WARNING: Work-life integration can actually make work-life balance worse.
The Integration Continuum The concept of separators vs. integrators comes from the work of Ellen Kossek and Brenda Lautch, co-authors of CEO of Me. The authors explained the concept of work-life boundary preferences as a continuum with separators on one end and integrators on the other.
- Separators prefer a clear delineation between work and home. Protecting their home life from work, they turn off their computer when the leave the office, don’t check email on their phone, and guard their mobile number like it’s the original Coke formula. || They don’t like to talk about their personal life at work. Their kids (that you not sure they have) won’t show up for office trick-or-treating. You will not be their friend on Facebook and they won’t follow you on Instagram.
- Integrators happily blend their work and home life. These are the folks who will respond to your email at all hours of the day or night and will fill up your inbox before you’ve had your morning coffee. || They will tell you all about their weekend at the lake, their kids’ latest exploit, and is comfortable announcing they are leaving for a few hours to go see the school play. (Separators might sneak out too, but won’t tell you about it.)
ACTION: Think about where you are on the separator – integrator spectrum.
So What? Regardless of where you are on the continuum, if you are unhappy with your work-life balance, your degree of integration could be a culprit. Establishing and communicating your boundaries will help you take control and improve your work-life balance.
ACTION: Use the familiar WWWWH formula to clarify your work-life boundaries.
When you are in “life” mode (vs. “work”)…
- Who can contact you at home during “off hours”? Managers? Direct reports? Anyone?
- What topics are fair game? High priority topics only?
- Where will you respond from? (remotely, I hope)
- When can they expect a response? Until 10pm? Not at all? Tomorrow?
- How will you get back to them? Email, text, phone call?
Even if you define your boundaries, flexibility is sometimes needed. Exceptions can be planned or unplanned.
- Planned: For short term, intensive times, it’s OK to toss the boundaries out the window. But have a discrete end date and reestablish them once it’s past.
- Unplanned: Be careful about these, they can multiply like rabbits and unfiled papers on horizontal surfaces. If you make too many accommodations, you should rethink your boundary.
What about when your preference is different than your boss, your team or even your partner at home? This is where you need to remember whose life it is (hint – look in the mirror). Other steps you can take include:
- Talk to your manager about your WWWWH boundary plan. Ask for theirs.
- Educate, don’t ask for approval.
- If they ask you to make a change, tell them you will consider it and get back to them. This will allow you to make a thoughtful choice about YOUR boundaries.
ACTION: For Managers and LeadersIn addition to creating your own boundary plan….
- Focus on employee output, not input, where-put or when-put.
- If the work is getting done, respect the choices your employees make. Flexibility and autonomy are contributors to employee satisfaction.
- Be careful about biases for or against different integration preferences. See point 1.
Work-life integration can be a great tool, but if not controlled, it’s not going to help your balance at all. Like wine, chocolate, and hairspray, some is fantastic while too much is, well, too much.
Want to learn more about playing nice with others? Check out The Life Balance Playbook.
NOTE: The blog was first published on LinkedIn, November 2015.