As the concept of working from home becomes more normalized, figuring out when and how to prioritize responsibilities at home and at work has a lot of people experiencing feelings of being overwhelmed and stretched to their limit. Juggling Slack calls and Teams meetings with household obligations (kids, errands, unexpected utility malfunctions) can be stressful. Even with 30 minutes to hour-long breaks, maintaining a clear boundary that separates the two worlds can seem almost impossible to have.
Some experts think that the problem is having infrequent communication with co-workers. “If you’re working non-traditional hours, or if you’re not getting in face-time with your teammates every day, you might feel pressure to spend more time online and working than you otherwise would in the office,” (Owl Labs). But many employees feel like with remote work that there are more meetings that they must show up to than if they were just working in the office.
A study by Reclaim.ai using information from Google Calendar “found that workers now spend 25.3% more time in meetings compared to the pre-pandemic month of February 2020. Furthermore, the company found that employees now spend 308.8% more time in one-on-one meetings, as well,” (TechRadar). With that much time spent in meetings, workers might feel that they have to stay at work longer to make up for the lost time.
Difference Between Work Life Balance vs. Work Life Integration
Work Life Balance
The most solution to this widespread problem would be to apply a work life balance strategy to workers’ routines. Everything from cutting off all work devices when the clock hits five to utilizing paid time off for mental health days would be suggested to alleviate the struggles of having no distinction between work life and home life. But, as stated earlier, with remote jobs becoming the norm after the pandemic, establishing a work life balance strategy might be easier said than done.
Imagine knowing that you can take time off of work through a week-long vacation or short 30-minute breaks but feeling like you can’t. There is a feeling of anxiety that many employees go through where they know that if they decide to take a short hiatus from the job, the work that will be left behind will increase and they will return to chaos. However, industry leaders have been talking about a more modern solution to work overflow.
Work Life Integration
“Work life integration is the blending of both personal and professional obligations and finding areas of compromise. From completing household chores like folding laundry while on a conference call to bringing your children to your office when schools are closed,” (hirebook).
It essentially streamlines your tasks for the day, no matter if it’s a quick huddle on Slack or cooking dinner before the kids get home. With work life integration, why not do both at the same time? This lets workers be productive in both their home life and work life without having to neglect one for the other.
But, like with all good things, there can be a downside. Just like with a work life balance plan, workers have to establish clear boundaries and expectations on how they will tackle both home and work tasks. It can still be a struggle knowing when to prioritize what, causing you to feel like a candle being burnt from both ends and melting into a puddle of hopelessness.
Employers can do their part by being supportive of the different responsibilities that employees may face at home (childcare, pet care, primary caregiver to older relatives, etc.). However, “even when many companies are showing their support to the work life integration trend, employers must understand the full concept of work-life integration, encourage employees to hop on this lifestyle, and help them improve their work-life in general,” (hirebook).
Employers may have to have a one-on-one conversation with their employees to figure out what they may need to remain productive as possible. That may mean allowing parents and caregivers flexibility in choosing days off for doctors’ appointments.
Employers could also allow them to briefly leave with a labeled status update on Slack, so that can drop off or pick up kids, pets, and family members. Employees could even participate in meetings on the way to their destinations if they feel comfortable.
In a world of work life balance, where the separation of your professional life and home life is the goal or work life integration, where effortlessly combining the two worlds is key; how do you know which style is right for you? Like with anything, the only way to find out is to try it out.
Give yourself a week to try out the work life balance style. Then for the next week, give the work life integration style a go. Before starting the experimenting, it’s good to let your employer know and ask them to track your productivity levels so that you can have actual data to base your decision on.
A Common Goal for Work Life Balance vs Work Life Integration
To balance or to integrate, that is the question. Everyone is different, and one style may gel with you better than the other. Just know that these strategies were made to make your life easier when working remotely and working in the office. Since the pandemic, the world has changed, and the way you did things before may not work for you anymore.
That’s why this is a good time to utilize both of these strategies to try something new. It’s not unusual to struggle with managing work life and home life when both worlds have become blurred for many workers. Work life balance and work life integration strategies both have one goal in common, finding “an equilibrium between our professional and personal lives,” (hirebook).
Knowing the ultimate goal is key to finding out what works best for you and your life. The road to that goal will have bumps along the way, but the way to being happy with your work life and home life is to find that sweet spot that makes your day easier and more productive.