Insights & Ideas

Struggle with work-life balance? Try work-life integration

Man sitting on chair writing talking to woman sitting on the ground who is working on her computer

During the last six months, COVID has caused many people to merge their work and home lives in ways they never expected. On the good side, many of us have gotten to know our coworkers (and their pets, kids, spouses, and home décor styles) better.

However, working at home has also caused significant burnout. After all, how can you achieve work-life balance when with there’s (literally) no separation from between home and work? There’s good news, though: Some experts think you should stop trying.

Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Integration

When we think about “work-life balance,” we usually think of it as a competition between work vs. personal life. We can either reduce work stress to focus on our personal priorities, OR we can put work first and ignore our personal needs. It’s an impossible catch-22.

But here’s a new thought! Stewart Friedman, professor at the Wharton School of Business, says there doesn’t have to be a tradeoff if we focus on “work-life integration” instead. Work-life integration is about finding innovative ways to make four parts of our lives—work, home, community, and self(spirit)—work together constructively.


How Work-Life Integration Works

Friedman’s research shows when you integrate the different parts of your life, you perform better in all of them. And, you feel better about life in general. He says you need to do three things to make it work:

  • Clarify what matters most to you, and consciously set your priorities from those values. When you’re intentional about what is most important, you’re more likely to stand up for it.
  • Recognize how the different parts of your life affect each other. Get clear on who is most important to you in each facet of your life, what you can give those people, what you need from those people, and whether your priorities match each other.
  • Experiment. Be willing to work with your family, coworkers, and community to try new ways to get things done in ways that benefits everyone.

(See some examples of how it works in this article.)

How Employers Can Help

But work-life integration (or work-life balance) can’t be completely achieved by individuals alone. Organizations need to be open to collaborating with talent to create new ways of working together. Luckily, the COVID era has already given organizations some practice in flexibility—from allowing employees to work remotely and prioritizing workloads to encouraging time off and allowing employees to set their own schedules.

Work and personal life don’t have to be at odds

This isn’t just about COVID. Even before the epidemic, 60% of Americans reported having a hard time maintaining a good work-life balance1 and 55% of American workers didn’t use all of their vacation (leaving 768 million vacation days unused.2) Hustle culture is simply unhealthy.

It’s time to be embrace a new normal. With empathy and collaboration, individuals and organizations need to find solutions that benefit everyone—whether you call it work-life balance or work-life integration.

At Salo, we help senior professionals in HR, finance, and accounting design consulting careers—choosing where, when, and how much they work. As a result, our consultants combine meaningful work and all the other aspects of their lives. Interested? I’d be happy to tell you more about it. Contact me on LinkedIn to start the conversation.


1. EHS Today, More Than Half of Americans Have Unhealthy Work-Life Balance

2. US Travel Association, A Record 768 Million U.S. Vacation Days Went Unused in ‘18, Opportunity Cost in the Billions

Colleen Frankwitz
Colleen Frankwitz

Colleen Frankwitz

Talent Connections Director