With more companies sticking with remote and hybrid work environments, many U.S. employees struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance1. Working from home can fuse many aspects of employees’ personal and professional lives, making it difficult to find a true balance that doesn’t result in burnout.
As company cultures work to adapt to these new challenges, employers and employees have begun focusing on a new concept: work-life integration. For many organizations, work-life integration offers a more realistic approach to how we now work. This explains why it’s rising in popularity over work-life balance.
In this article, we’ll explain what work-life integration is, its pros and cons, how it differs from work-life balance, and how you can create a culture of work-life integration at your company.
What is work-life integration?
Work-life integration is the practice of allowing employees to coordinate their personal and professional lives in a complementary way and fulfill both sets of responsibilities. It involves enabling employees to organize work schedules, environments, and tasks so they can also complete any personal obligations they may have throughout the day.
The following are some examples of work-life integration:
- Leaving the office early for a doctor’s appointment and then finishing an incomplete project at home
- Attending a conference call from the car on the way to pick up a child from school
- Catching up on work after running errands in the morning
- Taking a break to exercise or go for a walk during a lunch break
- Working from the airport while waiting to board a flight for a trip
- Caring for a child or loved one while working from home
Work-life integration creates flow and harmony between all aspects of an employee’s life. Instead of separating work and home, responsibilities get done when they need to according to the schedule that fits the employee best. This flexible approach to working can result in greater productivity, job satisfaction, and employee engagement.
How does work-life integration differ from work-life balance?
While work-life balance and work-life integration both strive to improve the coordination of work and personal life for employees, the two practices differ.
Work-life balance is a way for employees to separate their professional and personal lives in a healthy and balanced way. Employees complete work during specific shifts or work hours. Outside of work hours, they focus on other aspects of their life. This distinct separation allows employees to fully engage while at work without feeling burnt out or constantly “on the clock.”
On the other hand, work-life integration combines an employee’s personal and professional lives so all tasks get done when needed. Employees can choose when to do their work and other obligations as long as they complete their job responsibilities on time. Rather than keep work and personal duties apart, employees can find the best way to merge them.
Essentially, work-life balance separates an individual’s work and personal lives by creating firm boundaries. In contrast, work-life integration brings both aspects together so work and personal activities can simultaneously occur throughout the day.
What are the advantages of work-life integration?
New concepts can be daunting to introduce into a workplace, and some employers may wonder if work-life integration is suitable for their organization. Fortunately, work-life integration has many advantages for employers and employees alike.
A few benefits of work-life integration are:
- It reduces stress: Trying to achieve a healthy work-life balance can be stressful. Finding time to work while considering personal responsibilities can quickly become mentally exhausting for many employees. Work-life integration allows employees to work for a while and then pause to accomplish other tasks or have quality time with family. This greatly reduces the stress of choosing between the two.
- It boosts productivity: When employees can choose their own schedules, they feel empowered, trusted by leadership, and more confident—all of which can result in increased productivity. According to a Gartner survey2, 43% of workers said flexible schedules improved productivity. Greater productivity can also produce a higher quality of work, making your company more profitable3.
- It’s flexible: A significant advantage of work-life integration is its flexibility. Employees can prioritize their work and daily life without choosing one over the other. Employees can organize their day as they like, giving them greater control. Even better, a recent study4 found that a sense of control, or the ability to influence your environment and outcome, correlates with improved mental and physical health.
- It improves retention: Employees will stay at your company for the long run when they feel appreciated and set up for success. With work-life integration, you show your employees that you trust them enough to work the way that’s best for them. This improves morale, engagement, and job satisfaction—factors that play a big part in retaining employees and making your company culture more attractive to job seekers.
What are the biggest challenges of work-life integration?
While work-life integration has several advantages, it does come with potential challenges.
Some obstacles of work-life integration are:
- It may encourage employees to work more: Employees who have blended their work and personal lives may have difficulty disconnecting. Everyone needs to rest and recharge. But the ability to work from anywhere at any time may make some employees feel like they should be working more often. Overworking to this extreme can lead to burnout, reduced productivity, and higher stress levels.
- It may not be suitable for all workers: Individuals with strict schedules, whether it’s a set work shift, specific industry obligations, or rigid family responsibilities, may not do well with work-life integration. These situations may not allow for true integration or even a healthy balance. For example, employees who work fully in-office or in a setting like a hospital may find it harder to take breaks to tend to personal issues. Therefore, work-life integration may not work well for employees who don’t work a remote or hybrid schedule.
- It may blur boundary lines: Integrating life and professional responsibilities may create boundary issues for some employees. While work-life balance prioritizes boundaries, integration can cause some individuals not to know when to put work away. Coworkers may reach out at any time of the day, and employees may feel compelled to respond. That’s why establishing clear boundaries with work-life integration is vital.
- It may require more planning: Combining work and home life requires a solid plan to succeed. Employees must prepare work and personal schedules in advance, divide their time appropriately, juggle multiple tasks, complete all responsibilities, and have the support of their manager and family. Employees who don’t want to be this disciplined may opt for a traditional work schedule or strive for work-life balance instead.
How you can cultivate work-life integration at your organization
Many employers are familiar with how to promote work-life balance. But if you’re looking to shift to a culture of work-life integration, it may be confusing where to start. Below are five ways to create an environment prioritizing work-life integration at your company.
1. Survey your employees
To support your employees with work-life integration, you must identify their needs. This way, you’ll understand their ideal work hours, preferred work environment, how they best communicate, general family or caregiver responsibilities, and more.
You can ask these questions to new hires during the onboarding process. You can also leverage your HR team to survey current employees to get their feedback. Once you receive the survey results, you can implement a formal work-life integration strategy.
Be sure to add leadership and business objectives into the strategy. Set clear guidelines on how flex schedules will work, how you’ll measure performance, and how you’ll determine productivity levels. For employees to succeed, they must know what you expect of them as they coordinate their work and personal lives.
2. Offer customizable employee perks
Another way to support your employees both in and outside the workplace is by offering personalized benefits. Not only do various perks attract and retain employees, but they help your employees better manage many aspects of their overall life.
In contrast to traditional benefits, customized perks support the needs of diverse workforces. Your employees can participate in the benefits that work best for their individual needs and take advantage of unique perks that other companies may not offer.
For instance, a remote technology company implemented a four-day workweek in 2020. Currently, 91% of their employees say they’re happier and more productive than before3.
Some fringe benefits you can offer to support work-life integration include:
- Professional development opportunities
- Flexible work schedules
- Childcare or eldercare benefits
- Fertility benefits
- Commuter benefits
- Personalized health benefits, like health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), health savings accounts (HSAs), or flexible spending accounts (FSAs)
- Lifestyle spending accounts (LSAs)
- Paid time off (PTO)
- Pet insurance
- Meal allowances
- A variety of stipends, like wellness, remote work, travel, and technology stipends
- Tuition reimbursement and education assistance
3. Encourage flexible work environments and schedules
Work-life integration is most successful when employees have flexible working hours and environments. Encourage them to choose the work hours that are best for them to create high-quality work and still have time to achieve personal goals.
Think of work-life integration as an elevated version of work-life balance. Employees need the freedom to define what balance means to them. As an employer, support your employees as they determine how to schedule their day. Remember to motivate them to take short breaks throughout the day to avoid burnout and allow for changes as they acclimate to integration.
Most importantly, don’t focus on the number of hours worked. With work-life integration, judging employees by their results, performance, and productivity is better.
4. Use modern tools and technology
For employees to be successful working outside the office, they need the right tools to be productive and communicate with their team. Certain tasks may require collaboration and organization. Projects like these are easier to complete from home or a mobile device with proper technology.
The right tools and software should be reliable and functional enough to support employees no matter where or when they work. For example, project management tools6, like Trello, ClickUp, and Asana, can keep teams on track and leaders up to date on tasks.
Work-life integration means employees will work at different times of the day. You should encourage asynchronous communication. It gives workers time to focus on tasks without distractions or feeling obligated to respond to non-emergency messages immediately. This will reduce stress and increase productivity and performance.
5. Lead by example
Employees take their cues from their leaders. If you want work-life integration to be successful at your company, show your employees that you also follow the method. When employees see their managers integrate work with their personal lives, they’re likelier to try it. It tells them you support the strategy and won’t judge them for following suit.
If you and your managers have flex schedules, take breaks throughout the day and schedule time for personal activities. Let your employees know about your schedule. It might encourage them to do the same if they were hesitant before. Additionally, having a company culture where leaders participate in the same teambuilding activities their employees do creates a more inclusive and positive workplace overall.
The workplace is an ever-changing environment. As much as we may want it, striking the perfect balance between work and personal time isn’t always possible. However, work-life integration is a way to give employees the flexibility and freedom to work the way that’s best for them—so they don't compromise their work or personal lives.
While it may be a relatively new concept, work-life integration can improve morale, increase job satisfaction, and boost retention. And whether employees are at home or work, they can use personalized employee benefits to make their lives even easier. If you want to revamp your benefits package, contact us at PeopleKeep, and we’ll get you on your way!