In the grand scheme of things, the term “work-life” balance is still relatively new. Emerging on the scene in the U.K. in the late 1970s and taking hold in the U.S. in the 1980s, it’s now widely used but still highly debated. What does it mean? That answer is a bit complicated, as everyone seems to have their own views. And in the last decade, new classifications have emerged, including work-life flexibility and work-life integration. Is there a difference? Does it even matter? This article will explore all sides of the debate and offer tips for bringing humanity back to the work experience in 2020. Let’s level-set and start with some definitions.

What Does Work-life Balance Mean?

Officially, at least according to the Cambridge dictionary, work-life balance is “the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.”

For Andrew Gilliam, a blogger, speaker, and IT Service Desk consultant, work-life balance means “that work activities stay at the office and are confined to the business hours in a standard work-week, and that work-related stress shouldn't follow employees off the clock.”

What Does Work-life Integration Mean?

UC Berkley, often credited for pioneering the term, defines work-life integration as “an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define life: work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health.”

Which is a more realistic pursuit? Well, that depends. I asked my Twitter followers to weigh-in on the debate, and the responses were mixed.

Which Approach is Better?

For Erica Mancuso, Director of Offer Management at nThrive, integration feels more natural to achieve.

“Integration, like flexibility, is a much better term than balance. Integration is achievable, balance isn't,” Mancuso says. “Balance, by definition, is the equal distribution of weight, and that's hard to achieve when it comes to work and life. Instead, we're blending these responsibilities at work and outside. I prefer to think of it in terms of flexibility. There are times when you need to lean in a bit more at home or at work, and having the flexibility on either side to do that is really important.”

While Yael McCue, Manager of Strategic Customer Success Team at Guru, agrees that integration is easier to achieve, he cautions that finding the right balance is critical for maintaining personal relationships.

"Work-life integration is more realistic but must be approached cautiously so that you can keep your personal relationships strong. For me, work-life balance means prioritizing rest so that I can be my best self, and relying on the help of others, so I don't have to do everything by myself."

And for Eric Ulbrich, who works in Customer Success at Metlycs, balance is the key to his productivity and happiness.

“I love my job, but I think both need to be separated,” he says. “That means focusing 100% on work while at the office, and not worrying about work while I'm doing personal activities. It also means having specific work hours.

Andrew Gilliam, a blogger, speaker, and IT Service Desk consultant, thinks that balance is a better goal for individual team contributors. Still, integration is perhaps more realistic for employees in leadership positions.

“Responsibility creep, the gradual addition of tasks and responsibilities over time, can make it impossible to accomplish work tasks within a standard work-week,” said Gilliam. “Many high-achievers find themselves absorbing more than their fair share of work, without proportional increases in compensation or schedule flexibility.”

What’s your take? Are you team balance or integration? Let us know on Twitter! @8x8

No matter how you feel, there are compelling arguments on both sides. So, what do experts believe is best? How can we all do a better job in 2020 of finding fulfillment at work and home? Is it best to adopt a “whole self” approach, where more people feel confident in bringing their authentic selves to work each day? Let’s explore these questions!

Work-life Balance vs. Work-life Integration: What do the Experts Say?

While I’ve spent much of my career focused on finding ways to find a better balance, I’m not an expert on wellness or mental health. My friend Jenny Dempsey, who’s a certified health and wellness coach, is, however, and when I asked her to share her thoughts on work-life balance, I was surprised by her response.

“Work-life balance is non-existent,” said Dempsey. “We make it up in our heads. Work is a part of, for most of us, life. We're living while we work, right?”

Take a moment to let that soak in. 🤯

“So, basically, it's more about how we are living our lives. What are our priorities and values? Work-life balance does not exist because life, in general, will always be a teeter-totter - some days, it's busier, some days, not so much,” she continued. “Balance will never be consistent. It's not a challenge to overcome. We're not failures if we work more than we want to at some points. For me, it comes down to taking inventory, knowing (and accepting) our limits, and realizing that life is truly a "practice" where we will always try to learn new ways to do something. We'll stumble sometimes and then have to pick ourselves back up and start over. “

Jeremy Hyde, Director of Customer Service at Sun Country Airlines tends to agree. While not an expert in the wellness field, he’s successfully developed his career in customer service, while raising a family.

“I believe more in work-life integration. ‘Work’ for me is much more than earning a paycheck. I’ve worked for years to develop the ‘work’ part of me,” he said. “ I care deeply about the work I do and the people I touch through my work, and I’m proud of how my career has shaped who I am and the impact I’ve had on others. With all that said, I have, at times, allowed to let work get the best and my family to get the rest of me. So, the work-life balance or integration means I need to develop my various roles in life - boss, husband, father, brother, etc.”

How to Find More Fulfillment in 2020

No matter what you choose to call it--balance or integration--one thing is clear. While burnout was a top buzzword of 2019, employees are looking for ways to feel and work at their best this year. For some, that means feeling free to “bring their whole self” to work. For others, that means spending more time on the projects that leave them fulfilled. But what’s the best way to make it happen? How can we all find more harmony in the coming months?

For Dempsey, the key is setting limits.

“I've had to accept my limits. A lot of these limits are self-imposed,” she said. “I say ‘yes’ to things I don't want to do, then fill my calendar with that instead of what I actually want to do. I've had to revisit what brings me value and dive into the fear of saying ‘no’ when I don't want to do something.”

For CX Accelerator’s Becky Roemen, it’s all about having a clear vision for happiness and success, outlining priorities, and then sticking to them. In a recent blog post, she shares the story of how and why she creates a yearly vision board, and she had this to say about taking more control over her work and personal life.

“I was constantly allowing others to prioritize my time, and therefore my life. Going from one fire drill to the next, one commitment to the other, rinse and repeat. This may have been because I had trouble saying no, but equally responsible was the fact that I never had sat down and documented my priorities. I had never recorded where I imagined my life going or what I envisioned happiness to look like, and, without that guidance, I was throwing rocks into the dark to prioritize my life.”

For Andrew Gilliam, it’s all about setting clear boundaries--especially when it comes to technology.

“First, be clear about what the expectations are for your role, and enforce appropriate boundaries,” he said. “For some types of employees, integration should not be the goal, and work should remain at work. In this case, don't add work email to personally-owned devices and don't give out your mobile number to anyone other than your boss (in emergencies, they'll text).”

What can we all learn from these perspectives and psychologist-backed research? Here are three quick tips for finding more fulfillment and combating burnout:

  1. Set ground rules for your technology usage and availability--share them with your colleagues and friends and family for accountability. For example, will you respond to emails on the weekends? Will you turn off notifications on your phone during dinner? Can you try waiting to check email in the morning until you’ve gotten through other more pressing items on your to-do list? If you’re looking for guidance on communicating more productively and effectively--without becoming a slave to your devices, be sure to download this free guide. (Insert link to channel choice guide by Leslie O)
  2. Establish a few guiding goals for the year. Revisit those goals on a monthly and quarterly basis to check in on progress. Not staying on track? Evaluate ways you can free up time to focus on what matters most.
  3. Try starting a daily gratitude practice. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by day-to-day life, but when we pause to celebrate all the little things that are going well, we train our brains to have a bias for positivity. We also become more productive. Learn more about the 21-day gratitude challenge here.

For even more advice, check out this article from Psychology Today.

Bringing it All Together: Maybe Human Connection is the Missing Link?

What if beyond boundary and goal-setting, the best thing we can all do is bring humanity back to the workplace? Instead of thinking of Sheila from two cubes over as the project coordinator, we see her for her whole self—outside her daily job duties. We see Sheila as the assistant coach on her son’s soccer team, the adventure seeker who loves to rock climb on the weekends and test out new French recipes from Pinterest.

Instead of thinking of remote colleagues as email addresses on a distribution list, we get to know them—what they love about their job, what they enjoy doing outside of work, and how they prefer to structure their workdays.

And then what if we took it a step further, and vowed to be more mindful about the ways we interact with, connect with, and communicate with our peers. What if we took the time to remember that Sheila has soccer practice at 6:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we stopped inviting her to 5:00 meetings on those days.

What if the next time you met with a remote colleague, you turned the camera on and made it a video meeting. And you showed up a couple of minutes early, to save time to chat about your weekends or ask how their intramural team is doing in the kickoff playoffs.

We can all do more to connect with our peers, customers, friends, and family in the year ahead. Even the smallest gestures count. Here at 8x8, connecting humanity is one of our guiding priorities. It shapes the work we do, the technology we build, and the way we communicate. What will you do in 2020 to connect humanity? Stay tuned for more content here on the 8x8 blog that will explore the power of human connection!