Does striving to achieve work-life balance do more harm than good?

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You say it all the time, don’t you? “If I could only have work-life balance everything would be okay.” But then you think about how to go about finding that glorious sense of “balance” and can’t come up with any realistic answers.

You’re not alone. Work-life balance in today’s world—especially for working women—is nearly impossible. Yet, job descriptions and hiring managers lure you in with promises of getting to leave your work at work. The reality, however, is that the lines are completely blurred between work and life. 

Even before the pandemic, it was rare for people to actually head home from the office and not think about (or stress because of) work. For years most of the workforce has looked at their phone or logged onto their computer multiple times per week even when they were “off the clock”. As for shift workers such as nurses, not bringing the emotional toll of work home with them was (and still is) borderline impossible.

The popular societal term, “work-life balance”, is outdated and causing working women to feel more overwhelmed and guilty than ever before. And now that so many of them are trying to manage the work and life puzzle of the last couple of years (virtual school, remote work, worries about health, etc.) those emotions are heightened even more. There is no relief from trying to be everything to everyone. 

So, what’s a woman to do? Some will continue to strive for the perfect balance and never be able to find it. Stress and anxiety will build and feelings of, “I’m just not good enough to do it all” and “There’s not enough of me to go around” will relentlessly plague her. Others, however, will choose to toss that balance dream aside and instead focus on work-life integration. We hope you’re a part of this group.

Work-life integration is a term that popped up in the last few years and is gaining some well-deserved steam. Because it is possible to achieve (and won’t make women feel like failures) this is the route we encourage all working women to take. UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business defines work-life integration as, “an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define ‘life’: work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health.”

The beauty of work-life integration is that it relieves some pressure. We no longer have to give equal amounts of ourselves to be a great parent, employee, boss, friend, daughter, volunteer, etc. The hard stop, or pivot, is erased. Life’s most important categories don’t have to exist in separate boxes anymore but can live cohesively, supporting one another through integration. 

Let’s be real. We don’t live in a world that allows us to keep work and life unconnected. We haven’t for some time now. Why not embrace that times have changed and steadily move from one category to the next—no rough turns necessary. 

 

Bypass the cover letter

Tips for ditching work-life balance and adding work-life integration

Now, take a deep breath. We know how it feels to have that weight lifted. Here comes the practical part. How do you actually achieve work-life integration? Let’s stop and cheer for a moment. There are so many different ways to manage work and life without feeling like you’re putting together a 5000 piece puzzle. 

Working from home with kids

For those with children, this is for you. Own Your Wonder Founder, Kristina Han says, “I have a bunch of 20-minute [periods] peppered throughout the day and then 3-4 hours in the evening when I can get work done. So, I start the day with a list of things that can be done in 20 minutes. Surprisingly, there are quite a few. I also start the day reminding myself of things not to do, such as spending 20 minutes reading useless articles, watching useless videos, or being a sucker for accepting unnecessary Zoom invites.”

As Get the Job! Shop founder, Kelli Anderson, told Corporate and Incentive Travel Magazine last year, establishing a loose routine can keep chaos at bay. If you know you need 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, set a timer for 15 minutes right before and have purposeful and dedicated time where only your kid(s) have your attention. Kids function better with structure so after using this approach for a few days they’ll start seeing it as the norm. Your work doesn’t suffer and they still get mom time.

Manage one to-do list 

Many of us have lists upon lists of never-ending to-dos. One task is scribbled on a sticky note while three others are hidden deep in a notebook. Another five are marked on our work calendar. If you have home tasks and work tasks separated, you probably never know what needs your attention the most.

When you create one list with absolutely everything you have to do you’re finally able to take a holistic look at what needs to be done. Prioritization can easily happen and checking boxes feels easier. So, if you have to call the doctor and make an appointment when you have a five-minute break, check that task off the list. It doesn’t matter if it’s 8 am or 4:30 pm. As long as you’re getting your work accomplished as you need to, you should be able to manage your time like an adult. This is work-life integration.

A few more examples of work-life integration

  • You’re headed to soccer practice with your son. As a social media manager, you know there have been some changes to the Instagram algorithm. So, while you’re in the car you play the latest podcast episode from your favorite marketer about how the new updates will impact your job. 
  • You’re a nurse practitioner and you’ve been dealing with sick patients all day. You are exhausted and just want to hug your babies. You take a much-needed break and Facetime with your kiddos. Then, on your way home, you pick up some pizza for dinner. Spending time with your family feels more appealing than cooking tonight.
  • As a business owner, you’re always on. Today, you have a meeting with your team over Zoom. You invite everyone to bring their kids to a virtual party for the last 10 minutes. Your kids are so excited to “work with mom” that they sit and do their own work for 45 minutes before the timer goes off and they have the opportunity to join you.

These are just three of the endless opportunities to integrate work and home. While every job and industry is different, there are ways to get creative within each of them. You see when you release balance and have fun with integration, your entire world (and mindset) shifts. 


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