‘Finding work-life balance’ is currently the gold standard for people who want to lead a healthy life at both work and home. But is work-life balance really the best we can do? We’ll be the first to admit we’ve talked a lot about work-life balance and how to achieve it. We stand by a lot of the advice we’ve shared, but perhaps the end goal was a little off the mark.
The truth is for many people – especially women who shoulder the bulk of responsibility for household upkeep and childcare – work-life balance is an unachievable goal. For one, there’s no such thing as a perfect balance. Some weeks your work will need more attention, others your personal life will be your focus. Second, work-life balance often implies working is the enemy of tending to your personal life. But life isn’t so black and white. Work isn’t inherently bad, and spending time at home isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. You can derive immense satisfaction from your work, completing a big project, or spending time with coworkers. You can also be fulfilled by spending time with your family, going out for a drink, or heading out on a run. Or maybe fulfillment for you is a combination of the two. Everyone is unique and their idea of a fulfilling life is too.
Instead of work-life balance, perhaps it’s time we started thinking about work-life integration and shifting between the two in a more organic way that makes sense for each of us.
forget the 9 to 5 mentality
The days of the 9 to 5, 8-hour workday are long gone. Even if you technically work an 8-hour day, we’re willing to bet that those boundaries are often crossed. Whether it’s staying late to get a task off your plate, checking emails after hours, or responding to IMs over lunch, the divisions between work and personal time are often blurred. And that’s okay. Our lives don’t neatly fit into ‘work’ and ‘personal’ boxes. A healthy and fulfilling life requires flexibility and the ability to adapt depending on what needs your mental attention at the moment. While there are certainly times work and personal commitments will be your sole focus, there are also times when they bleed into one another.
Of course, it goes both ways. If work-life integration means it’s okay for work to creep into your personal time, it also means personal time sometimes takes priority over work. Maybe you need to head home early to pick up a sick kid. Or take a break from your computer screen and grab a coffee to socialize with a coworker. Maybe you work from home because you’ve got an afternoon dentist appointment. Or take a quick break from work to respond to a text from a friend. The point is: trying to keep work and life separate but equal is sometimes more challenging than simply recognizing that there are times they overlap.
tap into your weekend potential
We know what you’re thinking: why would anyone give up their work-free weekend time? But hear us out! We’re not suggesting a 7-day work week – far from it. However, the idea of classifying weekdays as strictly work time and weekends as strictly personal time comes with problems of its own. In today’s constantly connected workplaces, work follows us everywhere and doesn’t stop just because it’s the weekend (and the same goes for our personal lives; our phones give us a direct line into personal lives while working.) Many people experience the ‘Sunday Scaries’ – or that feeling of dread and anxiety that settles in on Sunday evening because you know Monday is coming and you’ll be heading back to work where a pile of emails and a long to-do list await.
For most of us, it’s difficult to shut off work-mode completely, even when we’re not at work. It’s a constant thought hovering in the back of your mind. You’re constantly dropping mental reminders for yourself: ‘on Monday, I need to remember to update this,’ ‘oh, I forgot to send that email,’ or ‘I need to get back to my boss about that report.’ In our struggle to keep work and life separate we often push all those little mental notes to the back of our minds, where they become an anxious low-level hum. Work-life integration aims to break down this strict division of work and life. If it’s the weekend and you’ve remembered something important you need to do… will it make you feel better to do it right now and get it off your mind? We think it just might. When you get work out of your system, you’re free to be more mentally present during your personal time.
surround yourself with a great team
Having a team of coworkers who you respect, trust, and enjoy working with is a key part of bridging the work-life balance gap. The fact of the matter is many of us spend a lot of our waking hours with coworkers – probably almost as much, if not more than we spend at home. Look for supportive coworkers and empathetic leaders who recognize that work and personal lives often overlap. A flexible workplace that allows employees the freedom to tend to all parts of their lives as needed is a healthier one.
If you keep things strictly about business at work, you’re missing out on opportunities to connect with your coworkers and build rich relationships built on more than just churning out the latest project. Your coworkers are your support system in your workplace. You should be able to talk and socialize with them – a happy, productive workplace requires moments of laughter, socialization and putting work to the side to build your team dynamic. Your coworkers are the ones, more than anyone in your personal life, who truly understand what you’re going through at work. When you need extra support at work so you can focus on your personal life, your coworkers will be the ones who will be there to pick up some slack and hold down the fort so you can thrive in all aspects of your life.
At the end of the day, everyone’s recipe for a fulfilling life is unique. For some, more defined separation between work and their personal lives makes them happy, but for others, a more integrated approach is the healthier bet.