The myth of a harmonious work life balance is back on the agenda since the kick off of National Work Life Week. It’s no doubt a good opportunity for both employers and employees to focus on wellbeing at work. But striving for work life balance is a downward spiral as the lines between home and work continue to blur and hustle culture continues to grow. Let’s talk about work life integration.
A study by Sabine Sonnentag and Charlotte Fritz in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology showed that drawing a line between work and life requires psychological detachment. For a lot of us that is simply not realistic, as work and life are increasingly intertwined. The idea of work life balance implies a separation which doesn’t exist anymore — this is where the idea for work life integration comes in.
Work life integration isn’t a fixed system and being flexible helps to navigate it in practice. Due to the rapid changes in our workplaces, the need for flexible working is more important than ever. In the last year, more than half of employees in the UK (54%) worked flexibly. Flexible work arrangements are now relatively common, especially flexi-time, reduced hours and working from home. Request flexible working hours if you haven’t done so already. This will allow you to work in an environment that makes sense for you, whether from home or in a buzzing, lively space.
Are you a night owl or a morning lark? Once you have officially integrated flexibility in your work and life, you can design your workday for yourself. Do this in a way that ensures you do your most important work when you are performing at your peak. This is important because research by the 2019 CIPD Job Quality Index shows that overwork is most common among managerial and professional workers, but also among those who work from home. Flexible working on its own does not solve the tensions between work and personal life. In fact, it can even contribute to the mixing of the boundaries between the two.
A productivity-focused approach to day-to-day work will help get you into the habit of valuing the quality of your work. Beyond the amount of time you put into a task, it’s the outcome that’s important in the end. This approach to work and life ensures you work smarter rather than harder.
The CIPD index also showed that, based on a measure of how often job demands interfere with family life, the UK ranks 24th out of 25 comparator economies. To turn this around, companies need to give employees the freedom to stick to life goals, not just career goals.
The Sonnentag and Fritz study also showed that simply being away from work isn’t enough to fully recover from work-related stress; you need to find an activity that frees your mind about thoughts of work — whatever that activity may be.
To ensure your work life integration plan is solid for the long term, get serious about your non-negotiable terms. Whether you have a no work rule on weekends or don’t do early morning coffee meetings, make sure you adhere to these goals.
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