a sense of harmony.

“In the broadest sense, they both mean the same thing: how to have a life that has time for work, and time for family, care, life, joy, play, and all of the things that make life worth living outside of work,” says Brigid Schulte, journalist, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

Is Work-life Integration Right For You? 🧐

Many experts support that work-life integration is the better approach between the two. But that does not, however, mean that this concept is flawless.

Let’s consider a few of the advantages and disadvantages.

The Benefits of Work-Life Balance ✅

Work-life integration includes combining personal and professional responsibilities together in perfect harmony that both duties complement each other, rather than separating work and personal time, and compromising one for the other.

For example, work-life integration may involve you conducting household chores while on a conference call or leaving work early, and answering emails from home

The primary benefit of work-life integration is more flexibility, it eliminates the competitive mindset that so many of us have towards our professional and personal lives. Employees who are able to manage their schedules and duties effectively are more likely to be satisfied in all areas of their lives. 

“The concept of work-life balance inherently implies competing, compartmentalized interests. For some, this definition and mindset can be stressful when thinking about allocating time and energy for work, caring for children or aging parents, spending time with a significant other, enjoying time with friends, exercise, social obligations, cleaning, health, hobbies, or relaxation.” – Michelle Marquez, Associate Dean of Human Resources and Administration at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. 

When we cannot find time and fit everything into a single day we start compromising and make tradeoffs – mostly unhealthy ones. And that, my friends, is the beauty of work-life integration. It allows employees to be inventive and discover new ways to improve their lives in all areas.

The Problems of Work-Life Balance ❌

When not managed properly, work-life integration can backfire and negatively impact both work and personal time. Additionally, it is not suitable for all personality types.

“Some people utilize work-life integration to demonstrate that there are no longer any boundaries,” adds Schulte, who sees herself as a “fusion lover” who has always blurred the lines between work and personal life. “However, that can come at a price,” she confesses. “On days when I don’t do it well, I can become overwhelmed and bogged down by attempting to do too much at once.”

Additionally, integrating work and life is not as simple as making individual changes – especially for those who work a tight schedule or have certain family obligations. To make work-life integration possible, a transformation in corporate cultures is required, as is the presence of a supportive family structure.

“We frequently view work-life balance or integration as an individual responsibility,” Marquez explains. “However, the employer is a critical factor.”

Summary

It’s not easy to walk a narrow line between your professional and personal lives. Even a tiny breeze can send you careening to one side, taking a significant amount of energy to reassemble.

That is precisely why some people prefer work-life integration to work-life balance. But there’s one more thing to keep in mind: you don’t need to get too caught up in the terminology.

“Language matters to most individuals because it shapes their mentality and behavior,” adds Westring. “However, it ultimately boils down to breaking the tendency of viewing things as a trade-off and instead focusing on achieving harmony.”

If you do so, you’ll be able to get off that imaginary highwire and appreciate all areas of your life, even if they’re not always perfectly balanced.

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