Work-life integration vs. work-life balance

Last Updated on November 27, 2016 by Dave Farquhar

I wanted to bring up another subtopic from Dr. Ellen Langer’s interview on the Social Engineer podcast: work-life integration. It’s important to consider work-life integration vs. work-life balance.

Dr. Langer stated that work-life balance is inherently unhealthy, because the idea creates a notion that you have to be one person at home and a completely different person at work. She didn’t put it this bluntly, but essentially it means living a lie at least part of the time. She did say nobody should want to live life like that.

I am not convinced there are many employers who care about work-life balance anyway–they just want the job done. And in our increasingly connected society, putting your work self away when you’re at home becomes increasingly impractical, given that we’re constantly connected to work, and, in effect, perpetually on call. Good employers give you increased flexibility in exchange for this; bad employers demand it for free.

The difficulty is that we’re going to tend to be the same type of person both at work and at home. If you’re nice, pleasant, and cooperative at one place, you’ll be all of those things in the other. If you’re a nasty, underhanded, lying crook at one place, you’ll be all of those things in the other as well. If you’re just stressed out in one place, you’ll be stressed out at the other, and you’ll be less productive too. Being stressed out doesn’t make you a crook, but it makes you defensive and harder to work with.

I don’t supervise people and it’s been two years since I have, so it’s easy for me to say this, but I do think supervisors need to work with their peers to foster an environment where people can be pleasant and cooperative with one another and not constantly looking over their shoulder. Or, at the very least, that they aren’t in fight or flight mode.

There’s a benefit to this. When employees are happy and live fulfilling lives at work and home, they stay longer, which means a better return on training investment, longer retention of corporate knowledge, less retraining, and less reinvention of solutions over the course of time. It also means they can work more productively, since it’s easier to work with people we like than with people we can’t stand. It can be a win-win for both the employer and the employee.


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