With restrictions across the UK starting to ease, many of us are curious as to what kind of “new normal” will unfold.  There’s certainly one feature of the pandemic that looks like it is here to stay in some form, and that is a preference for home working.  One clear advantage of home working is the increased flexibility it offers us.  It has revolutionised the way we live our lives and paved the way for what is now being referred to as work/life integration.

Whereas the outdated term work/life balance implies a clear separation between “work” and “life” the argument now is that it is artificial and unproductive to try and separate the two.  However…this must not be taken to mean the creeping spread of more work and more hours.

Work life integration is the creation of easy joy and meaningful engagement between interconnected roles, relationships and responsibilities that make up our lives. This means allowing home, community and wellbeing into our work and vice versa.  We have all heard the term “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”  By creating harmony and synergies between different areas of our life we can benefit from greater combined value than if we compartmentalise them and treat them as separate.

Old narratives of success dictated that the more time we spent at the office, the more successful we would be.  This is actually quite a toxic narrative and has resulted in many a burnout!  Research now shows that investment in other areas of our lives can only enhance our professional careers, not detract from them.  What is success anyway?  This is a very complex question and I suspect every answer will be unique for each individual.  However, might I suggest that rather than thinking in terms of outputs, maybe it is more about how you live your life. Do you have a strong sense of identity and purpose that is consistently lived across all domains?

But what does this mean in practice? When I think about my own career, a simple example might be how I combined my love of travel and adventure with my work.  I was able to integrate this love of adventure into my work by volunteering for assignments and opportunities abroad.  But also, whenever I did an assignment in a new country I would be sure to add on an additional day or two leave to do some site seeing and learn about the place and the people. This practice also gave me a rich store of stories that I could use in my training programmes to bring concepts and ideas to life for others. Instead of there being a conflict between the two domains, I was able to unify them in a way that supported both.

My dad is a brilliant scientist.  At age 81 he no longer works full time for the University of Edinburgh as he is retired.  Except that he isn’t – he does still work!  He has such a passion and interest in his subject that he still reads loads, contributes to journals, writes books about it and lectures on his subject.  He also has used his scientific knowledge to benefit the community and has been involved in being an expert witness on several legal cases involved in protecting the countryside. This to me is a great example of work/life integration.  His identity as a scientist carries through into all areas of his life and in turn, his outside activities enrich what he can offer professionally.

 

Work Life integration coaching tool

  1. Start by mapping out the 4 domains of your life: Work and career, Health and wellbeing, Home and family, Community.
  2. Take a moment to identify what is most important to you in each of these areas: values, goals, interests, activities, results.
  3. Reflecting on these priorities, what do you need to say “no” to right now in order to say “yes” to your top priorities?
  4. Where is there apparent conflict or competition between domain priorities?
  5. Where do you see the opportunity for harmony where there is conflict? For example, can you think of alternative ways of achieving that goal e.g. trying new activities in different places?

What does this mean for organisations?

  • Flexibility is key here. Empower workers with as much flexibility as possible to be able to design their working lives and maximise their own energy cycles.
  • Measure productivity and total value added, not hours.
  • Encourage employees to contribute to the community and share back.
  • Encourage people to bring what they learn in other domains back into their work and vice versa. Give a platform to showcase employees’ talents and other interests.
  • Stop rewarding heroic hours.

Seren Trewavas is a Chartered Organisational Psychologist and ICF accredited coach with over 25 years’ experience in personal and organisational development.  She works with leaders and professionals globally to help unlock potential.