But what does it really mean, “Life Integration?” As a personal sentiment, it has other significance. I frame this editorial from the lens of a mother, a hard-worker, an average person trying to do meaningful things, living life. It is human nature to seek balance. And by this I mean a general feeling of equilibrium when we go to bed at night. Roaming around in the dust of sheer chaos is not natural and not comfortable, at least not for the long-term. People find their comfort zone and try to stabilize it. But know, I am an advocate for change. It is healthy. Some discomfort and challenge on our journey is necessary. And then we find our way back to steadiness. This is life integration for me (yes, I know, first-world problems). It is a collection of all of the things I have and need, my likes and dislikes, my achievements and aspirations, tucked together into my backpack that I carry with me on my daily voyage. And I need all of them in the equation to attain harmony.
In my first Medium exposition titled “Life Integration. Go Remote.” I described the benefits for both the employee and employer for choosing a telework style of workplace. Location independence is a way to make room for flexible work options and boost employee engagement; it allows for life integration. From an organizational development perspective it is just plain good business strategy.
So, I write about life integration here with reference to “work.” Some years ago, and still today, there came to be this hot topic called work-life balance. It quickly became the biggest perk written into job ads. ‘Come work for us. We offer work-life balance benefits.’ But wait, a definition of balance is “a condition in which opposing forces are equal to one another.” Opposing forces being work vs. life. So the job ads should read, ‘Come work for us, get in the ring and see who wins..work or life. We’ll supply the gloves.’
That’s a negative ghost rider. I’m all set with that. For me, these two elements are about integration, not opposition. I recently read a great article by Tobias van Schneider called Work/Life Balance is Bullshit. We echo some of the same chords. Specifically, he states,
“But work and life are not separate. They are the same, there is only one thing, it’s called LIFE. Work is part of my life, it’s not competing against it.”
Integrate means, “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole.” How one goes about integrating these elements is entirely a personal decree. Tasks performed which we may happen to be compensated for, a.k.a. work, along with time spent with spouses and children, cooking lessons, volunteering, visits to the library (yes, people still do this), writing blog material, and doing dishes are examples of the ingredients we integrate which make up life. Your fragments could be wildly different, but they are the pieces you integrate into your life.
Let’s talk about time. Yes, we share our time between work hours and personal hours. But technology has blurred the lines. Being available 24/7 is the norm these days; always being connected. Just last week during the holidays I was on vacation but took a conference call for work. Just because I went to Maine doesn’t mean business stops operating. From a practical standpoint, there is overlap. I would be remiss to not warn of one consequence of this flexible work style. There is a common folly that remote employees “slack off” because they don’t have someone standing over their shoulder watching them work. On the contrary; teleworkers often over-work. It is very easy to get out of bed and start working immediately only to look up and realize seven hours has swiftly passed by. But I could also argue that is proof that I was in the zone, I was being more than productive than any day in the office with ten people distracting me. Never. I repeat, never, have I been in a corporate office and worked seven straight hours uninterrupted. But regardless, I caution remote workers to make efforts to step away from the work and give your brain a rest. Burnout can happen quickly without mental breaks. And being a remote worker does not mean you have to work while on personal vacation. I simply say you have the flexibility to do so. If you are a nomad work and life overlap all the time. So, my life roles and relationships are interconnected because I want them to be. And I choose to embrace all of my responsibilities as life integration.
Now, to wrangle this back in…I am a promoter of telework because it offers the flexibility for people to better integrate their life roles, whatever that may be. If you want to go to a beach with your kids and also conduct Skype interviews from a nearby coffee shop then great. Have at it. With some reasonable exceptions, in part, telework means you create your own schedule, “work” at times which are conducive to your agenda. Yeah, I will finish that report tonight so that this afternoon I can make it to my daughters soccer game. There are only so many hours in a day; it is almost inevitable that obligations will collide. Integrate.
Companies are better suited to retain employees when they are engaged and better positioned for competitive advantage. Engagement behaviors lead to tangible outcomes such as increased productivity as well as intangible outcomes like customer loyalty, innovation and lower risk (via dedicated employees creating value and retention of intellectual capital). All resulting in enhanced shareholder value. ChaChing$.
One way to do this, one way to to engage your human assets, is to provide opportunities for better life integration. Organizational policies relating to employee engagement and life integration need to be implemented to create work environments that accurately respond to the needs and realities of our workforce today. A 2015 WorldatWork/FlexJobs survey shows “53% of organizations do not have a flexibility strategy or philosophy. However, of those that do, only 19% have a formal, written document.” And this my friendly readers, is the foundation for us starting Blend me, Inc. We want to help businesses understand the ROI of teleworking and life integration by establishing official policies and procedures around telework initiatives.