Before COVID-19, work-life balance has been a hotly debated topic. Organisations and employees recognise the importance of work-life balance – the state of equilibrium where one equally prioritises the demands of work and personal life.
Yet, many of us know that work-life balance is a lie. This balance worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, when employees started working from home. Work seeped into personal lives, extending beyond the supposed official working hours. Employees felt the need to be online all time to show that they are “productive”. Managers tracked the time at which employees log on and off. Work-life balance essentially went out of the window.
Work-life balance in 2022
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work and hybrid work arrangements has become a permanent feature in most employees’ lives. Envoy’s At Work: the 2022 workplace trends report (April edition), found that 77% of the 800 workplace leaders around the world surveyed have adopted a hybrid working model. While in theory, this model offers the best deal for both employees and employers, it can be emotionally exhausting for employees who have to juggle between maintaining two different workspaces.
As such, some employees might decide to move towards work-life integration instead.
Shifting towards work-life integration
As defined by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, work-life integration is “is an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define “life”: work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health”. This approach is meant to allow flexibility instead of strict boundaries between different aspects of life. An example of work-life integration is: breakfast with the family before dropping off the kids at school, work from 9am to noon, lunch and gym, attend a work meeting in the afternoon while folding clothes, pick up the kids and dinner, and respond to work emails for 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.
Employees are responsible for their own schedule
Work-life integration is the perfect deal for those who are able to shape their own workday as well as those juggling with kids or elderly parents. However, business leaders also have to recognise that with work-life integration, employees are responsible for their own schedule. While it may offer employees flexibility to take control of their work and personal lives, it is a double-edged sword. With an endless to-do list, people may be tempted to fill every part of their life with work without prioritising their health, family, and friends.
To help employees get the most out of work-life integration, organisations need to focus on creating an optimal environment for proper work-life integration. This could mean deep diving into individual employee’s needs and preferences in terms of work and personal arrangement, and providing the necessary tools and environment to help them thrive.
There is no one-size-fits-all
When work-life integration is solely dependent on employees’ own schedule, there is no one solution for each organisation or individual. This ambiguity may frustrate HR, who is used to having a set of clear people policies or standard operating procedures to govern and ensure fairness. That being said, HR, business leaders and employees can still work towards implementing a set of guidelines to help employees effectively manage work-life integration. This could mean fostering a high-trust workplace culture or coaching managers and leaders on effective team management and talent development – approaches to enable high productivity levels without the traditional workplace expectations.
Work-life integration is the future of work
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated some of the trends arising from the future of work and work-life integration is one of them. Work-life integration is seen as the new work-life balance, as organisations shift from the traditional 9 to 5 working hours, to hybrid or even fully remote working arrangements.
As with any organisational change arising from the future of work, this could also mean redefining and redesigning jobs that will allow maximum productivity and engaged employees. Capitalising on technology, such as collaboration platform, communication tools, can enable employees to transition and embrace work-life integration.
Creating the work-life integration experience
In order for work-life integration to fly, this needs to come from the top. Business leaders need to embrace and champion the culture of work-life integration in order to create that paradigm shift within managers and employees. At the same time, collaboration tools and support need to be consistently provided to employees to encourage seamless transition. These actions, though seemingly miniscule, will shape the future of their organisation drastically in the future of work.