While work and life have been intertwined for years, there is less distinction between them now than ever before. Because of the pandemic, working from home at least part of the week has become the norm. From writing emails while lounging on the living room sofa to folding laundry while in a meeting, the way we work has drastically changed over the past few years. Employees are now wondering how to best integrate work and life, and how work-life integration can help prevent burnout.

The rise and effect of remote work

Because of the rise in remote work, the line between employees' personal lives and work lives has become blurred. Employees and their managers are starting to value work-life integration over work-life balance due to this blurred line.

A healthy balance between work and life is paramount as employees struggle with the shifting landscape of the workforce, mental health challenges worsened by the pandemic and overall burnout. According to Zippia, 89% of workers have experienced burnout within the last year. Work-life integration offers a potential solution to employee burnout, which can help improve a worker's mental state as well.

What is work-life integration?

The Society for Human Resource Management defines work-life integration as "a holistic approach that seeks to blend personal and professional needs." Instead of focusing on finding the perfect balance between personal and work life, work-life integration seeks to blend the two.

Employees' lives and workloads are constantly changing, which is why work-life integration strives to be flexible. Workday schedules and personal schedules are integrated depending on each day, so no one day looks the same as the previous.

Work-life integration vs. work-life balance:

While the overall goal of both work-life integration and work-life balance is to find balance between the workday and the personal life of an employee, the approach to each concept is different.

Work-life balance treats work and personal life as two distinct things. Employees strive to accomplish as much as they can within working hours to be able to enjoy their personal life before and after the workday. Because of the continued shifting landscape of the workforce and the increase in work-from-home policies, work-life balance might not be the best approach for finding balance.

Work-life balance can seem unrealistic as employees increasingly have to handle personal issues during the workday: answering a phone call from their family member, taking the dog for a quick walk around the block or heading out a little early for a dentist appointment.

Work-life integration expands on the concepts created by work-life balance. While work-life balance separates work from life, work-life integration combines the two. Employees strive to find harmony between their lives and their work responsibilities.

Employees decide when to use their time for work tasks versus personal tasks. Gartner research found that 43% of workers said that having flexible working hours increased their productivity. While work-life balance fades out, work-life integration seems to be the direction the workforce is moving toward.

How to implement work-life integration as a manager:

  • Gain insight from employees – Conduct surveys to determine what current work-life integration strategies are working and which could be developed.
  • Allow employees to pick their most productive hours - Determining when employees feel the most productive can allow managers to understand which days should be work-in-office days and which days they should allow employees to work from home.
  • Create and implement a plan – Implementing a plan ensures that work-life integration is a priority. A work-life integration strategy could include simple things such as providing childcare services and a walking club during lunch breaks, or something more complex such as continued learning opportunities and a four-day workweek.

How to implement work-life integration as an employee:

  • Create and implement a plan – Learning to be flexible can be difficult for employees who have been used to strict work schedules for years. Allow time for this change to become rooted into daily life. Creating a personal plan can be helpful; create a checklist of work to-dos and personal to-dos for the day and tackle each task when time allows.
  • Find support from family and employer – Ensuring that family and managers are aware of the flexibility of work-life integration is important. Having support from both family members and co-workers can ensure that you don't neglect one side of work-life integration while putting your entire focus into the other side. Allow them to hold you accountable.
  • Don't aim for perfection – Constantly working leads to burnout. Allow yourself moments to spend doing personal tasks without feeling guilty for taking a break from work. There is no perfect amount of time to spend on work, so allow yourself time to decompress before tackling the next obstacle.

Work-life integration is possible

While some people might prefer to completely separate work from personal life, developing a work-life integration mindset offers employees a relatively new way to structure their work and home life. As lines continue to be blurred between home and work, work-life integration becomes the future structure of the workplace.