Work-Life Integration vs. Work-Life Balance: What's the Difference?

monkeybusinessimages/iStock/GettyImages

With the development of technology and communication tools in recent years, the boundaries between work and life have become blurred. Many employees and small-business owners don’t have a clear separation between work time and personal time. Learn how work-life integration and work-life balance can help you and your employees find the ideal equilibrium. This way, you can ensure that neither you nor your team burn out.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Work-life integration blurs the lines between work and personal time, whereas work-life balance seeks to keep them separate. The goal of both concepts is to ensure that employees are not overloaded with work or too consumed with personal time.

What Is Work-Life Integration?

Work-life integration is a relatively new concept where both work and life are incorporated together. Companies with work-life integration policies usually provide unlimited vacation time and have flexible working hours. The company is focused on getting results from employees without worrying about how many hours they are putting in or whether they are working from home. The line between work and home is blurred, but the employee is not overwhelmed by either.

With a work-life integration policy, an employee may get up early to check work emails and then spend some time with her kids before dropping them off at school. She could head to the gym after that, getting to the office around 10 a.m. After completing some tasks, she could leave around 3 p.m. to go to her daughter’s dance recital and then put in a few hours of work after the kids have gone to bed.

The benefits of work-life integration are that the personal life is valued, as is the well-being of one’s family. Plus, work-life integration takes into account that not all people work the same schedule or are productive at the same times. Remote work is encouraged during the workday if it fits in with the overall schedule. In addition, employees who have other commitments outside of work, such as taking care of elderly parents or young kids, can still fulfill those roles through a work-life integration policy.

What Is Work-Life Balance?

Work-life balance is about ensuring that an employee’s life isn’t fully consumed by work. Companies that have a work-life policy treat work and personal time as separate entities with a clear boundary. These businesses still have generous vacation policies, though they are not unlimited. Employees are not required to check in while they are “off the clock,” and flexible work arrangements are allowed if needed.

With a work-life balance policy, an employee usually has set working hours with some room for flexibility if a situation arises, such as a doctor’s appointment. After putting in the hours at work, the employee can enjoy personal time without having to constantly check for messages from work because it’s clear from the company that it is not required.

Work-life balance and work-life integration have many of the same benefits because they enable employees to not become workaholics and be consumed by work. However, work-life balance enables employees to fully disconnect from work during their time off. Plus, having regular work hours provides a more predictable schedule, which can benefit both employers and employees. This kind of work-life policy often suits businesses where set schedules and a physical presence are required to serve customers.

The Effects of Technology

Technology has changed the way people work in many industries and has had a great effect in mobilizing work-life integration and work-life policies in many companies. Cloud-based platforms enable team members in different locations and those who work remotely to connect to the same systems. Virtual private networks ensure that the company’s private network is always secure no matter where people are located.

Project management tools and communication tools enable employees to be productive regardless of when and where they are working, always with the ability to collaborate with their teams. Scheduling software makes it easy for employees to coordinate different areas of their lives while keeping their colleagues informed. Plus, integrating work with the commitments of life becomes easier when companies provide training and access to such tools.

However, having constant access to workplace tools can also make it more difficult for employees to “turn off”. The line between work time and personal time can get blurred unintentionally, with work encroaching on family time. It’s important for businesses to clearly outline how they expect employees to work and the importance of personal time.

Establishing a Functional Balance

Whether a work-life integration policy is more appealing or a work-life balance seems more your style, it’s important to have a formal human resources policy for your business. This should be something that you also follow, as it’s vital to set a good example for your employees. Having a formal policy ensures that your company is able to achieve its business goals while not overloading you or your employees with too much work.

  • Outline what’s important to you: Establish your priorities when it comes to the intersection of work and life. Do you prefer to keep them completely separate, or is it more productive to integrate them?

  • Be realistic about what your company can accommodate: A work-life integration policy will not work for many types of businesses, especially those in retail, manufacturing, food, health care and many other industries where flexible hours and remote work is not possible.

  • Write down clear expectations: Ensure that you make your company policy clear as well as the restrictions and what flexibilities are offered.

Being a small-business owner means you have additional responsibilities that your employees likely don’t have to worry about. In order to meet your work-life goals, be sure to delegate tasks in both areas of your life that offer you a functional balance. For example, you could delegate bookkeeping to a senior employee and use a grocery delivery service to pick up the food you need for your family.

Helping Employees Achieve Their Work-Life Goals

Each employee will have his own unique work-life goals. A company policy can help your employees to understand where the boundaries are for their family life and work life. In addition, you can provide your employees with support in order to ensure they develop healthy habits both at work and at home to have a fulfilling life in both areas.

If your company has a work-life integration policy, ensure that your employees know the results they are expected to achieve, such as sales quotas or other metrics. If you need to be in contact with them during the work day, have a system where you can reach employees as needed if they are not at the office. Many businesses with work-life integration policies have core working hours (such as between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.) when all employees are expected to be present at the office.

For businesses with work-life balance, it’s important to ensure that all employees follow the policy. If some employees choose to complete work activities during off hours, they shouldn’t expect others to follow suit, reply to emails or complete tasks unless there is an exception. Create a productive work environment with the tools and equipment employees need so they can finish their duties at work and have an enjoyable personal life. While they are enjoying family time, try not to burden them with work requirements.

References

About the Author

Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.