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

Work life integration can give workers the flexibility to balance all of life’s necessities — personal time, family life, work, community, and more.

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Almost everyone has heard of the term “work life balance” and understands its value. 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 it but aren’t quite sure what it means or how it differs from work life balance (if at all?!).

Work life balance and work life integration essentially strive for the same end game. The philosophy you choose will depend upon several factors. The demands of your personal life and the ways you separate your personal life and your work life will lead you to a choice.

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. Companies big and small say they encourage it.

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 well established.

Human resources departments have paid particular attention to work life balance concepts. As a result, they have actively integrated new ways to promote the well being of their employees. Their initiatives include flexible work hours and vacation days. They also have installed self care benefits like gym memberships and free yoga classes to help employees stay fit and healthy.

The benefits of a healthy work life balance have been well studied and documented in recent years.  The results show that it plays a role in reducing stress, helps keep burnout at bay and contributes to general well-being.

However, in our tech-centric lifestyles, remote work is becoming the norm rather than the exception. More and more employers realize work and life aren’t exactly separate entities anymore. There’s no longer a clear-cut line.

This means employers may want to begin to brainstorm new strategies to keep employees productive, happy, and well.

What is work life integration?

Work life integration involves weighing all of the elements — personal time, family life, work, community, health, well-being, and more.

In fact, people have challenged the idea that work and personal life should have a balance. Critics say that work-life balance relies on a simplistic notion of work and personal life. That’s where work life integration comes in.

A work-life integration approach is seen as a more harmonious and synergistic way to tackle life as a whole. Work life integration involves weighing all of the elements — personal time, family life, work, community, health, well-being, and more. This ultimately creates a more considered approach to the delicate balancing we do of all of our needs, not just work and personal life.

Essentially, it necessitates an entirely different approach that doesn’t focus as much on firm boundaries, but instead emphasizes spending time appropriately on both work and home lives.

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 the kids off to school. You work for a few hours and take a break in the afternoon to run errands. Then, you might work a little more before picking the kids up from school. Finally, you spend some time later at night addressing emails and the like.

A flexible schedule plays a huge role in helping people to achieve work life integration, enabling them to manage all areas of life.

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

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

The difference between work life balance and work life integration is largely one of nuance, but the key factor is that work life balance places a hard division between work and personal life while work life integration involves a blurred and blended approach to meeting the demands of daily life.

Some people prefer to maintain a sharp distinction 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. You have a designated lunch break at one specific time, and there is no give and take about when work meetings occur.

Computer and knowledge-based jobs that workers can do from practically anywhere, though, offer more of an opportunity for integration. Again, even with remote jobs, some prefer to maintain strict working hours.

For those who are comfortable with blending personal and work tasks throughout the day, or have no choice but to do that, a work life integration approach will likely work better. They can organize time and tasks flexibly to accommodate their working hours with other healthy habits to maintain a solid equilibrium.

There are, of course, drawbacks to each approach. Without a clear sense of prioritization, work life integration can quickly become messy.

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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