Growing up I heard a lot about work/life balance; how we should balance our time at work with things like play, family or friends. Balance is required because it’s easy to work long hours. I felt I had no work/life balance when I used to teach. I used to stay late to mark and prep or take my work home. I believe the idea of balance is great, and it helps keep us in check, but what if it too is problematic? Is work/life balance an outdated notion or is it still useful to mitigate the effects of our time spent for a pay cheque?
Historically work was a place you went to, where you clocked in and out and did not enjoy. Many people find the same to be true today. Even the word ‘work’ generally has a negative connotation. There are a lot of posts and memes that circulate such. I believe balance with other things is definitely important if you do not like what you do but what if you do like what you do? Is balance the best concept to describe a joyous and flexible vocation? Do people with such jobs and careers still need it? Months back I heard the term work-life integration. I do not know if there is one agreed upon definition but I take it to be combining your work and life as a whole. As opposed to separate parts to be divided out like fractions, work and life are interwoven like a beautifully baked pie. I like this idea as I love pies, especially blueberry. No, but seriously I like it because I love what I do and find what some people deem work to be energizing and replenishing. I wonder then if work/life balance is the result of not loving what you do whereas work-life integration is a term to speak to the opposite? Do you need balance if you love what you do? Some people would still say yes because you can still get consumed in passion projects and leave little time for loved ones. Work-life integration, however, also connotes time for relationships but perhaps not just in the confines of the 9 to 5 or overtime. Sometimes the idea of balance adds pressure for people because they feel they are not doing it right or perfectly. This begs the question of whether we can ever achieve full balance anyway? Does the term work-life integration exist to counter this challenge?
I like the idea of work-life integration, however, it too can be problematic if it is masking dysfunctional trends that are happening in the workplace. If it is being used to normalize the download effect (where organizations reduce their employees but add on more and more responsibilities to a person’s plate) or after hours work emails and texts than I think balance and boundaries are better. Even progressive companies like Google who have play and rest stations seem to be all for integration but is that for employees to be just more creative, well rested and productive or is it a way for them to forget how much time they are spending there?
So are you balanced with work and life or integrated? Which one speaks to you? I hope this blog post helped you frame whatever will help you have a fuller, well-rounded pie.