By Lyn Turknett
Co-founder and Co-chair, TLG
Work-life balance implies that we have two things we are keeping in balance. We have to work, but we hope to also have some time for “life.” Work-life integration recognizes that we have one precious life, which is filled with many things, and one of them is work. How do we create a harmonious whole?
I like to think of there being multiple areas that we are integrating, and we need to pay attention to all of them. The Haas School of Business has a helpful framing and lists four big areas:
- Home and family
- Work and career
- Our personal health and well-being
- Giving back to the community – connecting to the larger community
Integrating Work with Life
The word “integration” helps us think of our life in a holistic way, and also implies that the lines between areas are best blurred. Most people with children experience this blurring, especially if they are primary caregivers. Those who are most successful at managing home and work usually recommend “intense focus in the moment” – being very present wherever you are – with your children, with your teammates, or having coffee with a friend.
Overall, work-life issues are incredibly complicated. Most of the writing about work-life integration is targeted at professionals. If I were working a shift in a meat-packing company, I’d likely want a bright line between work and home, but I would want an employer who recognized my humanity and understood that my children get sick and have parent-teacher conferences.
Our company has long had a special focus on supporting women in the workplace, and the pandemic has made it even more clear that work-life issues are more complicated for women. At the beginning of the pandemic, many families, especially those with young children, experienced way more “work-life integration” than they ever bargained for. Suddenly people with full-time jobs were trying to work with small children – and all daycare facilities and schools were closed.
Strategies for Work-Life Integration
Kristen Shockley is an associate professor of the industrial-organizational psychology program at the University of Georgia. Her major area of research focuses on understanding the intersection of employees’ work and family lives, and her professional website is entitled “Integrating Work into Life.” At the beginning of the pandemic, she began a study of strategies involving dual-career couples with young children. Just after the lockdown began, the research team recruited 274 couples and asked them about their plans for managing childcare and work commitments. They identified seven different strategies. A little over a third (36.6%) of the couples planned to use strategies where women did most or all the childcare, while 44.5% were planning to use strategies that were more egalitarian.
They were able to follow up with 133 families seven weeks later and found that the “wife does it all” strategies resulted in the lowest well-being and work performance, while egalitarian strategies, especially the “alternating days” strategy, were most successful in terms of well-being and performance. The research was published in 2021 in a Journal of Applied Psychology article entitled “Work Family Strategies During Covid-19: Examining Gender Dynamics Among Dual-Earner Couples with Young Children.”
Having watched my mother deal with career demands and children in the fifties, and having experienced the challenges myself, I was particularly encouraged to see that nearly 45% of the couples planned egalitarian strategies. And it’s even more encouraging to see those strategies adopted by my own sons!
The Future Workplace
We know a lot of the things that make a difference – flexibility, recognition of competing demands, support for community involvement and work-from-home options, but at the top of the list for me is a more equitable, less hierarchical workplace that recognizes the value and the humanity of every person. A great example of recognizing humanity I came across came from Frank Blake, who wrote about the Crazy Good Turns “Thank a Server Challenge”. They sent out $50 Thank You Gift Cards to 100 different people, challenging them to leave massive tips to servers, baristas, and other service industry workers. It gave others the opportunity to be generous when they might not normally be able to do so.
I came across this interesting and telling comment in a TechFunnel Article:
“Let’s say one of your dependents is sick and you need to see them, but you’re swamped with work and can’t see a way out. You will be perplexed and despised as a result of this predicament. You will be unable to concentrate on your work. If there had been a work-life integration policy in place, you could have spent time with your sick dependent by leaving the office early and marking emails while being at home with them. Instead of seeing work and personal time as two separate entities, busy professionals can discover common ground.”
That’s not a lot to ask.