Living Better, Working Better: Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Integration

December 15, 2020

The Netherlands has the best work-life balance, at least according to the latest results of the Better Life Index compiled by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Our society has already been undergoing structural changes for several years, producing considerable shifts in the working world and employer-employee relationships. The term New Work to describe these changes has even been in use since the 70s. For many employees, the prospect of having a fulfilling job without it turning into an all-consuming undertaking is becoming increasingly attractive – a work-life balance, or perhaps even better, a work-life integration?

Work-life balance: Bringing professional and private life into equilibrium 

The work-life balance is like the Tesla Model X of the working world: A lot of people would love to have one, but very few have one sitting in the garage. In contrast to conventional working methods, the work-life balance represents establishing a proportional relationship between private and professional life. It emphasizes knowing your own capabilities well and applying these to your work in a balanced manner. Of course a job will always demand time and energy, yet according to the work-life balance, the job should provide positive challenges and essentially be fulfilling, it should be engaging but not draining, so that employees can also attend to their private lives and pursue their own interests. Such a balance allows people to spend their entire day healthier and happier - before they go to work, while they’re at work, after they return home. There’s no one-size-fits-all guide to a healthy work-life balance – your individual circumstances, your interests and goals, plus the opportunities available to you for initiating changes – all these factor into achieving the appropriate work-life balance.

Work-life Integration: The latest New Work trend 

Another aspect of New Work is work-life blending, the blurring of the boundaries between work and private life. The work-life blend stipulates that a separation of work and private matters, partly due to increasing digitalization, is no longer completely possible. Checking your emails on the way to work or quickly sharing an interesting post for your company on LinkedIn – although these would traditionally be considered work-related tasks, they are done quite intuitively among your non-work activities, outside of working hours. Which is all the more reason for many workers to now view the idea of the work-life balance as unrealistic, something elusive that’s not worth striving for. The new goal has shifted towards achieving work-life integration, a concept which also utilizes New Work approaches. Instead of compulsively separating work and private life, both aspects should successfully coexist with one another. The beneficial options New Work has to offer, such as digitalized working structures and flexibility in regards to working hours and location, should be utilized in order to integrate private and professional life.  Additionally, work-life blending shouldn’t be in practice solely after working hours -a true mixing of these two facets of life requires a workspace developed to handle both accordingly.

New Work Strategies: How companies can promote work-life approaches.

The work-life balance views it as the employee’s responsibility to separate their work-related tasks from their private activities. This may include such practices as refraining from checking work emails outside of working hours, looking after their physical well-being and setting aside time to spend with family and friends. Work-life integration, however, views it as the employer’s responsibility to facilitate a balanced lifestyle for their employees. Companies can take the initiative and implement any of the following:

  • Flexible working hours: It’s not only start-ups who have strayed away from traditional 9-to-5 working hours. More companies are increasingly offering their employees the possibility of uniting work with their private lives through flexible core working hours.  Whether it’s bringing the kids to kindergarten, doing sports before work, or catching up on some much-needed sleep, both early birds and night owls are able to make the most out of their day.
  • Flexible working arrangements: In the midst of the Corona pandemic, whether employees have a legal entitlement to work remotely is a major topic of debate. Regardless of the position you take on working from home, the availability of flexible working models, including remote work, are an important component for implementing work-life approaches.
  • Health and well-being assistance: Psychological and physical well-being are one of the fundamental aims of the work-life approaches. Companies can foster good health among their employees by providing them a range of offers, such as a company yoga courses, financial contributions to their fitness club memberships, massage services or the opportunity to participate in life coaching sessions.
  • Leisure activities and quiet zones at the workplace: Ping-pong tables and napping pods are becoming a common sight at workspaces as many companies explore ways to provide their employees a bit of entertainment and calming tranquility during their working day.
  • Child care: So far relatively few companies have succeeded in offering on-site child care, although by providing this service they could greatly ease the burden of their employees who are parenting young children.

Even in 2020, it remains questionable for many jobs whether the work-life balance concept can really be put into practice. That’s where work-life integration comes in - picking up on the dynamics of New Work, proceeding to apply them to an approach aimed at bringing professional and private life into harmony. Essentially though, both approaches have the same goal: happier and healthier people who can flourish and grow in their professional and private lives. One thing is certain: we don’t all have to move to the Netherlands – because companies can employ plenty of work-life strategies wherever they are. Employees who feel good and enjoy coming to work not only contribute to a pleasant working atmosphere, they are also better performers. Now that’s perhaps another good reason for your company to implement more work-life approaches.