WORK-LIFE BALANCE VS WORK-LIFE INTEGRATION
Work shouldn't something you look forward to moving away from in order to ‘have a life’. It should be an integral aspect of every facet of your life.
By Chike Onyekachukwu
Most people are only familiar with the concept of work-life balance. The image often associated with work-life balance is that of competition between the elements that make up ones work and personal life. This implies that the two 'worlds' must exist on either side of a vertical axis- the individual.
The oxford dictionary further gives credence to this school of thought. It defines balance as "even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady."
Today, however, the boundaries between ones personal and professional life are constantly blurring. It is impractical, therefore, to think of one’s personal and professional life in terms of "even distribution" or complete separation between two worlds.
In recent years, the phrase "work-life integration” has been gaining popularity. According to Merriam-Webster.com, the word "integrate" is defined as "to form, coordinate or blend into a functioning or unified whole." This definition implies that integration focuses on incorporation of the various elements of one’s life into a whole picture.
According to Bekerley Haas, a Human Resources Consulting firm, work-life integration is an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define an individual's life: work, home/family, community, personal wellbeing and health.
To most employees, "work-life balance" typically means the achievement of equality between time spent working and time spent with family or doing "other activities" from which they derive personal pleasure. And many performance management "gurus" opine that a good work-life balance for employees can improve staff motivation, increase staff retention rates, reduce absenteeism, employee stress and burn-out. The reality is that all these are symptoms of an underlying; insidious problem- the continued tolerance of a perpetual discomfort from persistently doing something one doesn’t find fulfilling. This is the main reason for the unrelenting need to take a break from work.
What we are truly concerned about is not the amount of time we directly give to one specific area of our life compared to another; but rather the value we are gaining from each area to create a fulfilling life. When you do what you love and enjoy what you do, you find fulfilment in every bit of your involvement even if it appears to be stressful.
At this point, there are really no boundaries between work and life. It’s just life. And trying to find equal distribution between the various areas of your life becomes irrelevant because there are really no distinctions. Work shouldn't something you look forward to moving away from in order to ‘have a life’. It should be an integral aspect of every facet of your life. This is the concept of work-life integration; where your work and your life becomes one whole inseparable entity.
The pundits canvassing for work-life balance as the panacea for low staff motivation, employee stress and burn out aren’t really dealing with the real problem. Most people are actually stuck in jobs that they hate. The idea of getting up and going to work makes them sick.
According to a research by Gallup, only 15% of the world’s full time employees are engaged in and enthusiastic about their work. An astonishing 85% are disengaged! The reason for this massive employee disengagement was attributed to placing people in roles that they do not find fulfilling. I think the reason they don’t find their roles fulfilling is because those roles aren’t in alignment with their unique personality.
In my book, Guide to Planning Your Career (still in the works), I talk about the Career Wheel adapted from Career Pathways by Amundson & Poehnell (2008). Your Career Wheel is made up of seven different sections representing various aspects of your unique personality. These include your experiences, education, strengths, skills, interests, values and family. A careful combination of these seven factors ought to be the common denominator for the career opportunities you seek and the career alternatives you choose from. These are the factors that must guide your choice of work. It is only when there is a 100% alignment between your work and the combination of all these factors that one can truly have work-life integration.
If you want to experience productivity to the max, boiling point engagement, persistent job satisfaction and fulfilment, it will be through the understanding of how these factors contribute to your overall personality and ultimately shape your life style preference.
True satisfaction comes from building your work around your life style preference, not the other way around. The right technology combined with flexible work options like telecommuting have made this easier than ever before.
In the book, 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferris submits that the degree of freedom you have depends on the number of W’s you control: what you do, when you do it, where you do it and with whom you do it.
“Work-life integration ensures that you are being your best. You’re getting your job done well and you are at your personal best,” says Cali Yost, founder and CEO of the Flex+ Strategy Group.
The essence of work-life integration is taking control of your life being at your personal best all the time. This is the cure for employee disengagement, low motivation, absenteeism, stress and burn out.
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