Vail Daily column: The advantages of work-life integration
January 17, 2014
Work-life balance is, in my view, an outdated business model and one that frankly, should be eliminated from the business lexicon.
The definition of balance is, "a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions" — certainly an admirable goal when put into a business perspective. After all, various elements — family, health, activities and yes, work — need to be kept in their "correct" proportions in order to achieve top results in each.
No one can argue that balance is good and that being balanced is beneficial. But balance, by definition, requires compartmentalization and separation. And balance requires constant focus to not lose … balance.
Trying to achieve balance essentially requires one to focus on what they don't have, because the myth of work-life balance tends to sway one direction or the other. It's the old idea that you "can't have it all." But why not have it all? Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg sums it up nicely when she said "So there's no such thing as work-life balance. There's work, and there's life, and there's no balance."
True enough, thus the benefit of having work-life integration. Integration, defined as "the act of combining or adding parts to make a unified whole," trumps balance every time. Integration shifts the focus from what you don't have to what you do have — and what you might need to create a "unified whole."
Work-life integration has benefits to both employees and employers and should result in higher levels of employee engagement and work satisfaction. It shifts the workplace thinking from, "What do I need to get done today?" (balance) to, "How do I help someone today?" (integration).
While I don't have scientific studies to prove my theory (they are probably out there), I believe that happy employees will result in less turnover and higher levels of customer service, as happy employees are typically more engaged in their work, focusing their time and effort on helping (via integration) versus balancing.
Technology plays a large part in the work-life integration equation and has eliminated the line between work and home. We've never been more reachable than we are today due to technology — creating a huge challenge to "balance" and a huge benefit to integration. Technology allows work/life integration, creating a flexible workplace and eliminating the days when a parent can't run to their children's school event and feel as if they are going to miss out on something at work. Obviously that doesn't work for all professions or all people, but it does for many of us. Another quote by Sheryl Sandberg resonates when she states, "I don't believe we have a professional self from M-F and a real self on the weekends. That kind of division probably never worked , but in today's world … "
For those of us engaged in our work, it's always there — and we love that it's always there. There's no need to balance it with life, as work is essential to our emotional well-being. When engaged, work isn't a means to an end. The concept of balancing work in order to accomplish what you want to do outside of work is a sad and unnecessary way to run a business or to live your life.
How do you shift your company from a balanced approach to an integrated approach? Consider flexible work schedules as a place to start.
Flexible work schedules are one way to shift employees from a balanced approach to an integrated approach. Traditional 8 a.m.-5 p.m. office hours fail to recognize the reality of today's technology driven life — as well as our resort lifestyle economy — and can result in stifling innovation rather than engaging employees.
Flexible schedules promote work-life integration by allowing people to work when they feel they can accomplish the most and thus, return the most to their organization. Some people are morning people and do their best work from 6-10 a.m., while others might be night people and are productive from 6-10 p.m. Standard office hours can result in missing the best of these people.
Examples abound here in the Vail Valley of businesses and organization who are creating workplaces that encourage work-life integration. Vail Valley Partnership is helping to celebrate these businesses at our 11th Annual Success Awards on Jan. 31.
A new award category titled "Best Place to Work" has been added to the awards, helping to spotlight organizations that facilitate trust, credibility, pride and camaraderie within their workplace, as well as value and reward their employees through additional benefits, incentives, etc. This matches the idea of creating a workplace that identifies the need for, and benefits of, work-life integration rather than work-life balance.
Thirteen organizations were nominated by their peers and/or employees for this award. The three finalists for this award are Eagle County Government, R.A. Nelson & Associates, Inc. and Sonnenalp Hotel.
We commend each of these organizations for recognizing the reality of life and work in the 21st century. We are confident they will remain leaders in our community by continuing to show faith in their employees to integrate work and life moving forward.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.