Today, work life balance is simply not possible. And we can all blame the Internet.

First, it’s a quick glance at an email notification on your phone. Then it’s the momentary panic of thinking it could be an emergency, so you read the email. By then, you’re in it; you know you have to respond eventually, so why not do it now? It is Sunday, but it doesn’t matter.

For those who have wondered: “Who cares about the difference between work life balance and integration? They’re basically the same.”

Remember that it isn’t about the literal definitions – few people care about that. It’s about the shift in mindset the new language will prompt. Many companies still haven’t stopped to realize the Internet has strapped work to us wherever we go.

“I tell people about work/life integration, not balance,” says Ellen Langer, the Harvard professor attributed to coining the term. “‘Balance suggests that the two are opposite and have nothing in common. But that’s not true.”

Integration is the notion that work and life bleed into one another. Not only that, but that it’s inevitable; you just have to find your own rhythm.

Employees today are unspokenly expected to be available 24/7. We need to hit deadlines, so the 40-hour work week cap doesn’t really matter. Some of us work remotely, with no choice but to check our phones constantly for work correspondence.

The biggest problem with this is we still aspire to achieve work life balance and get disappointed or frustrated when we can’t. All the while, companies are trying to figure out ways to help employees avoid burnout while pushing for high productivity and engagement.

So if you’re looking for tips on how to shift employees toward healthy work life integration, here are some basic insights to start you off.

Your employees are probably working on weekends even if you don’t expect it. So reward them for it.

Managers and executives should never say, “We don’t expect you to work weekends” if they’re sending emails…on weekends. It sets a precedent – whether they mean to or not.

Some employees are willing to work longer and harder to hit tight deadlines and produce amazing work. Show them you love them for it, instead of defensively repeating that they “don’t need” to.

Have programs and systems in place so whenever an employee feels overworked or spent, they can fall back on the idea that, at least, their company appreciates them for their extra time and hard work.

Never underestimate the power of saying “thank you,” whether it’s in a written note or a workday team outing. There’s a reason why companies are investing time and money into making their employees happy, inside and outside the workplace. The faster companies realize this, the easier time they will have recruiting and retaining their best talent.

Employees won’t work harder and longer without something in return.

They are smart employees (you hired them!). They aren’t going to just increase their working hours and be strong brand champions for their company on their own. In time, without recognition, they will begin feeling frustrated, stressed, and eventually just leave.

Millennials –  47% of whom work longer hours versus 38% for Gen Xers and 28% for Boomers – highly value recognition, professional development, workplace perks…and facetime from their superiors. Managers need to be more involved in the individual employee, making sure she or he is feeling good about their career and gaining valuable skills from the company.

Which leads to our next tip…

Managers should be trained on recognizing employees and giving them space.

It’s tough. Today, there is a very fine line between managers being too involved and not being involved enough; between offering guidance and autonomy. It’s critical to offer managers the tools and training to navigate this.

Managers should be paying attention to employees’ quality of work, their levels of engagement, what the employee wants to get out of their job, and what their career goals are. Managers should also bear in mind that if they ask employees to work weekends they should be offering something in return.

Note that just because a CEO preaches “work life balance/integration” and pays staff $4K to take a break doesn’t mean managers are conveying the same attitude to their teams. The overall message to employees needs to be consistent, and that’s why manager training is key. Any lack of communication between executives and managers will reflect poorly on the company overall.

Employees are quickly adjusting to the new working norm; they expect companies to do the same.

work-life-integration-balanceAnd many companies are. There’s a reason why “employee perks,” “employee happiness,” and “wellness”  are buzzwords now. It’s no coincidence that Merriam-Webster’s 2014 Word of the Year was “culture.”

Today, employee happiness matters because integrating work with everyday life means the emotional and physical effects of work drastically affect an employee’s personal life.

Work life integration means companies must consider their employees outside the work context, just as employees bring their company’s mission and purpose with them after work hours and on weekends: everywhere they go.

The sooner companies realize this, the stronger culture they can build for their team. They’ll have a better time recruiting engaged employees, and employees will stay at the company longer.


For tips on managing millennials, read our post: 3 Thing Every Manager Should Do to Engage Their Team.

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