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Balance or Integration? The key to a life that works

By now, you or someone you know may have been part of “the great resignation.”  Or you may have known someone or have found yourself “quiet quitting” or “rage applying.”  You might have also learned that there is actually a term for dreading Mondays because of work – “Sunday Scaries.”  These buzzwords have become popular since the pandemic as calls for more attention to workplace well-being continue. 


Various surveys echo the same story.  2022 data from international research firm Gallup show that Filipinos are the most engaged employees in Southeast Asia. But we’re also the most stressed. The firm’s Employee Wellbeing survey for the same year revealed that 62 percent of Pinoys were struggling, 33 percent were thriving, and 5 percent were suffering at work.


Employees now keep an eye on well-being in setting career sights.  An international recruitment survey by Boston Consulting Group, The Network, and JobStreet found that globally, job seekers now prioritize “good work-life balance” that allows for “time for family, friends, and hobbies.” The global average for this, which is 60%, is even lower than the numbers in Southeast Asia (71%) and the Philippines (73%). Among deal breakers, work-life balance ranked second to compensation. 


As the pandemic forcibly reshaped how work is done, another approach to ensuring well-being at work became popularized – work-life integration. What’s the difference between the two?


Work-life balance encourages segmentation between work and life in general. It was born from the fight for reasonable working hours, conditions, and pay during the industrial revolution. Historically, work-life balance aimed to address labor exploitation. It later evolved to encompass the promotion of employee engagement, well-being, and productivity.


Work-life integration, on the other hand, suggests the harmonization of work with other aspects of personal life. It also seeks to enhance well-being at work. This can look like working on a project remotely while on a beach with your family, taking a nap when a writer’s block hits, walking on a treadmill while attending a virtual call, window shopping at a nearby mall while waiting for a client to confirm your meeting, etc. 

In 2019, I wrote about the fallacy of work-life balance and argued for work-life integration. I pointed out that the former implies a dichotomy between the good and the bad, where work is often associated with “the bad.” 


However, in the Philippine context, and drawing from experience as a psychologist assisting employees with mental health concerns, I learned that any of the two approaches is applicable depending on the circumstances.


There are situations where it is unavoidable to view work, or aspects of it, as “bad” no matter how passionate we are about what we do.  People could be putting up with unfavorable wages, workload, and challenging managers because unemployment will bring more complicated problems. There are instances when a text message from a colleague or boss on a Sunday family lunch would be enough to ruin the day. Or the week. If only it were easy to find a new job, right? But until there is a better opportunity or workplace environment, people stay put and try to do their best. 


In these cases, work-life balance is applied. Boundaries are encouraged, enforced, and supported, so people can take care of themselves, burnout is prevented, and the business is sustained.  This includes the basics such as setting official business hours, granting paid time off, and the clear setting of job responsibilities and accountabilities among employees, including managers. 


This also looks like stepping away from the workstation during breaks, ensuring efficient workflows to prevent forcing employees to respond to non-urgent work messages outside working hours, or being selective of colleagues to allow on your social media network.  


On the other hand, there are roles that, by nature, do not end once you clock out. Changes can happen in ungodly hours and decisions need to be made, or ideas suddenly emerge on a weekend and it becomes the best time to begin working on a commissioned project, or unexpected opportunities come up and you’ll need to make a call even while you’re on vacation, etc. These are likely to happen in working arrangements that focus more on output and deadlines than service hours. Work-life integration becomes more applicable in this case. 


Jobs, roles, working arrangements, and workplace cultures differ. Whether it is balance or integration, or both, find the approach that suits your situation that does not harm you or other people. 


In other words, go for a life that works.

About the Author

Author’s views are their own and do not necessarily reflect that of Argao Psych.


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