After a year in lockdown, some of us have found ways to make working from home as positive an experience as possible. However, there are quite a lot of us who are still trying to achieve the ever-elusive work-life balance — a task that’s gotten much more challenging now that the lines between our professional and personal lives have been blurred. This is why psychologist Dr. Gia Sison recommends striving not for work-life balance per se, but work-life integration instead.
How do I stop work from taking over my life?
At a TELUS-hosted event entitled “Squeeze the Day”, Dr. Gia Sison pointed out that many women are struggling to cope in our new normal. According to a 2020 study conducted by CARE, women are almost three times as likely as men to report suffering from mental health issues, such as anxiety, appetite loss, inability to sleep, and trouble carrying out everyday tasks.
These mental health issues are often complex and can be the result of many stressors — both from our professional and personal lives. “Mental health problems are complex, so we cannot totally separate work and personal life,” says Dr. Sison. Though this is especially true in women, who often do all the heavy lifting when it comes to family obligations, all professionals can benefit from work-life integration.
But what exactly is work/life integration?
Simply put, work-life integration is an approach that brings work and personal life closer together instead of creating hard boundaries between these different areas.
So what’s the difference between work/life balance and work-life integration?
While work-life balance is focused on compartmentalizing “work time” and “personal time”, work-life integration brings the personal and professional closer together. While people who practice work-life balance make it a point to stop work-related activities after they clock out, people who practice work-life integration are a little more flexible. They see each activity as part of a whole, so they schedule tasks organically instead of sticking to a strict 9 to 5.
For instance, someone who practices work-life integration could do chores in the morning, work from 8 to 11 am, cook and eat lunch, go to meetings, spend time with their kids, make dinner, then check emails before going for an evening run.
The pros of work-life integration
Work-life integration is ideal for people who have the freedom to work at their own pace. It can give you the freedom to juggle tasks like childcare and household chores whenever it’s needed without compromising your work ethic.
This approach frees us from the mindset of having to sacrifice professional success for your personal needs, and vice versa. Though it’s impossible to squeeze everything into a single day, work-life integration lets you get creative and think of new solutions to cater to every area of our lives.
Why work-life integration isn’t for everyone
Because work responsibilities often feel more urgent than our day-to-day needs, it’s easy to slip into bad habits and let work take over your life without prioritizing your personal life. Unless you intentionally make it a point to pay attention to your personal needs, you might end up integrating more work into your entire life without integrating you and your family’s needs into your everyday routine.
How to make work-life integration work for you
How do you balance it all without compartmentalizing? According to Dr. Sison, it’s all about knowing your priorities. “We have to know what we value,” she says. We can’t dedicate our energy to everything, but choose what we can focus on. “Out of the 10 tasks on your to-do list, what’s your top two or three? This will change based on the state you’re in now, and it may change tomorrow. We have to realize that this is dynamic.”
Is work-life integration right for you?
Even though individuals may want to try work-life integration, the reality is it just isn’t possible for everyone. Those who work with a rigid schedule or have very specific obligations at home simply just don’t have the flexibility to juggle their personal and professional obligations throughout the day. Ultimately, you need a workplace culture that supports work-life integration, as well as a family structure that would allow you to have this kind of flexibility.
Don’t expect amazing results overnight
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to striking the right balance between work and personal life. What could work for a friend or colleague may not work for you. In fact, what may have worked for you last year may not be the best solution today.
If you want to make the shift to work-life integration, don’t expect amazing results overnight. Shifting your mindset will take some time, and it’s best to make small shifts over a long period of time rather than completely overhauling your schedule. For instance, you could try squeezing in some exercise in the afternoon. Give yourself some leeway to figure out what works for you and you might just end up with a schedule that will finally let you have it all.
Do you practice work-life integration?