Five essential steps for work/life integration

What’s the difference between work/life balance and work/life integration? One is about separating work from life; the other is about cleverly overlapping the two. Find out why many employees prefer to blur the lines between work and life.

Five essential steps for work-life integration

After decades of being encouraged to establish our ideal work/life balance, a new concept began to emerge around 2015. Known as work/life integration, its popularity has steadily grown. While the words may sound like much the same thing, the concepts behind them are very different. And the shift in focus reflects the new reality of how people are working.

So how do you boost productivity and employee engagement through work/life integration? This article presents five fundamental steps than many organisations overlook. 

Accept that balance is no longer the goal

The word ‘balance’ suggests that work and life are opposites; two things to be kept separate. You turn up to work and life stops, you finish and life begins again.

When work/life balance was a hot topic, people were encouraged to find their happy balance point. If their priority was to grow their work capabilities and career, then the balance might have more work time in it. If they had a young family, were caring for elderly parents or were trying to excel at something like a sport, then their balance might have less work time in it.

The internet and the mass uptake of communication technologies have completely changed things.  The reality is most employees are expected to be available at any time, even if it’s not officially stated. Many are working remotely and flexible hours now mean people can often work when it suits. If that means sending an email on Sunday evening, you can.

The problem with continuing to encourage work/life balance is it just doesn’t fit anymore. It’s no longer possible and people get frustrated trying to achieve the recommended separation.

That’s where work/life integration comes in. It means it’s OK to mix the two. Younger employees are particularly keen on it. Work is part of life and having the flexibility to dip in and out of it as it suits is highly desirable. If an hour in the gym in the middle of the day makes you more productive, so be it. If you can work from home to meet a tradesperson or care for a sick child, it’s great. If clearing your emails on Sunday evening gives you an uninterrupted run at your engaging project on Monday, you can do it.

Reward people for their work, even if it’s more than you expected

If someone chooses to work on the weekend to meet a tight deadline or deliver awesome work, make sure you let them know how much you appreciate it. Resist the temptation to point out they’re not expected to work on weekends and didn’t have to. Chances are you send a few emails after hours, so it just seems hypocritical. Focus on what they have achieved, rather than the time they put in or when they chose to work on it.

At the same time, you need to allow people to step back a little when they’re running out of steam. Making recharge opportunities available lets employees know you appreciate their hard work and don’t expect them to push things until they burn out. These opportunities can range from in-house relaxation spaces to things like reward points for funded wellness retreats or bucket-list experiences.

Often the most powerful and timely thing you can do is say “thank you”. You can write a thoughtful note to individuals or organise a group celebration when the team has excelled.

Recognise that people who do more expect more from you

Employees who are happy to go the extra mile and produce more eventually expect something in return. They’re not going to keep integrating more work into their life if there’s nothing extra in it for them. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be money.

Millennials are the generation  most likely to happily put in extra time to produce more for their employer. They also place a high value on non-monetary rewards like recognition, mentoring, training opportunities, reward schemes and one-on-one time with senior leaders.

The trick is knowing how rewarded each employee is feeling and what they value the most. That means regular one-on-one reviews and plenty of informal opportunities for employees to chat with their people leader.

Provide training on how to lead people who value work/life integration

Leading employees that want to integrate work into their lives as they see fit can be a real challenge. This is particularly true for managers who built their careers in an era of managing by time not output.

Historically, if you weren’t in the office or onsite, you weren’t working. If you arrived late it was frowned upon. No-one wanted to head home early, or even be the first to go, so they stayed on later and later. Sticking your nose into employees’ private lives was frowned on, especially for managers. Employees were expected to do what they were told, not tell their manager what they’d like to do.

Times have certainly changed and managers have evolved along with it, but there will still be gaps in their skillset. These gaps can lead to talented employees becoming frustrated and leaving for an organisation that’s known to be a great place to work.

Team leaders often need help with managing by output, focusing on quality and monitoring how engaged employees are. They may also need tips on how to identify the rewards each individual values and find ways to enable their career goals. A lot of this requires one-on-one time with employees. The challenge is finding the right balance between being involved and providing space. Too little interaction and you don’t seem to care; too much and you’re micro-managing.

The other reason for a training programme is to encourage and enable consistency throughout the organisation. Not in the individual arrangements and rewards of course, but consistency in the flexibility, support, recognition and personalisation of rewards that are made available.

Evolve with your employees

These days, most employees accept that work is an integral part of their lives; they just want to enjoy it. They want to feel fully engaged, support their company’s purpose and speak for their employer, no matter what time or day it is. It’s much more rewarding than ‘putting up’ with work for 40 hours a week, then struggling to shut it out from the rest of your life.

But this integration means work has a much more pervasive influence on the rest of an employee’s life. Putting up with it is no longer sustainable. It has to align with your beliefs, feel rewarding and provide opportunities to achieve the goals you’re seeking. It’s no coincidence that successful organisations genuinely live their values and openly invest in things like employee rewards, happiness and wellness. They’re what everyone seeks in life and work is now an integral part of it.

Check out an easy way to add extra benefits to your employees’ remuneration.