Balance Vs. Integration
How do you manage your life and your work? This looks different depending on who you ask, but no doubt the struggle is real.
The trend is to stop talking about work life balance and to instead consider work life integration. This was made popular by Jeff Bezos when he talked about work and life bleeding into one another. This is natural and something that needed to be called out as “OK”. That’s because we carry a lot of guilt as working moms, dads, wives, husbands, girlfriends, sons, etc., that we are giving up time with our loved ones in favor of having successful careers. Or that if we have to attend to life while at work, that we are somehow bad employees. When I first saw this concept it really appealed to me. I’ve always been an advocate of being open at work about my life and that sometimes my life needs to take precedence. I’m also very open with my kids about how important my career is to me and why.
But then I started to see more articles from CEOs, CMOs and other leaders extolling the virtues of integration over balance. My spidey sense started to tingle. Was there something in the concept of integration that was masking a bigger issue we need to look at? Is that why high-power, hard-working leaders so quickly abandoned TEAM BALANCE and jumped to TEAM INTEGRATION?
I can’t speak for others, but here is my worry – that maybe in the corporate world we are afraid of the word balance. That balance somehow signals to us that we must give something up and therefore that scares us. Does integration make it seem like we can have it all? You can be at your daughter’s soccer game and still be on email and therefore you’ve shown up in both ways?
If so, I have a tiny little problem with integration. Here’s why: if integration gives us the promise of being in two places at once, then we aren’t being totally present in any one place. In one article I read, the author/CMO talked about getting on email only when her son was sitting on the sidelines during his game. Seems like a perfect solution – and one that I’ve used many times. But then I started thinking – it doesn’t stop just with that email. Your mind might stay occupied on whatever topic from work crept into your weekend/son’s soccer game time. Then your mind is elsewhere – even when he’s playing. So then, are you totally present at that game? Can you really experience the joy of just watching your kid play? What about if the one time your son looks at you to check on your level of presence – it happens to be the time you’re staring at your phone? What message does that send our kids? Most importantly, what about just giving yourself that 50 minutes to breathe in the outdoor air and just BE AT THAT GAME?
If the trend of integration is about being open and honest with ALL PARTIES (work and family) that you are a whole person with many facets and priorities – I am ALL FOR IT. That said, if this trend is allowing us to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to being totally present and taking the time we need to rest and restore – well then, I’d like to call BS.
Being totally present at work (to the extent life will allow it) and in life makes us better colleagues, leaders, friends and family members. If you spend your weekend completely immersed in your weekend things and people, you go back to work focused and refreshed. If you spend your work hours focused on your work – you’re more productive (hopefully).
This is not to say the two won’t bleed into each other. They will, and that is life. Good for us for evolving to realize that. I’m just here to say that if we’ve jumped on the integration bandwagon because it feeds our addiction to be everywhere at once instead of fully present where we are in that moment – well then let’s call it what it is and approach with caution.