Adopting a push & pull approach for effective work-life integration
Originally written for Black Marketing, Singapore.
Most of us have heard of the expression “work-life balance” to describe the traditional 9-5 schedule where once you leave the office, you are done for the day. Work is left where it is, and emails and phone calls will only be returned once back at the desk. With modern technology however, the way we work is changing and we are witnessing the emergence of a new phrase to define our more connected and more flexible work schedules: “work-life integration”.
The birth of the 9-5 workday
The 8-hour workday was an invention of nineteenth-century socialism at a time when there was no limit to the hours employers could demand of their workers. It was only in the 1920s however that Ford Motor Company introduced the 5- day workweek with 8-hour workdays, and in 1938 that Congress ratified the Fair Labor Standards Act that created the right to a minimum wage and overtime pay when employees worked more than 40 hours a week.
The original 8-hour work day was proposed to create an ideal balance – allowing employees 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep and 8 of hours recreation in a 24- hour day. Although this model has worked well for many years, it is now undergoing drastic change to the point that it might be on the verge of disappearing.
An obsolete work routine?
Technology and instant connectivity are changing the way we work. We are available everywhere and at all times of the day through our phones and portable computers; and being constantly reachable is not only feasible, it is also increasingly expected.
In fact, even with the traditional 9-5 workday, technology makes us bring work home regardless of whether we want it or not. According to the 2014 study by the Berkeley Haas School of Business, 52% of employees check emails from work when on holiday and 42% feel compelled to do so. It has further been established that 50% of workers in the Netherlands believe the 9-5 model is outdated, and 44% support the freedom to define their own work schedule.
Has technology therefore engendered the end of work-life balance? Maybe in the traditional way. The way we communicate is developing, but it does not however mean that we will be working all weekdays, evenings and weekends.
The opposite might actually be true. Just like with work-life balance, ideal work- life integration should allow us a fair share of time to unwind. The only difference is that we have more flexibility to choose those moments ourselves.
The future of working
Today, the boundaries between our professional and personal lives are increasingly ambiguous and both lives have a tendency to bleed over the other. Instead of fighting it, we should embrace it and try to incorporate the various areas of our lives into one big picture.
Whether you have to pick up your children at school, wish to walk the dog during the middle of the day or have a meeting at the dentist, you can do it and make up for the lost time in the mornings, evenings or even weekends. The fact that all non-work-related duties can be incorporated into your working schedule without too much hustle, can relieve a great deal of stress.
Studies have found that employees who are less stressed are generally more productive, positive and committed. A flexible work routine and work-life integration therefore have the potential to be beneficial and constructive for both employees and employers.
Push & Pull
How, then, can we achieve the perfect work-life integration? We are not talking about a state of equilibrium in which a worker’s personal life and job are absolutely equal. Sometimes, personal life will be more important than work, and other times work will supersede personal life.
We should therefore adopt a push-pull strategy. There are days when we should push work away and pull personal life into focus, and other days when we should pull work closer and push personal life slightly away.
Why does this work? It allows us to be fully committed to one thing at a time. Instead of multitasking, we will be able to focus on the project at hand and thereby gain clarity. Taking such decisive measures will help control emotional anxiety, and might actually drastically improve the different aspects of our lives.
The brain is a powerful muscle, but strong emotions have the ability to sabotage our goals when we struggle to find harmony between the areas of our lives. Therefore, in a work-life integration perspective, acquiring mental mastery over ourselves by focusing on one thing at a time is a great step towards achieving a meaningful life.