What does work-life balance mean?
Work-life balance is the idea that you can divide your time and energy equally between work and important aspects of their life. Essentially, you divide between the demands of the workplace and spending quality time with family members, maintaining a social life, focusing on your personal growth, caring for your health, engaging in self-care practices, participate within your community, and other activities that are important pieces of your personal life. Fundamentally, work and your personal life exist separately, where one ends, the other begins.
The idea of work-life balance was developed to help employees and employers achieve a more balanced lifestyle. In response to the excessive feelings of stress and burnout, we developed an idea of balance and boundaries. However, stress and burnout comes with managing both work and personal demands as separate entities. Thus, the problem with work-life balance is the notion of “balance”. The word balance suggests a weighing balance scale that is balanced (or equal) on both sides. This concept, although ideal in theory, is nearly impossible to reach. The term suggests there would be little conflict between your work and personal life. However, at different points in your life, throughout various stressors / deadlines, one may require more time and energy than the other. They may also interlope from time to time. Yet the notion of “balance” implies that when you spend more time and energy on one area, you are taking from the other.
Thus, in recent years, work-life balance has progressed into a more realistic notion known as work-life integration.
Work-life integration suggests that work and your personal life co-exist and thrive together. Rather than specific boundaries of a traditional “9-5,” integration allows for your personal and professional life to intermingle. For example, you may make time during the workday to pick up your children from school and you may take time after dinner to respond to emails.
Work-life integration allows for you to participate in higher productivity and efficiency levels at work without sacrificing your personal life, mental, emotional, or physical health. It also can be beneficial in prioritizing important things outside of work, like family time, health, and self-care without feeling guilty. Furthermore, integration eliminates the stress of “having it all” in a sense of balance when instead they co-exist and thrive together.
Basically, work-life integration is about feeling content. When your life moves from a focus on producing content to being content, with all aspects of your life, you can not only boost your work productivity, but also grow in different areas of your personal life.
Is work-life integration important?
In my opinion, work-life integration is an essential part of your overall wellness. When you treat work and life as separate entities, there is an added level of stress and pressure. You are constantly trying to enforce boundaries where lines are often blurred. There may be personal emergencies during the workday, and there may be work emergencies during your personal time. Trying to enforce strict boundaries can lead to feelings of guilt and anger and increased stress levels when lines are crossed.
Self-care is an important piece of overall happiness and productivity. Without recharging, you will exhaust yourself to a point of fatigue and burnout. Burnout is linked to a reduction in productivity, lack of motivation, and symptoms of depression. However, trying to achieve “work-life balance” makes it difficult to set aside time for self-care without feeling guilty.
Integrating work and life to co-exist in harmony that allows ample time for both without feelings of continual guilt can positively impact your mental health.
Is work-life balance integration really possible?
As stated earlier, work-life integration is about finding a state of content within all aspects of your life. Work-life integration is about believing that dedicating time to work or life does not take away from the other. For each person, work-life integration may look different, based on their personal life and work demands.
For some, work-life integration may look like starting the workday after dropping off one’s children and leaving during the “workday” to pick up one’s kids from school but answering emails and working on proposals after the kids go to bed. Or work-life integration may look like taking an extended lunch break to workout, see a healthcare professional, or engage in a form of self-care. It is different for everyone, because it is based on your specific needs and work / life demands. Finding the proper integration may be easier for some than others and may take a while to properly develop. The important part is finding a combination that allows for growth in all areas without sacrificing your emotional, mental, and / or physical health.