Work is a part of life. But most people don’t want work to be their entire life; they want time and energy to devote to their job and to their personal life—like their family, hobbies, and personal responsibilities. And generally, there are two ways to achieve that scenario—work-life balance or work-life integration.
Work-life balance and work-life integration can both create space for your work and your personal life—without one overtaking the other. But each takes a very different path to get there.
So, the question is, in terms of getting everything you want from your work and your life, which holds more benefits—work-life balance or work-life integration?
What Is The Difference Between Work-Life Balance And Work-Life Integration?
First things first. Before we jump into the benefits of work-life balance vs. work-life integration, let’s quickly cover the difference between the two.
Work-life balance is about creating clear, firm boundaries between your work and your life. “Work-life balance is focused on keeping life and work separate,” says Michelle Burke, well-being and leadership coach and founder and CEO of Energy Catalyst Group, a consulting, coaching, and training company for well-being. “[The concept of work-life balance] has more structure and is more familiar to most.”
So, for example, if you subscribe to the work-life balance model, you might set aside certain blocks of time every day for work (like 9am to 12pm and 1pm to 6pm). During those time blocks, you would focus on work—and only work. But outside of those work hours, you would disconnect and fully engage with your personal life—no late-night project work or checking your emails first thing in the morning.
Work-life integration, however, blurs the line between work and life. “Work-life integration focuses on blending both personal and professional responsibilities,” says Burke. “Rather than drawing lines between ‘personal time’ and ‘work time,’ employees choose when to tackle their responsibilities at the times that work best for them.”
If you’re embracing the work-life integration model, you’re free to tackle personal tasks during work hours—and vice versa. So, for example, you might spend time doing laundry while taking a conference call or shoot off a few emails while you’re waiting for your kids to finish up soccer practice.
Which Holds More Benefits?
Work-life balance creates separation between your work life and your home life—while work-life integration blends the two. So, the question is, which model holds more benefits?
And the answer is—it depends.
“Neither one of these perspectives holds more benefit across the board because people are different and have different needs,” says time management and productivity coach Alexis Haselberger.
The model that will hold the most benefits will vary from person to person. But generally, people fall into one of two categories—and which category they fall in will determine whether work-life balance or work-life integration feels like a better fit.
“Some people—those we call ‘segmentors’—prefer much stronger boundaries between work and the rest of life,” says Haselberger. “They fear that, without strong time and space boundaries, one side will take over the other…eliminating the balance they seek.” These are the people that do well pursuing work-life balance.
“Some people—those we call ‘integrators’—much prefer fluid or porous boundaries between work and home,” says Haselberger. “They're comfortable switching back and forth and require fewer boundaries in the form of space or time [between work and life].” These are the people that thrive structuring their time with the work-life integration model.
If you’re not sure which camp you fit into, “a good question to ask yourself is, ‘Do I feel better when I have stronger boundaries between work and home?,’” says Haselberger. If the answer is yes, chances are you’d respond well to the firm boundaries involved in the work-life balance model. If the answer is no—and you prefer more flexibility and fluidity between your work and your life—you’d probably connect better with work-life integration.
Benefits Of Work-Life Balance vs. Benefits Of Work-Life Integration
You know what work-life balance and work-life integration entail. You know what kind of people tend to gravitate towards either model. Now, let’s jump into the benefits of each.
Benefits Of Work-Life Balance
One of the major benefits of work-life balance is that it allows you to devote your full attention to your work or your life at any given time.
So, when you’re at work, you’re really at work; you’re not thinking about the things that you need to get done around the house or trying to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store in between meetings—which can help you be more effective and productive.
And then, when you’re done with work, you’re really done; you can spend time with your loved ones or pursue a hobby or settle in on the couch for a Netflix marathon without being distracted by emails or tomorrow’s deadline—which can help you feel less stressed, more present, and more engaged with your life.
Embracing the work-life balance model can also help you better gauge whether things actually are in balance—or whether work is taking up too much time and energy and infringing on your personal life (or vice versa).
“One of the benefits of a work-life balance perspective is that it may be easier to measure [the balance between the two] because the activities of life and work are separated,” says Haselberger. “This can make it easier to see how much time is being spent on each area, and whether that aligns with your goals.”
Benefits Of Work-Life Integration
One of the major benefits of the work-life integration model is how flexible it is.
“The greatest benefit for work-life integration is flexibility,” says Burke. “The increased flexibility that work-life integration provides allows employees to coordinate their schedules and responsibilities in a more productive way.”
Work-life integration allows you to get when you need done, when you need it done—regardless of whether and where it falls within the work day. So, if you want to take a conference call while you’re cooking dinner, catch up on emails during your evening TV time, or have your children hang out in your office during their spring break, you have the flexibility to do so—which can make it easier to juggle work responsibilities and life responsibilities without anything getting lost in the shuffle.
Another major benefit of the work-life integration model is that, for many people—particularly people that work from home—integrating their work and life isn’t a choice. So, in many ways, people who embrace the work-life integration model may be better equipped to succeed in today’s increasingly remote and/or hybrid work environment.
“During the pandemic, we've all had to be integrators—whether we liked it or not,” says Haselberger. “So those folks who were already comfortable with a melding of work and personal lives may have had less trouble adapting to our current environment.”
Work-Life Balance Or Work-Life Integration—Decide What Works Best For You
Bottom line? When it comes to work-life balance vs. work-life integration, neither holds more benefits than the other; it’s all about which model works best for you—and which gives you the work experience (and life experience!) that you’re looking for.
“The purpose of choosing one or the other is to find a sense of harmony [between your work and your life],” says Burke. “Whichever option you choose, remember that the purpose is to help you lower stress, become more efficient, and increase your personal well-being.”
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