The Morphing of Work-Life Balance into Work-Life Integration
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Every story needs a good third act, and we’re seeing a fascinating one right now in the saga of people’s relationship with work.
In the decades-long first act, professionals worked in offices on set schedules. It was an era of natural boundaries between work and life, with no technology to erode them. Watch any TV show from the mid-20th century: When Dad (and it was usually Dad) came from work, he was done until the next morning.
In Act Two, the internet and mobile technology changed everything. As employees felt pressure to be constantly accessible, a new term – work-life balance – emerged to describe people’s efforts to draw lines between their careers and personal lives. Yet survey after survey showed a large majority failed at achieving it.
And now the curtain has risen on Act Three – work-life integration.
Rather than suggesting that personal and professional responsibilities are competing elements that one must keep separate to attain equilibrium – a notion that technology and changing lifestyles have rendered virtually impossible – work-life integration calls for increased flexibility to allow people to harmonize all areas of their lives – job, family, community involvement, and personal well-being.
Work-life integration may sound like a COVID-era invention, but the concept predates the pandemic. For example, Jeff Bezos said in 2018 that he dislikes the phrase “work-life balance” and that he encourages Amazon employees to envision a more symbiotic relationship between work and life outside the office. "It actually is a circle," Bezos said. "It's not a balance."
However, the pandemic has dramatically accelerated the shift from work-life balance to work-life integration as remote work has increased, working hours have become more fluid, new job pressures have arisen, and more people seek to thrive in all aspects of their lives, not just work.
For HR and business leaders, the ramifications of this new landscape are massive. The Great Resignation phenomenon, spawned by the pandemic at its core is about people wanting jobs that allow them to live their best lives - not just in work but also their personal life. This is forcing companies to reimagine their approach to employee care in broader and more holistic parameters than ever before.
For a long time, organizations believed they were being solid stewards of employee well-being by providing the typical medical and mental health benefits and also choosing other ways to reduce stress and promote healthy habits, usually through traditional fitness investments such as gym memberships.
Many relied on health plans and EAP offerings that provide clinical mental health services for employees in moments of distress or crisis. Though important, these mechanisms are reactive rather than proactive and don’t constitute comprehensive resources that address the full range of employee needs.
In the age of work-life integration, the responsibility falls on employers to determine how they can help each and every employee amplify their full potential and productivity.
The shift from work-life balance to work-life integration means organizations now must ask themselves whether they are supporting well-being in all areas of life, both professional and personal, to assist their workforce with handling stress, preventing burnout, and building emotional resilience.
There is growing evidence that employees not only want the support, they expect it. In the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2021 Workplace Wellness Survey, roughly seven in 10 respondents said their employer has a responsibility to make sure employees are mentally, physically, and financially well.
In response, more companies are offering benefits that recognize well-being is a set of interconnected building blocks. After all, many different factors affect a person’s well-being, from emotional ones like stress management, mindfulness, and spiritual guidance, to physical ones like diet, exercise, and tobacco cessation, to countless others such as family relationships, financial health, and professional development.
That is why, for example, organizations like Zoom, RingCentral and Purdue University offer employees TaskHuman’s app. TaskHuman offers equity across global teams and gives them the freedom to choose what aspects of their life they want 1:1 support and guidance on via video call. The TaskHuman platform is powered by a global, culturally diverse community of specialists in more than 1,000 topics, such as positive thinking, burnout prevention, sleep improvement, weight loss, financial well-being, and many more.
It’s exactly the kind of resource that leaders need to consider as they put overall employee well-being at the forefront of their employee recruitment, retention, and engagement strategies.
Act Three of the work-life story is a movie no one has ever seen before, and it’s critical for organizations to make sure it has a happy ending.