Solving the Work-Life Balance Myth

When finishers reject the work-life balance fairytale in favor of work-life integration, both can be performed at a higher level.


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I have long struggled with the concept of work-life balance. The idea that there is an equilibrium at which our professional and personal lives exist in perfect harmony, with thick lines drawn between the time we spend at work and that we spend on everything else, nary one interrupting the other.

In the finishing industry, work-life balance is a myth. Finishers live in a world of 24-hour lead times where a customer may not be willing to wait an extra day for a critical order just because the finisher wants balance between their work and personal life. The finisher may not have the luxury of waiting until 9 a.m. the following morning to address an unexpected waste treatment upset taking place on second shift. A 7 p.m. email with a question from a sales team member who needs to complete a quote for a new job and get it to the customer before midnight cannot sit until the work part of work-life balance rolls around. Work-life balance? Not in the finishing industry.

At the same time, there ought be more to the finisher’s life than work. Spouses and children deserve attention, regular exercise is important, one appreciates a vacation from time to time and leisure, rest, continuing education and spirituality are all part of a well-rounded existence. For years I struggled to give each the appropriate amount of my time.

About a decade ago I stumbled across an article in Forbes magazine that started me on the route to a solution. Instead of striving for work-life balance and continually coming up short of such a goal, the article’s protagonist advocated for the concept of work-life integration. When we strive for work-life integration, we begin by tossing out the idea that our work and personal lives should be separate and balanced, and instead find ways to integrate the two in a fashion that gives each the right amount of our resources.

For example, embracing work-life integration means we can check out of the plant for a couple of hours in the middle of the day if the weather is perfect for a run. It means we are free to schedule our work life around a child’s school event. Work-life integration makes it okay to work from home on a day that the new washer and dryer are being delivered. It also enables us to drive to the family cabin on a Friday, stop to see a customer on the way and call it a workday.

Work-life integration also means checking emails while on vacation, returning an important customer phone call on a day off, and sometimes carving out an hour at home after the kids are off to bed to catch up on work we might have missed during the day.

Since giving up on the fantasy of work-life balance in favor of the achievable goal of work-life integration, I have found my own version of balance and life is way better. A few guidelines:

  • The work-life integrator abandons the idea that they must be “at work” during specific hours of the day. It’s okay to start an hour or two later, or leave an hour or two earlier, than the standard work hours if personal commitments or activities need attention. I often travel with a mountain bike in the back of my truck. If I happen to be near a good trail with a few open hours midafternoon, guess where I’ll be found?
  • The integrator schedules personal commitments such as exercise and family events just as they would an important professional appointment and they keep these commitments as they would any other. Otherwise, in a work-life integration world, these important perhaps not urgent items have a way of not getting done.
  • The integrator loves their career or finds one they can. If you genuinely love what you do and feel strongly about your employer’s mission then work is no longer work. It’s quite a bit easier to put an extra hour into your job at 8 p.m. on a weeknight when the work takes on greater meaning than itself.
  • Work-life integration can only succeed when the whole family gets on board. I check emails after hours, take important phone calls during the weekend and carve out 30 to 60 minutes daily when on vacation to attend to important business details precisely so I can spend more time with my family and still operate a group of companies that provides for all of us. For the work-life integration goal to be accomplished, the integrator’s family must appreciate that work-life integration is being done for them, not to them.
  • To the extent their roles allow, the integrator offers the flexibility of work-life integration to all team members. Thus, nobody resents the privileges the integrator affords themself.

It’s okay to go for a bike ride at 2 p.m. on a workday if the weather is beautiful and that’s what you feel like doing. When the finisher rejects the work-life balance fairytale in favor of work-life integration, both the completion of work and the living of life can be performed at a higher level.