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Life Balance

Work-Life Integration vs Work-Life Balance: Is One Better Than the Other?

Written by Chris Porteous
The CEO of Grey Smoke Media / My SEO Sucks, helping entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
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In today’s always-online economy, workers spend a share of their time on job-related tasks. This has been great for business productivity, but it’s been a disaster for workers’ mental health. As a result, cases of burnout are more common than ever.

To combat that, the notion of work-life balance began to gain traction as a solution. Businesses started mentioning it as a core part of their work culture, and employees began to apply its principles to establish boundaries between their personal and professional lives.

But what’s the difference between work-life integration vs. work-life balance?

Which is Better: Work-Life Integration Vs. Work-Life Balance

A growing chorus of experts suggests that workers should aim for work-life integration rather than work-life balance.

The idea is to stop trying to fit your daily responsibilities into neat little compartments. Instead, they claim workers should find ways to make their personal and professional lives coexist.

For all of the talk, however, there’s little evidence that much has changed since work-life balance was introduced. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average worker still spends less than 15 hours per day on personal care. That includes time spent sleeping, eating, leisure, and family activities.[1]

In other words, it appears most workers in the developed world still lead lives dominated by their jobs.

Does Work-Life Balance Really Work?

All of this begs the question: Why do workers have such a hard time keeping their work time in check?

The answer may be that they’re going about it in the wrong way. This is when a new idea steps into place, and the question is asked, “is work-life integration better than work-life balance?”


So which is the better approach? Is it work-life balance, with its idealized concept of building walls between work and your personal life? Or is it the new paradigm — work-life integration — that ditches personal and professional life balance in favor of workable solutions?

Here’s everything you need to know about the two approaches and which is the one you should be working toward.

What Is Work-Life Balance?

The funny thing about work-life balance is that it means something different, depending on who you ask.

The general idea, however, revolves around allocating a precise amount of time for work each day — and keeping that work from overlapping with the rest of your time.

Perhaps the best definition of the work-life balance concept comes from the United Nations Department of Operational Support [2]


They summarize the concept as an actionable set of principles, which include:

  • Not scheduling work-related meetings outside of office hours
  • Not scheduling meetings during lunch breaks
  • Not scheduling meetings in the afternoon on the last day of any work week
  • Avoiding sending (or tending to) urgent work-related emails on weekends
  • Considering flexible work or other compressed schedules

Building Walls and Boundaries Between Personal and Professional Life

In other words, the objective of work-life balance is to keep work-related tasks confined to work hours and to look for ways to alter work schedules to avoid infringing on personal time.

This is a great idea — if it were possible for most people.

For one thing, most workers don’t have the power to control the demands placed upon them by colleagues, bosses, and others in their work sphere. And even when they can, it’s not a complete solution.

Even when not taking work home, people tend to bring the stress of the work week home with them. Studies have found that about 52.3% of Americans are unhappy, uninspired, and disengaged at work.[3]

Under conditions like that, who can say that true work-life balance is a realistic possibility?

For most people, the answer is that it isn’t. It’s nothing more than an idea — and an ineffective one, at that. But that’s something that the concept of work-life integration aims to remedy.

What Is Work-Life Integration?

The core idea behind the concept of work-life integration is simple. It’s that in ways large and small — it’s simply impossible to build walls between your professional and personal life.

So, instead of swimming against the tide, it proposes that it’s a better idea to look for ways to make the two parts of your life coexist.


Under the work-life integration model, there’s no implicit goal of reaching a 50-50 split between the professional and the personal. It accepts the reality that emergency emails will happen, that sometimes a 40-hour workweek isn’t enough and that some meetings can’t wait until the weekend’s over.

The goal, instead, is to see all daily professional and personal responsibilities as a part of a greater whole and to schedule each day accordingly.

Work of Life and Life of Work

Approaching things in this way sidesteps the core problem of the work-life balance paradigm. It eliminates the inherent tension that comes from trying to maintain artificial barriers between work and the rest of your life. Therefore, it also eliminates the sense of guilt that people tend to feel when work intrudes on their personal life.

Conversely, it also eliminates the guilt workers report when they feel like they’re not being productive enough; that’s an issue that doesn’t get as much attention within the work-life management conversation. It also leaves room for schedule improvisation and flexibility.

In short, work-life integration represents a reality-based approach to accommodating the needs of your employer and your own needs at the same time.[4]


So, Which Approach Is Better?

The truth of the matter is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the problem of managing one’s work as a component of one’s life. If your employment circumstances grant you a high degree of control over the demands of your job, work-life balance may be possible to some degree.

But if not, the true work-life balance would be a tall order, if it’s possible at all. And then there’s the matter of personality.

Some people have little difficulty handling stress at work and may even turn it into motivation to work harder. For others, work-related stress is debilitating.

A recent study found that one in four workers in the US quit their job due to mental health concerns over the past two years. They’re the victims of the failure of the work-life balance model.[5]

How Work Affects Us Now

With work from home becoming the norm, employees are unable to disconnect, check emails on their phones, take calls during lunch, and create reports late at night. This inability to disconnect has been reflected in countries’ daily hours spent on apps increasing from 3 hours to 4-5 hours.[6]

As the lines between work, school, and social life blur, people find they are using over 10-19 apps in one week. This increases their work hours which then causes personal issues.[7]


Eliminating Other Causes of Stress

That reality, however, yields yet another argument in favor of the work-life integration approach. By eliminating the added stressors created by the work-life balance approach, it seems possible to reach something of a happy medium. Common stresses at work remain — as motivators for some, as impediments for others — but no additional stressors end up in the mix.

As a whole, integrating work is a balance that should be a net positive for most workers. As long as they’re handling the responsibilities of work and their personal life in whichever ratio works best for them — they can consider their work-life integration efforts a success.

Which Approach Suits You Best?

The main takeaways here are simple. The first is that people who’ve managed to create a work-life balance they’re happy with don’t necessarily need to change. But for those who haven’t, the work-life integration approach seems like the one with the highest odds of success.

For one thing, work-life integration should be a far more attainable goal for the widest cross-section of workers. It doesn’t require any wholesale changes to their workload. And it destigmatizes the idea of devoting too much time to work or to other priorities, respectively. It also prioritizes flexibility in both parts of one’s life.

So, devoting extra time to work tasks when necessary is a perfectly acceptable practice. And it also means doing the same for personal matters, be it family obligations, health issues, or even vacations, is fine too.

The Bottom Line

The idea of work-life integration means going with the flow and making adjustments as necessary. Rather than trying to compartmentalize one’s work life and personal life. It is, therefore, an acknowledgment of reality in a way that the idea of work-life balance does not.

For that reason alone, it would seem that work-life integration should soon replace work-life balance as the go-to goal for the majority of the workforce.


In the end, however, only time will tell, and each person will have to find the solution that works best for them. Just as how work-life integration tries to blend work with life issues, choosing between the two approaches should not mean right or wrong.

Ask yourself which works for you and which one will give you more satisfaction in life. In the end, your peace, happiness, and satisfaction are what matter.


Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

Work-Life Integration vs Work-Life Balance: Is One Better Than the Other?

Work-life balance is the concept of separating life and work by following a set of rules and actions. Everyone has different practices, but it all boils down to time allocation.

Work-life integration aims to remedy work-life balance by accepting that work and life will inevitably reach. Unplanned meetings, emails, and overtime may happen, and they will. So why prevent them?

Like any other concept, no approach suits every situation. We are built differently, and we have different circumstances.

Work-life integration eliminates other causes of stress as you try to be more flexible in life. Removing that guilt of working overtime or taking care of your mental health shouldn’t pressure you to compensate for the lost time.

If work-life balance works, why change it? But if it doesn’t, then maybe integrating a work-life approach will be better for you.

Featured photo credit: Aziz Acharki via unsplash.com


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