The School of Life defines work-life balance as the summation of a perfectly optimal career plus a perfectly optimal home-life. It revolves around the assumption that we are two people (or two roles): our professional role and our personal role. These two should never meet inside the workplace, thus, one must split and fragment one’s self and find a way to balance these two roles by being perfectly optimal (efficient and effective) in both.
This dichotomy between the personal and the professional is buttressed by the mainstream liberal value that ‘it will be possible to do many things and do them all completely well.’ This definition of work-life balance assumes that your professional self is striving for the best career there is for you (say you, as a junior executive, want to be filthy rich and has become workaholic), and at the same time strives to be the perfect version of your personal self (e.g. the perfect father who attends to every of your sons school recognition days, the perfect son who visits his elderly on weekends, or whatnot).
Ultimately, work-life balance is about choosing a focus and narrow perfection for each aspect of our multiple roles at the same time. Scholars of psychology call this ‘positive role balance’ (Marks and MacDermid, 1996).
Almost a year ago, I wrote an article about the possibility, or otherwise, of work-life balance. I argued against the possibility of work-life balance as defined by mainstream literature because I espouse the idea that ‘everything worth fighting for necessarily unbalances your life.’
Moreover, in the article, I challenged the notion that work-life balance, once attained, is necessarily beneficial. As scholars of psychology have pointed out, ‘work-life balance does not necessarily mean it is beneficial nor detrimental to a person’s psychological well-being and quality of life’. Not surprisingly, in the study conducted by Greenhaus et al. in 2003, they found out that people who invested more time, and involvement in the family than in work are happier and have the highest quality of life. The study states:
“In regard to their level of engagement, the equally balanced individuals scored lower in quality of life [emphasis added] than those favoring family over work, but higher than those favoring work over family. Thus, those who invested most in work had the lowest quality of life.”
Technology Mega-Trends and The Evolving Concept of Harmony in Life
Recent mega-trends in technology, which essentially revolutionized the workplace and how we work, have challenged the orthodox concept of work-life balance as an outlook for attaining an overall sense of harmony in life. Technology seems to have blurred the binary of “the personal” and “the professional”; thus, challenging the very assumption underlying the concept of “work-life balance” — without the binary of “the personal” and “the professional”, what is there to balance, to begin with?
In the United States and Europe, a new concept of making sense of the overall harmony of life is gaining traction. From the concept of work-life balance, HR managers, executives and scholars of psychology and the behavioral sciences are now looking at “work-life integration” as the new norm.
In a survey conducted in Asia by The Executive Centre, they found out that ‘92 per cent of them [executives] agreed to the global trend of work-life integration driven by the power of the Internet, mobile technology, video conferencing and email communications’ thereby allowing more connectedness and accessibility. Gigi Liu, Corporate Director at The Executive Centre notes:
“Work-life balance has long been considered a strict separation between work and personal life, but the lines between the two have gradually become blurred, attributable to the technology advancements which allow people to be constantly connected and businesses to be active and accessible at all times without boundaries [emphasis added].”
These mega-trends in technology have overarching effects on the workplace, the way we work, and our personal life. Thus, the rise of a new concept – that of work-life integration. And, here are the reasons why it is gaining traction and why you should prepare for it, too.
1. The boundaries between “the personal” and “the professional” are blurred.
Today, the business environment is alive and kicking 24/7 — businesses never sleep! Added to that, businesses are trying to do more with fewer resources. As a matter of fact, a study by the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) found that more than 50% of workers say that work conflicts with life responsibilities at least two or three times per week. As a result, about 40% of women have delayed having children. This is a fact one cannot overlook, balance in conflict is unattainable and again, does not necessarily yield possible results (Greenhaus et. al., 2003).
Instant and constant connectivity results in the difficulty to know when and where one is not working. Why? Because, for example, constant connectivity allows us to message personal or professional contacts almost instantly, wherever we are. In other words, we find ourselves more connected to the office and often handling work-related responsibilities even at home. To this, Liu adds:
“Globalisation and technology’s impacts on the work environment have forced them [workers] to find a way to integrate their work and personal responsibilities, casting out the notions of work-life balance in order to build better work-life integration practices. [emphasis added]”
Bottomline: Due to instant connectivity, the boundary between the personal and the professional has become blurred. To entertain the notion that the boundary is rigid is counter-productive. As such, we start working on better work-life integration programmes.
2. Employees are becoming more willing to give up their personal time to do work and many have no choice.
In a study by TeamViewer and Harris Interactive, they found that 61% of employees are willing to work during vacation. In fact, more and more are becoming accustomed to ‘working at their own pace and place’. Writers and artists, for example, do not build or create their pieces solely within the 8-hour work cycle. Most of them work during their most productive hours (usually during the wee hours).
In a survey by The Executive Centre, 91% of executives in Asia are ‘either always available to respond to emails and can be contacted at any time during vacation or are sometimes available and can be contacted at specific times during vacation’. Many of them, in fact, have no choice as they have to keep up with the rest of the world – the 24/7 business environment.
Bottomline: More and more employees and employers are becoming accustomed to working at their own pace and place as long as results and goals are delivered. In some cases, many have no choice, too, but to keep with the rest of the world that never sleeps.
3. There are more employees working remotely than ever before.
Skype, Facetime, Google Drive (and all the applications and functionalities that go with it), and whatnot have made working remotely possible. Working from home has become a trend especially among the millennials. As a matter of fact, millennials often choose the flexibility of working remotely than higher salaries.
In the United States, working remotely is a real trend. In total, 30 million Americans work from home at least once each week, which will increase by 63% in the next five years. About 3 million Americans never go to an office and 54% are happier working from home than in an office. And, 70% of employees work from alternative locations (not just home) on a regular basis. What these numbers show you is that millions of people are working in a personal setting, maybe even in their bedrooms. When this happens, it’s hard to separate work and life and thus they are integrated even without your consent.
Bottomline: Technology has allowed more flexibility in the workplace. This flexibility is sought after, but this same flexibility blurs the binary of the personal and the professional as well.
Take Home Message
Separating the personal from the professional aspects of our lives is becoming more and more unrealistic. Phrases like “work to live”, or “live to work” no longer holds water; for the new norm is “work is life, and life is work”. Due to instant connectivity that technology has made possible, the boundary between the personal and the professional has become blurred. And to entertain the notion that the boundary is rigid is counter-productive. So, we start working on better work-life integration programmes.
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