Keystone logo

Work-Life Balance and Work-Life Integration: What’s the Difference?

How do you know when it’s time to unplug? Is there ever a time to unplug? Keep the line clear between your life and your work? Or blur the line to integrate the two? What’s the best way to go? Let’s take a closer look.

Feb 2, 2017
  • Student Tips
Work-Life Balance and Work-Life Integration: What’s the Difference?
business people doing yoga

It’s about boundaries. Most of us have heard the old maxims “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy” or “work hard-play hard.” The new normal, whatever that is, encourages us not to strike a healthy balance between the two—leave work at work—but to integrate them. Do what you love and love what you do—that sort of thing—but all the time. Anytime. Take that conference call on vacation. Right? Maybe not.

Why has the boundary between working and living blurred? Simple: thanks to the 21st century digital age of “instant,” “fast,” and “now,” it’s easy to work just about anywhere, anytime. You don’t purposely take work home with you; it’s tethered to your phone, your tablet, your computer, maybe even your Fitbit—and you probably use those things at home, on the train, on vacation, and maybe even at dinner (we hope not).

Let’s break down the two ideas and see what they mean—and what will ultimately work best for you.

1. Work-Life Balance

What is it, you wonder? Achieve something at work. Enjoy something at work. Achieve something at home. Enjoy something at home. For the mathematically inclined:

Aw + Ew + Ah + Eh = Work Life Balance.

What does this mean? Working and living are never truly balanced—there are no coefficients or constants to guide you through the process. Sometimes you’ll achieve and enjoy something more at work than you will at home. What’s important is that all aspects of achievement and enjoyment in work and life happen throughout the day. Some days—as you know—are harder than others.

Here’s an example: you might have a fantastic interaction with a persnickety coworker (achievement) and then laugh at a joke at a board meeting (enjoyment), followed by not tripping over a pile of laundry in the middle of the floor when you get home (achievement) and meeting a friend for dinner (enjoyment). These achievements and enjoyments do not have the same weights. That great conversation with that persnickety coworker might be the biggest achievement because you know he’ll probably invite you to work on that project you’ve been wanting to work on with him. You probably enjoyed that dinner with your friend the most.

startup business people group working everyday job at modern office

The big idea? You unplug. You achieve and enjoy something in both parts of your life—working and not working—and there’s a clear boundary between the two. Over time, achievement and enjoyment will balance each other out. It’s the day-to-day that can be a bit tricky.

2. Work-Life Integration

This is way trendier. Thanks to the gig economy that’s sprung up in the past decade, integrating what you do and how you live have become a necessity for some. Even in bigger businesses, there’s this idea that living and working in the same place are desirable attributes for living.

Let’s look at a few examples. Consider Silicon Valley—companies like Google have on-campus apartments, child care centers, organic gardens with staff cafeterias, and buses for those who don’t live where they work. The idea is simple: integrate your work into your life. For others, technology has allowed people to live their lives—exercise, take their kids to school, go food shopping—and work full-time. No one decided that all work needs to happen between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM. If you can meet your deadlines, show up for your meetings (even virtually), and live your daily life, then all is well.

Balance between work and family life

What’s different here? Discipline. Strategy. Knowing when to unplug. And a stick-to-it attitude. With work-life balance, the “unplug” is pre-set. You’re done with work for the day, you leave. With work-life integration, you plan on when you’re doing your work, meet all your job’s expectations, and still show up for touch football, or your volunteer work at that organization whose mission you love.

Is one approach better than the other? Nope. It depends on the kind of work you want to do and the kind of life you want to live. If you need a strict schedule and need to know when you’re “on” and when you’re “off,” integrating your work into your life could be tough. You might opt for a more traditional job with traditional hours. If you feel constrained by that, you might want to integrate your work into your life and have more “flexibility” during the day—this is especially helpful if you have a family.

Two businessmen having walk

Whatever you decide: your work and your life should bring you joy—not all the time, but enough so that it all balances out in the end. L’chaim!