Ditch the work life balance scales and start integrating

Yesterday I read an article giving tips on work life balance. Whenever I hear the term ‘work life balance’ I think of a set of scales with life on one side and work on the other and people trying desperately hard to keep the scales balanced and getting very stressed. Does one happen at the expense of another?

How many people I wonder are able to put their ‘work’ in one compartment and their ‘life’ in another?  Have you ever worried about your children or made a few telephone calls to check that they are OK when you are at work? Or perhaps you have continued to work when your children have gone to bed?

Our lives ebb and flow. Sometimes you may have to put in more time at work because of workload demands or to make ends meet financially. At others times you may need to have more time at home because your child is ill.

Balance, Fit or Integration?

Rather than seeing it as a ‘balance’ surely a more empowered way is to think of it as a work life ‘fit’ or ‘integration’? We fit / integrate our lives around the things that we need to do, the people that we need to do them with and to be with. Would we be much happier and productive this way?

As a parent I would like to be able to take 2 hours off to watch my child in the school play and ‘make up’ the time later. In this way, I am able to fulfil both my work and family needs. One may argue that this is OK for me to do because I am my own boss.

However many of my clients who work in organisations also practice this. One particular client springs to mind, who when offered a senior director’s role in a global organisation stated that she will require time off to attend school sports day, plays etc… and for this to written into her contract.

Integrating work and all other aspects of life is not easy. I work from a home office and am constantly flitting between tasks and roles. It requires much more energy than focusing on one aspect at a time.

However I have found that constantly changing hats has made me much more agile in my thinking and actions and for someone who has a short attention span, it works beautifully for me.

With technology continually advancing and the digital revolution the world is no longer distant but at our finger tips and allows us to better manage the demands of time and location. Many of my clients have conversations and email conversations with their global teams at 3- 4 am in the morning, blurring work and personal life. They are however able to influence when and how they work and manage their time flexibly.

How can you integrate?

A first step would be to ascertain what is important to you? What are your core values, the world you want to create and the legacy you want to leave? Life is not limited to the home but to other aspects such as the self, extended family and the community. Greater value and meaning is created when we are able to integrate the different domains into our lives.

What is your natural fit? Would you rather keep work and home separate and in defined chunks of time or would you seek to integrate work and home life?
Your values, phase of life and situation will influence your work and life patterns. For example, a young professional at the start of her career, a new working mother, or a parent whose children have flown the nest will all have different preferred patterns and fit.

To begin to have integration, you will need to exercise control and choice in meeting life’s challenges. You have to take responsibility and address the things that you can influence and control.

What could organisations do?

Many of today’s workforce have family responsibilities but jobs are still designed as if workers have no family responsibilities. Our culture of work – paid or unpaid domestic care work is based on the breadwinner-homemaker model where the assumption is that someone (usually the mother) is available during the day, after school, the holidays, when there is heavy snow and the schools are closed… In many households both parents work and do not have extended families for support and in times of emergencies.

Organisations and HR need to move away from the one size fits all, universally applicable policies to a more customised one to fit the needs of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters of elderly parents….This could include:

– Being flexible: flexible hours,  staggered start and finish time,  compressed work week , part- time, interim, job share, phased retirement, time bank, weekend work…

Offering leave benefits ( not statutory benefits  such as  annual leave, maternity or sick leave). This may be paid or unpaid such as extended maternity leave, childcare leave, bereavement leave , emergency leave,  study leave,  sabbatical leave…

Employee support schemes such as on site crèche, childcare subsidies , counselling services, health screening , scholarships , benefits and discounts, corporate gym membership, laundry, concierge services…

What are your thoughts on Integration / Fit? Do you have another way of thinking / seeing this?

How do you manage the different aspects of your life?  

Love to hear from you

I work with leaders to develop and communicate their leadership brand, with women who are progressing their leadership and with those who are leaving employment to run their own businesses. I also help teams to become engaged, energised and high performing. I love working with people who want to flourish and create purposeful and fulfilled lives. Connect with me @verawoodhead and on LinkedIn

 Image: Flickr user jbenson2

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About verawoodhead

I help professional women, aspiring leaders and managers to get ahead, progress their careers, be confident and successful by developing their leadership skills and capability...through coaching, mentoring and skills development workshops. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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