Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Integration: Which Is Best?
Over the last decade or so, there has been a work-life balance vs work-life integration debate brewing everywhere from the classroom to the boardroom. The influx of new technologies and changing dynamics in the workplace has fundamentally altered the lives of all of us.
It makes us wonder if balance is even achievable? And if integration is the “new norm,” how can we do it in a way that makes us calmer and less stressed?
In this article, we’re going to look at a number of special considerations when considering whether you should work for balance or integration. But first, a couple of important questions.
What Is Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance is when you find time for work and you find time for recreation or personal obligations. The two are kept separate. You just make sure you’re able to address both.
There has been much talk of work-life balance since the 24-hour workplace came along thanks to smartphones, high-speed internet connections, and working remotely. To paraphrase the old song, it’s nice work if you can get it, but it’s becoming more difficult to pull off.
What Is Work-Life Integration?
Work-life integration is a different way of approaching your job. Instead of fighting the oftentimes losing battle of compartmentalizing your time, it allows you to live life while taking care of working obligations.
Work-life integration can go a long way in helping you to de-stress, but it’s also not always practical, and it may take some getting used to before you can truly reap the benefits. Before we answer the question posed in the headline of this post, let’s turn to some special considerations for each.
Moving forward, we’ll shorten the phrasing. WLB means “work-life balance.” WLI means “work-life integration.” As you’re about to see, they both have their advantages and their disadvantages.
The key question to keep in mind as you read through each of these is, what fits my personality better? It might not equate to one singular answer. That’s ultimately up for you to decide, but these considerations will help you arrive at a clearer answer.
Work-Life Balance Can Apply Unexpected Pressures
WLB can make you feel rushed and instill a sense of foreboding in your so-called “downtime.” These unexpected pressures might take the form of dreading something you know you have to do or remembering something you should have addressed while you’re “off.”
Most workplaces allow you to log in through a cloud-based system these days. The same is true for universities. You’re not necessarily beholdened to classroom and office hours. That said, the convenience may come at the cost of your peace of mind.
Work-Life Integration Can Make You Feel More At Ease
WLI, on the other hand, might make one feel as if they’re always “plugged in” to their productivity points. Individuals who buy into it are happy knowing they can jump in and take care of any obligation at any time.
There’s a certain degree of peace that comes with it. That’s especially true when you consider the fact that you could end up being completely caught up by 8 PM instead of having to wait until the end of the next day to close out a project.
In between, you’re able to address personal matters and family issues. The end result is being more accomplished and stressing less.
Work-Life Balance Helps You Unplug
People good at achieving WLB are able to truly unplug from the monotony of their work or study lives. This ability to “leave it at the office” allows them to truly connect to family and friends.
They’re able to focus on the fun things they’ve got planned, hobbies, video games, or even entrepreneurial side gigs. All this without having to worry about addressing urgent emails or text messages until the next morning.
Work-Life Integration Can Lead to Burnout
WLI, on the other hand, might lead to burnout if the individual trying to practice it is never able to break away and disconnect. It’s all about learning to manage the percentage of your thoughts that you give to the job or the project while you’re away from it.
If you’re still 100 percent in mentally from the time you go home to the moment your head hits the pillow at night, then WLI isn’t going to work as well for you. No, to truly make it work, you have to be able to step away, enjoy yourself, then check back in from time to time to see if anything else needs to be addressed.
Work-Life Balance Helps You Compartmentalize
Being able to compartmentalize your obligations is actually a strength if you’re still able to take care of business in the process. For those used to WLB who feel like you’re killing it, keep it up!
Compartmentalization means being able to pick up and let go of burdens from time to time. This prevents that whole feeling that your mind needs to be “on something else” when you’re trying to focus on another activity.
Work-Life Integration Can Help With Memory
WLI can actually help you to remember things you might otherwise forget. That’s because it frees you from the burdens of a ticking clock to some degree.
Instead of making a to-do list that you only address at one point throughout the day, you’re able to swoop in whenever a thought or obligation occurs to you and make a note to address it at your earliest convenience. Convenience is the keyword.
If you feel like getting to it at 7 PM that evening instead of waiting until the next day, that’s your option. But using a notes application that is cloud-based and accessible from your phone 24/7 will ensure that nothing slips your mind.
Work-Life Balance Can Be Beneficial to More Structured Personalities
For the WLB crew, structure is key. They need to have that time at the start of their day to list out their priorities. They need to make schedules for everything from study to work to playtime.
If that is you, then you might find it more beneficial to stick with what you know. Keep in mind, though, that the nature of technology and the increasing demands on your time are going to raise the possibility of being contacted outside of “office hours” anyway.
In those instances, it can lead to burnout more quickly. So, temper your need for structure around your reality. Don’t let your WLB be intruded by a professor or boss who thinks you should always be responsive to them.
Work-Life Integration Can Be Beneficial to Free Spirits
Those of us who work in a sort of stream of consciousness tend to see more benefits to the WLI lifestyle. That’s because it allows us to harness our most productive times of day, which might not necessarily be at the same time that the rest of the world thinks.
Do you do your best thinking while sitting in front of the television late at night? WLI means you can pause what you’re doing and jump to it without having to wait until morning. Additionally, you don’t feel like you’re getting cheated because your mind is likely to stray during “prime work hours,” allowing you to address personal issues.
How to Know Which Is Best
Answering the question of which is best wholly depends on the following factors: your personality type, outside demands, and specific situations. If you prefer the integration method, then make sure you pace yourself throughout the day.
Leave some time during office hours or study time to do what you want to do. Do it knowing that you may have to adjust later that evening for your work/school obligations.
Have an obligation that is time-sensitive? Address it right away. However, make a note to yourself to “pay it back” later. You can do this by allowing yourself some “downtime” when you otherwise would be working.
Lastly, realize that situations change. Sometimes work-life balance might be more doable than work-life integration, and vice versa. Play it by ear, and choose the path in the moment that makes you the least crazy.
Deciding Between Work-Life Balance vs Work-Life Integration Is Important to Your Well-Being
We hope this examination of the work-life balance vs work-life integration debate helps you realize that you don’t have to stress. Sometimes one will work better than the other, and that’s okay. It’s all about achieving the lifestyle design around your own work and study life that makes you happiest.
Now it’s your turn. Which method do you most prefer? Would you rather have balance or integration? Is it possible to have both? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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