Most people have heard the term “work-life balance,” but in recent years, the phrase “work-life integration” has been gaining popularity and given way to headlines such as “work-life balance is dead” and “work-life integration: the new norm.” Despite the growing popularity of work-life integration, is there really a difference between it and work-life balance?
According to Merriam-Webster.com the word “integrate” is defined as “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole.” Thereby concluding that work-life integration focuses on incorporating the different area’s of one’s life to create a whole picture.
Balance, on the other hand, has almost twice as many definitions on Merriam-Webster including, “stability produced by even distribution of weight on each side of the vertical axis”. Many people tend to focus on “the even distribution” part of the balance definition when discussing work-life balance. In fact, Berkeley Haas School Of Business notes the traditional image of a scale, an image often associated with work-life balance, “creates a sense of competition between the two elements.” Implying that the two worlds must exist on either side of the “vertical axis,” also known as the individual in this case.
Today the boundaries between one’s professional and personal life are constantly blurring. It is impractical to think of work-life balance as a complete separation between worlds. David Solomon, the global co-head of Goldman Sachs said, “today, technology means that we’re all available 24/7. And, because everyone demands instant gratification and instant connectivity, there are no boundaries, no breaks.”
Ron Ashkenas, a consultant and author, shares his experience with a conference call while on vacation, where each member of the call was on vacation as well, but no one thought to suggest rescheduling. The idea that a person’s work life and personal life will not intermingle is unrealistic today.
Jim Bird of WorkLifeBalance.com writes, “work-life balance does not mean an equal balance.” In fact, he notes that few people have found a single definition for the concept of work-life balance.
Work-life integration and work-life balance seem to be the same thing, just rooted in different semantics. Jae Ellard, founder of Simple Intentions, shares,
“It doesn’t matter what we call ‘work-life balance’ because there is no such thing. Call it work-life harmony, integration, flexibility, flow, work-life fill-in-the-blank.”
Over the last eight years, Ellard has spoken with thousands of people across 50 countries and she has found, “that most people share a simple and similar desire to create easy joy and meaningful engagement between the interconnected roles, relationships and responsibilities that make up their lives. And this is what they mean when they talk about work-life balance.”
The world does not need another term to discuss the same concept of creating a meaningful existence where enjoyment exists amongst all areas of an individual’s life. Instead, the Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers need to join the millennials on blending the different areas of their lives.
Today work-life balance focuses on the two worlds co-existing together.
For instance, it’s possible to go to your child’s sports meeting rather than staying in the office, because you can check e-mails between innings or finally take that dream vacation you’ve been dying for while conferencing into the daily meeting.
Balance means that you find the equal distribution between the various areas of your life to support you. Balance is not rooted in the amount of time you directly giving to one specific area compared to another; but rather the value you are gaining from each area to create counter-balance to create a fulfilling life. By that definition, there is no difference between work-life balance and integration since all parts are blending together and working towards a greater quality of life.