What Is the Difference Between Work-Life Integration and Work-Life Balance?

Work-life integration provides a balancing of all of our life’s necessities — personal time, family life, work, community, and more.

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Hispanic Mother And Daughter Using Laptop In Home Office Together

Almost everyone has heard of the term “work-life balance” and understands the value of it. This is especially true after the COVID-19 pandemic upended the world and introduced new levels of anxiety to everyone’s life.

But what about work-life integration? Perhaps it’s a brand new term for you. Or, you’ve heard of it but aren’t quite sure what it means or how it differs from work-life balance (if at all?!). In either case, here’s a crash course on the basics of both work-life balance, work-life integration, and the difference between the two.

What is work-life balance?

In recent years work-life balance has been a hot topic and highly touted benefit at companies big and small around the world.

Thanks in large part to the demands on the workplace that Millennials brought, the notion of striking a healthy balance between work and personal life (aka the definition of work-life balance) has become practically commonplace in the modern workplace.

The benefits of a healthy work-life balance have also been well studied and documented in recent years, from playing a role in reducing stress to keeping burnout at bay and contributing to general well-being.

What is work-life integration?

Work-life integration is thought of as taking all of the elements of life — personal time, family life, work, community, health, well-being, and more — into consideration.

Lately, though, there have been challenges to the notion that work and personal life should have a balance. Critics say that work-life balance relies on an inherent and binary opposition between work and personal life. That’s where work-life integration comes in.

Work-live integration is seen as a more harmonious and synergistic approach to tackling life as a whole; which, unless you’re a member of the ultra-rich, naturally includes working for the vast majority of your adult life. Work-life integration is thought of as taking all of the elements of life — personal time, family life, work, community, health, well-being, and more — into consideration. This ultimately creates a more considered approach to the delicate balancing we do of all of our life’s necessities, not just work and personal life.

Work-life integration makes more sense in an increasingly digital and remote work world. Many people who work from home get it. You might start your day answering a few emails before getting kids off to school. You might work for a few hours then take a break to run errands in the afternoon. Then, you might work a little more before picking kids up from school and also spend some time later at night addressing emails and the like.

The whole idea of work-life integration is that there aren’t hard lines between work and the rest of life — that it’s more about pivoting between demands throughout the day rather than relegating personal time and activities only to the hours outside of 9 to 5.

What is the difference between work-life balance and work life-integration?

While the difference between work-life balance and work-life integration is largely one of nuance, the central difference is that work-life balance provides more of a hard division between work and personal life while work-life integration provides more of a blurred and blended approach to meeting the various demands of our daily lives.

Work-life balance provides more of a hard division between work and personal life while work-life integration provides more of a blurred and blended approach to meeting the various demands of our daily lives.

That said, there’s no best approach. Some people prefer to maintain a stark balance between work and personal life. Some jobs, especially those that rely on shift work, naturally lend themselves to more of a work-life balance approach. For these jobs, you’re either on the clock or you’re not.

Computer and knowledge-based jobs that workers can do from practically anywhere, though, offer more of an opportunity for integration for those who prefer it. Again, even with remote jobs, some prefer to maintain strict working hours. Others prefer to blend personal and work tasks throughout the day and a work-life integration approach likely works better for them.

There are, of course, drawbacks to each approach. Without a clear sense of prioritization, work-life integration can quickly become messy depending on which tasks feel most urgent.

On the other hand, if the work that you do naturally ebbs and flows or has demands that fall outside of traditional working hours, a stark contrast between time spent working and time spent not working could lead to things falling through the cracks.

At the end of the day, it’s all about what makes the most sense for your small business and your employees.

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