Goodbye work-life balance, hello work life integration. Stewart Friedman, a Wharton professor who is also the author of the new book Leading The Life You Want (Harvard Business Review Press, October 2014), cites Bruce Springsteen and Sheryl Sandberg as examples of people who disregard work-life balance and practice integration of the two.
The 21st century deconstruction of the traditional 9-5 job has forced the modern worker to face a workday that follows them home. “Work-life balance” quickly became one of the most familiar buzzwords of the recent decade, as workers grappled with the ever-impending long-hours culture. However, as technology continues to make everyone incredibly accessible, people are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a separate spheres structure—that coveted balance between the two halves of their lives. Many experts ask, rather than separating the two, why not integrate? Hence the beginning of work life integration.
Work-life integration , according to a recent article in Forbes, encourages the blending of the personal and professional and provides relief to workers who have trouble maintaining clear boundaries in their lives. The concept of work-life integration emerged alongside the rise of the remote worker in recent years. In 2014 alone there was a 26% increase in open remote job postings. Companies are more apt to hire remote workers today because of its cost-effectiveness and general efficiency. Thanks to tools like Skype and Google Docs, companies manage virtual workers with ease—and most of the time without lost productivity.
For the remote worker, home life and work life are inherently intertwined. The remote worker can answer the doorbell, or take a break to walk the dog. Especially suitable to the millennial who are used to a less structured, multi-task type of environment. If it works for remote employees, can it be applied to all professionals?
Eric Severson, former Co-Chief Human Resource Officer, at the popular clothing retailer, Gap inc, explains in an interview with Forbes how making the shift toward work-life integration was one of the key tactics Gap used to stay afloat during the economic downturn. During the recession, many companies similar to the Gap were unable to offer competitive salaries, so as a result they lost essential workers. Instead, Severson along with his innovative Human Resource team at Gap, worked to find a more creative solution to retaining happy and productive workers even when budgets only allowed for tight salaries.
The solution was offering a results-only work environment, which allows people to work with as much autonomy and flexibility as possible. To workers today, especially to the millennial generation, this aspect was actually the most desirable when it came to job selection and retention—not salary. He asserts that it is unrealistic to say that you have to be committed to your customers in the 24-hour, globalized workday but you need to lead a separate and fulfilling personal life too. Allowing workers to fit their work more seamlessly into their lives on their own terms, makes for a much more satisfied—and presumably productive—worker.
“Work-life balance is well- intended… but ‘flexible’ workspaces are inherently inflexible,” Severson explains. Setting up contracts with hours that fit with the employee’s schedule still locks that employee into that adjusted schedule. Instead, he urges employees to “empower the employee to come up with new and better ways to get work done.”
Although this might feel like an extreme leap of faith for some companies who are used to asserting more control over scheduling and work processes, this method—if carried out correctly—allows employers to get the full-force of employees’ creativities. When it is left up to the employee how and when they get the work done, they are more likely to work extremely hard to find efficient and productive ways to get the job done.
Often times, Severson adds, it leaves companies with a clear separation between the results-driven individuals and those who simply won’t deliver. Rather than making it about who can show up for the longest shifts, success is about those with legitimate results.
Some work-life integration tactics include shift-swapping technologies (such as apps that allow you to swap shifts with other employees online without getting attendance penalization), allowing workers to create their own hours on a daily basis, consistent, open communication about objectives, and ample leave benefits.().
Especially when it comes to employees with families: work-life tension issues are emotional, Eric Severson reminds us.
“If you can solve that you can gain so much appreciation and loyalty. This is what we did at the Gap. Even in very challenging business times we were able to hold onto our key professional employees.”
Written by Evelyn Kaczmarek of Workhoppers.com where companies can post freelance, part-time, temporary, contract and gig jobs. Jobs perfectly suited to work life integration.