Work-life balance or work-life integration? (Part 1 of 3)

This is the first part of a three-part blog series about work-life integration: key concepts, facts, barriers and enablers. I’m focusing on what you need to know and to do as a leader to support different ways of working and reap the benefits of work-life integration for your team members and for your business.

Everybody needs more time because we all have more pressure to perform with fewer resources and more information to process. And we’re constantly connected.

Although people grasp the connection between gender diversity and work-life integration, not everyone sees the strong connection between work-life integration and most inclusion and diversity topics. When I run inclusion and diversity focus groups, as soon as I start asking people questions about work-life integration, some people seem surprised and happy at the same time. Although they didn’t expect to talk about it, they have a lot to say. That’s particularly true for white heterosexual males who don’t identify with other inclusion and diversity themes.

Work-life integration is an inclusion topic because it’s about adapting to people’s different needs and preferences, often by giving them more flexibility, and ultimately the choice regarding where, when, and how to work.

Improving work-life integration has a ripple effect on many other inclusion and diversity dimensions. It has a huge impact on your ability to attract, develop and retain the growing number of female workers, young and divorced parents, the “sandwich generation” (those caring for children and ageing parents), people who want to practice their religion, who have an active social or community life, people who want to work flexibly towards retirement and disabled people needing flexibility in their work schedule.

Yet, we’re often afraid. To give more flexibility and to ask for it.  We fear to step into uncharted territory. Because for flexibility to work, you need trust between manager and employee, clarity about expectations, and a smart way to measure performance. If these are missing, flexibility can be a double-edged sword, creating challenges for individuals and the organisation.

Work-life integration or work-life balance?

“Work-life balance” implies that there are clear boundaries between work and life, that these are two separate and competing things. It also implies that to be happy, you need to find the balance between both. “Work-life integration” seems to me an adequate term nowadays. We bring more of our personal lives to work and more of our work to our personal lives. Life and work are complementary to each other, with success in one aspect contributing to success in the other. The focus shifts from balancing things to better combining different aspects of life into an integral whole.

I have personally struggled a long time to find “work-life balance.” Then one day, I had a liberating conversation with a Belgium senior leader who I admired profoundly. She seemed to always have time. She told me, “I don’t have a work and a life. My work is part of my life. I don’t have to balance things that are not opposed to each other.” That conversation made me see things in a different way.  I felt relieved of the pressure to achieve a “balance” that is almost impossible to reach or to keep all the time.

Flexible working – what are the options?

Flexible working is one of the main ways to promote work-life integration, although not the only one. It describes any type of working arrangement that gives some degree of flexibility on how long, where, and when employees work. It can be formal or informal, permanent or temporary. Not all forms of flexible working are suitable for all types of work, but a degree of flexibility is possible for most jobs. For instance, I often hear that manufacturing jobs are not suitable to flexible working. It’s not true. I’ve known a Swedish site director who used to arrive very early and leave the site around 3 p.m. to pick up her children. I’ve seen line workers choosing their shifts and working part time.

The most common forms of flexible working are:

  • Part-time working – you work less than full-time
  • Job sharing – a form of part-time where you split a job between two people.
  • Compressed hours – you work usual hours in fewer days, for instance, you work four long days, instead of five normal
  • Home working, telecommuting or teleworking – you take work to do at home.
  • Flexitime – there’s a core time (for example, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), with flexible start (for example, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.) and finish (for example, from 3 p .m. to 7 p.m) times. This allows people to start or finish their days earlier or later.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Let me know what you think about it in the comments below!

This is an excerpt from one of the chapters of my bookSucceed as an inclusive leader – Winning leadership habits in a diverse world”. To get my articles and updates directly in your inbox, sign up for my newsletter.

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