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Life-Work Integration: A Play on Words or the Remedy to Striving for Balance?

For years we’ve heard the term work-life balance used to describe a perfect experience between life and work demands. More recently the expression “work-life integration” has taken center stage as the better approach. What if an answer is actually “Life-Work” integration?

According to Mental Health America, 18.57% of adults are experiencing a mental health illness, equivalent to 45 million Americans. The time is now that we integrate work and life experiences into the workplace.

Balance Vs Integration: What’s the Difference?

Is there really a difference between balance and integration? If so, what is it?  According to the dictionary, the word balance means equal distribution of weight or the state of equilibrium. In contrast, integration means the act or instance of combining into an integral or harmonious whole.

Founder and CEO of Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington, and Jen Fisher, Chief Well-being Officer at Deloitte, introduce the notion of  life-work integration in their article “Now Is the Time for ‘Life-Work Integration’“. The authors assert that “life-work integration starts with asking ourselves what our non-negotiables are, what are the things in our lives that are critical components of who we are and who we want to be.”

How Do We Achieve Balance Between Life and Work?

Because day-to-day experiences in our lives involve situations largely out of our control, would it even make sense to continue striving for balance? Like me, you’ve probably tried to come up with a perfect formula for work-life balance—40% work; 40% life; 10% everything else. Or maybe 50% work; and 50% life. Regardless of the mathematical equation, you still left work feeling unbalanced and unfilled.  Why is that?

Huffington and Fisher state, “The truth is that work and life are on the same side, so they don’t need to be balanced. They rise and fall together—increase your life’s overall well-being and you’ll also be more effective at work.”  They also note that life-work integration is about well-being as a set of guiding principles that we can design our day around. So, what guiding principles for workplace well-being will you design your life around?

Why We Must Encourage Wellness at Work

As a supervisor you’ll want to know how your organization prioritizes wellness for its employees and what health and wellness programs are available. The results of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Federal Work-Life Survey provides key insights about what programs are available in federal government. This report informs how agencies promote work-life integration and reveals whether engagement in these programs had a positive impact on the federal workforce.

Findings from this 2018 survey report show that employees who participated in work place flexibilities (e.g., telework, work schedule flexibilities, Employee Assistance Programs [EAP], Family and Dependent Care Programs, and Worksite Health and Wellness Programs) were more likely to exceed performance standards, made a positive impact in their organizations, and reported a high-level of satisfaction with their jobs (75% to 79%). Eighty-three percent of employees surveyed reported eliminating work-life conflicts as a future need and focus area.

Another positive outcome was that 96% of employees said they are willing to participate in work-life programs available to them. Thus, knowledge of what is available is key!

Given the outcome of OPM’s survey, it is clear that leaders must inform and encourage their teams to explore a range of work-life wellness options offered by their organizations. And most importantly, managers need to show support for an employee’s participation in such programs to help them experience life-work integration.

How to Promote “Life-Work” Integration through Inclusion and Support

The pandemic and the great work reshuffle have taught us the importance of talking about wellness and mental health at work. Some leaders are reluctant to talk openly about mental health because they want to avoid bringing personal issues into the workplace. But the reality is its unavoidable. To better equip yourself to build a more inclusive and support work environment, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start by having honest conversations about your needs and challenges. Ask the tough questions. Ensure diverse voices are included in these conversations.
  2. Create Psychological Safety at Work. Much of the research around psychological safety and organizational culture stresses the importance of inclusion at work.  This Govloop toolkit provides tips for prioritizing psychological safety as a foundational ingredient of workplace and personal wellness.
  3. Show support for your employees’ engagement in wellness activities.  

An article about work-life integration and remote work suggests that leaders:

  • Promote wellness programs for employees
  • Reward and recognize their efforts to boost employee morale
  • Create a flexible work environment
  • Be more inclusive as a culture
  • Give and take feedback to improve organizational health

Whether you believe integration is the remedy to your struggles for balance in life and work, one thing is for certain: Having support is a catalyst.

What are some ways you can support others’ life-work integration in your workplace?

Kima Tozay is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and subject matter expert (SME) on counseling and advocacy programs in her current role. Her government career spans 15 years, starting in the Navy. Kima completed her Masters in Social Work degree from the University of Washington and has held positions with the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) and the ArmyKima is passionate about Diversity and Inclusion workplace issues. She earned a certificate from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business in Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion for Organizational Success. She also holds certifications in Executive Leadership and Women in Leadership Programs. You can connect with Kima on LinkedIn.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected].

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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