Work-life balance is a slippery goal workers have been striving to reach for decades by name, and eons in practice. First coined as a term in 1970s England, then the 80s in America, work-life balance refers to the proper prioritization between career and personal life.
The idea is not without merit. No person can thrive if their life is consumed by work, a fact companies must realize if they want to retain the talent and loyalty of happy, engaged associates. In a world that is more connected than ever, it’s time we let go of the ideal concept of balance and embrace a more cohesive concept of healthy integration between work and lifestyle.
When it comes to happiness and productivity today, work-life balance just isn’t comprehensive enough to meet the concerns of the modern workforce. In my opinion, there is a better solution. Here’s why work-life balance is outdated, and why I believe work-life integration is the way forward.
1. Technology makes complete separation impossible
These days, the modern workforce is always online. Whether this is a good or bad thing is up for debate; regardless, associates can be reached in case of emergency or updated on important briefs at a moment’s notice, whether they are in the office, at home, or on vacation.
The fact that communication is so lightning-fast means that most team members are taking a bit of work home with them, like it or not.
I have team members who want to stay connected even though they need a break. Even on vacation, they don’t want to be left out of urgent discussions or decisions about their accounts or their projects. For better or worse, our associates take ownership in what they do and therefore, want to remain hands-on. This doesn’t mean they don’t take breaks—they leave the day-to-day and non-urgent duties behind. However, I find that most often they don’t separate fully because of their passion.
I used to encourage team members to leave it all behind and separate, but frankly, I never could figure out how to lead by example. My company is a part of my life: I integrate the two and create flexibility to be present in my personal life and work life when I need to, because neither happens on-schedule. I’ve found that the answer is making sure associates understand that they need to dedicate the appropriate amounts of time to their work and home life, rather than locking them into specific times.
2. It’s an impractical goal
Work-life balance as a term may have satisfied the needs of modern workers at first, but after decades of advice and thought-pieces, it has lost a lot of its meaning. The term has been overused to the point at which it represents an impossible, impractical ideal.
As Andrea Feinberg writes for Productive Magazine: “It’s supposed to get us working less and enjoying life more, but in reality, it has us striving for perfection and counting the hours we spend at work, the hours we spend with our family, at the gym, even in bed, trying to get the elusive “right” combination.”
Like I mentioned before, work-life balance depends on counting hours and changing schedules relentlessly to achieve equilibrium. There is no such perfect formula, and the time wasted trying to create it only prevents us from being present in various aspects of life.
3. Flexibility lends itself to integration
As technology permeates work and home life, the 8-5 work day is becoming outdated. In addition, we’re starting to realize the benefits of frequent breaks, naps, and other models that break the eight-hour mold.
Associates in many companies can work from home or negotiate flexible hours that work with their schedules. For example, team members with children might leave early and finish their work remotely in the evening, if the position and leadership permits.
While the millennial workforce is commonly credited for driving this change, it’s something that can benefit all associates. So long as everyone is held accountable for their work, flexibility can actually increase productivity. This, to me, manifests as much less of a work-life balance and much more of a work-life integration.
Some individuals want a more standard version of the 8-5 and others want more wiggle room. Either is okay as long as an associate is productive, efficient, and meeting customer needs or company deadlines. Individuals need to work with their managers to figure out what is right for them, and vice versa.
4. Reframing the concept will make us all happier
At the end of the day, work-life balance, a noble term, has morphed into an unattainable goal that no one feels he or she has exactly right. If the concept stays the same, it will become even more of a foreign concept as the modern workplace evolves.
Work-life integration is one way to reframe the concept of a balanced life to make it feel attainable and rewarding. Your life includes your work, so it’s more about the quality of everything combined than a balancing act between two worlds.
If there’s one more piece of advice I’d like to impart on the matter, it’s how important it is to be present in the moment in what ever part of your life you are in. Because being fully present is not always physically possible and perfection is not attainable, the best we can do is to try to focus on one thing at a time, embracing the concept of integration rather than balance. Trust me—doing so will improve the quality of your time in each aspect of your life, rather than leave them teetering on a scale.