Is work-life integration the future of work?


Life was different back in 2019 for many of us.

Logging off work meant that your workday ended, and you're entering a different part of your life which was about yourself, your relationships, your hobbies, etc.

For many people who work remotely, the pandemic intertwined their lives with their work so much so that it was challenging to draw lines between them.

Ergo, an old idea that pre-dated the pandemic came to the forefront, called work-life integration.

What is work-life integration?

Work-life integration is a powerful shift for both the organization and the employee. So let's define work-life integration.

Centered around the belief that there is nothing that separates your work and life outside it, work-life integration is about blending both personal and professional responsibilities and arriving at an ideal/harmonical compromise.

For example, if you need to both read about a specific topic and head to the gym, you convert posts or books about that topic into an audiobook and listen to it while working out.

Other examples could be doing laundry while attending a conference call or listening to music while preparing slide designs, etc.

While the narrative around this has been pushed mainly by large corporations, off-late, there has been decent buy-in from the average professional.

But all is not rosy when it comes to work-life integration, and it is becoming eerily clear that not having clear boundaries will lower your output in the long term.

Work-life balance vs. Work-life integration

Work-life balance was part of the corporate stress management vocabulary and dealt with achieving equilibrium between professional and personal responsibilities.

Work-life balance and work-life integration are not the same. While work-life integration focuses on blending work and personal responsibilities to achieve the ideal compromise, work-life balance emphasizes creating a thriving life by keeping work and life separately yet co-existing.

Work-life balance is about these parts co-existing separately and not letting one part stop you from thriving in the other.

If you have to choose between work-life balance and work-life integrations, here are some tips that will help:

  1. The work-life balance is for you if you lose your productive edge when there are occasional interruptions to your work hours.
  2. If you don't mind interruptions during your work hours but blocking out time for distinct parts of your life is hard, then work-life integration might suit you better.
  3. Does context switching make you significantly unproductive? Then choose work-life balance.
  4. If context switching is not a big problem and you find it easier to plug in and complete different tasks or activities during your breaks, then work-life integration might work for you.

Advantages & dis-advantages of work-life integration

Like most theories around helping our professional and personal duties co-exist, work-life integration also has advantages and disadvantages.

The main and possibly the only advantage of work-life integration is that work and life no longer have to compete, and they are now viewed through the lens of synergy as opposed to competition.

As far as disadvantages are concerned, they include degrading the quality of your work, work-life becoming an intrusive part of your personal space, productivity guilt pushing you to overcompensate against personal life, and constant interruptions resulting in lack of flow, etc.

Concluding thoughts on work-life integration

While it has come into prominence in the last few years, softening boundaries is not a good one, especially while it is being dealt with by people who are prone to overcompensating.

Blending two parts of your life with significantly less overlap is less productive and not optimal from a quality perspective. By mixing the two, the likelihood of both parts of your life deteriorating is much higher than them improving.

Not to say that work-life integration is all bad, but it has to be wielded with enough caution and adopted only after a thorough risk-reward analysis.

Thanks for reading.