Balance, according to Oxford Languages (and Google), is “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.”
If we are always trying to remain upright and steady, how can we expect not to fall?
Work-life balance means a lot of things to a lot of different people and businesses. To me, as some who is self-employed and can dictate their own hours and workload, I call BS.
It stems from my own experiences in the corporate world, but also the way that work-life balance is treated as an actual solution to the burnout epidemic when it’s anything but.
When I was at my lowest with my mental health, I had to have a week off my corporate job. Luckily, I had an understanding manager that helped me through that period.
But in that same workplace, we were fed “mindfulness” workshops run by people with no mental health qualifications instead of reduced workloads, remote working opportunities, and flexible hours.
At the root of it all, work-life balance is like greenwashing.
The intention is there, but at the end of the day, it’s another box checked and a facade for what’s really going on behind closed doors.
In my experience, and in the experiences of so many entrepreneurs I work with who have transitioned from 9–5s to self-employment, work-life balance has given businesses even more of a reason to not care about their employees.
The archaic separation of work and life has placed emphasis on “work” being restrictive, professional, and something we must endure in order to experience the prize of “life.”
In reality, work is a massive part of our lives and our identities.
Work brings more to life than we realise; it’s not just about cashing a paycheck, and then experiencing the joys of our labor. It can be. But without this idea of “balance,” it doesn’t have to be.
And life without work, for a lot of us, would be unfulfilling.
So why are we pitting the two against each other? As if we always have to have “an even distribution of weight” so that we can “remain upright and steady.”
I’ve been discussing this idea in my circles for years, but a recent post by Slow Growth was where I knew this was becoming more mainstream.
What is Work-Life Integration?
Knowing full well that I’d been burned by enough corporate workshops to completely reject that “balance” was even possible, I sought out new definitions.
If work-life balance isn’t the answer, then what is?
And I guess… what is the question?
For me, it would be to ask myself: “how can I ensure that I’m enjoying and not enduring my life and work?”
I’ve spent too many days watching the clock hit 5pm so that I could run out the door to my “life.”
Self-employment isn’t the solution, but it certainly allows me to see how valuable it is to pace yourself, to do the work, to have time to rest, and to structure life (remember: it’s all life) in seasons.
If businesses adopted policies around work-life integration, instead of one-off work-life balance workshops, they would see more humans thrive at work.
Speaking of the word thrive, I first heard of the idea of work-life integration from a Thrive Global article.
Work-Life Balance Fails Women
In a world where women are expected to be everything to everyone, work-life balance implants that idea of “an even distribution of weight” across all facets of life.
Women are less satisfied with their work-life balance because there is a societal expectation that they must have this unattainable and manufactured “balance” when also doing 50% more unpaid work at home than men (2016 Statistics Canada report).
Beyond the way this impacts women’s satisfaction at home, they’re also the first to have to put their lives (and careers) on hold.
According to a study by Gender Economy, both men and women seek work-life balance, yet women do not view work-life balance as possible.
Work-life integration doesn’t pit your work against your life, or your life against your work, nor do you have to “balance” what we know to be the impossible.
Work and Life: It’s All Life
Work, for many women and men, is an integral part of life.
It’s all life.
When you’re at work, you’re still living. You’re IN your life.
For many of us, we’re lucky to find our true purpose within our careers. For others, their purpose is within their work at home as a parent.
It’s all life.
Anything you DO within your life impacts all other facets. If you’re trying to find balance, you won’t find it, but what you will find is integration.
It all blends together: work, in terms of your career, and life, in terms of what you do with your family, your friends, your hobbies, and your health.
You can’t put work or life in separate boxes, because your time spent in both impacts one another.
To quote consultant Beth Payne re: work-life integration — “Strive for a well-integrated life by making a conscious choice about how you will spend your time, being aware of the pros and cons of these decisions.”
Businesses — and the self-employed — can replace an unattainable idea of “balance” with support in their integrated life.
What we truly need is:
- Workplaces that listen to their employees, and see family, friends, hobbies, and health as part of being present in their role.
- Self-employed individuals have scope to set boundaries with clients or customers and redefine the way that they work.
We need to see the whole human, not the distinct separation between “work” and “life” that leaves empathy and self-awareness by the wayside.
When implementing work-life integration, think outcomes over working hours and flexibility over separation.
You’ll never find balance, but you can find integration and flow.