For decades now, received wisdom has insisted that work and life must be balanced in order for workers’ lives to be fulfilling. However, in recent years, as technology has become increasingly central to our lives, this model has become outdated.
In its place has come the notion of work-life integration.
To some, this may appear a trifling distinction. But to those interested in how best to ensure work has a positive, lasting impact on lives, it is crucial.
It is, of course, Mental Health Awareness Week – a time for deep reflection on how our society operates. Given then the extraordinary rates of stress and depression which particularly face the construction industry’s workplace, a proper philosophy of work seems in order. And based on our experience successfully placing thousands of workers into roles in which they’ve thrived, the work-life integration model offers the best source of hope in these hard times.
Simply put, work-life integration aims at ensuring your work and non-work lives are in alignment. This means giving up the clear separation between the two, allowing for the blurring of lines.
Now, that might sound like a justification for overworking, or giving up personal boundaries, but this is a misapprehension. Instead, work-life integration requires self-awareness, along with serious contemplation and planning. It is a wholly different way of thinking about work.
The work-life balance paradigm is predicated on a clear separation between these two worlds. And of course, for plenty of workers this is a necessity.
However, there are problems inherent in it.
For example, switching between two totally different personas and mindsets is difficult, if not impossible. Much of the stress workers experience when they have their work-life balance out of kilter is in actuality due to this constant shifting. It can make work relationships awkward and removed from reality, as well the inherent tension of feeling as if you are two different people.
By integrating the two, this tension is minimised.
Equally, much of the work-life balance model assumes that work is an ugly necessity, something we don’t want to contaminate our real, pleasurable life. The work-life integration model seeks to align our aims and aspirations, to ensure that we find work which we genuinely enjoy and gain a sense of meaning from.
And this, of course, is infectious.
It is important not to pretend that work can always be a total joy. Some days will always be difficult, and there may even be whole stretches where we feel challenged, stressed, strained or downright depressed.
However, work-life integration still offers a greater solution to this.
While trying simply to balance our work and life, we are likely to simply put more and more emphasis on ‘life’. However, by integrating the two, we can use our ‘life’ to improve problems with our work.
Work-life integration is very much an attitude. In a sense, therefore, it is as easy as giving up the binary distinction between ‘work’ and ‘life’.
However, there are plenty of ways to actively begin integrating the two.
The first would be to seriously consider the work you do. How does it relate to the rest of your life? Are there ways you might match your hobbies or interests with it – or vice-versa? The trick of work-life integration really comes down to this kind of introspection.
It may be that you need to make a list of your needs, hopes and desires. With it, you can carefully consider the ways work might directly help you in achieving them. This mentality, that work is flexible, and you can, with a change of mindset, alter your relationship with it, is at the heart of the work-life integration idea.
Perhaps more than anything else, communication will be the key to this. Whether communicating with managers and colleagues or friends and family, you must allow yourself to be clear and confident in what you need and want, as well as what you’re willing to give.
In our experience, the knock-on effect of this is immense.
Work becomes better, so life becomes better; life becomes better, so work becomes better. People become more generous, more open, more patient, better listeners, better thinkers, better workers and better partners.
Dividing life into separate parts might at times be a necessity. But for a truly thriving existence, integrating as much as possible, aligning our values with our actions and our actions with aims, is surely the way forward.