Life is complicated — and even more so when trying to combine a personal life with work. Throw in a change of season and employees are facing a whole new set of challenges that can make stress levels skyrocket if they’re not ready.
That’s why employees need a different mindset to achieve balance between their personal and professional lives. Though some employers prefer to keep work and life separate, after more than 20 years as an organizational psychologist, here is what I’ve found to be true: As employers, we must focus on the whole employee, rather than separating who they are in the office and who they are at home. And as employees, it’s our job to find ways to connect and integrate the two.
Why work-life integration instead of work-life balance? Traditional work-life balance is dead. The concept implies a zero-sum game that says we can’t have it all. Work-life integration, on the other hand, lets us coordinate, blend and bring elements of work and life together. The result: A more engaged, healthier and happier workforce.
When organizations provide work-life supports — like flexible work hours, job autonomy and more — they enhance employee engagement, satisfaction, retention and well-being, all of which yields better company results. And when employees believe their employer cares about their health and well-being, they are 38% more engaged, 28% more likely to recommend their workplace and 18% more likely to go the extra mile for the organization.
As we head into fall, here are some tips employers should share with their employees for how to start prioritizing so they can achieve better work-life integration:
1. Shift your mindset
Working longer doesn’t mean working better. This can be a hard habit to break, especially if you’re surrounded by people who think burning the midnight oil is their ticket to the top. Instead, work smartly. Be efficient when you’re working, but give yourself the time and space to relax and recover. You’ll start to realize that prioritizing the things you need — whether it’s striving to leave by 5 p.m. every day or choosing to work on the weekend so you can chaperone your child’s field trip — means you’re that much more productive and happy both in and out of the office.
2. Block off time on your calendar
Is a meeting-packed schedule leaving you little time for “heads-down” work (not to mention, thinking time)? Do you find yourself skipping your morning workout to make a meeting? Put up a few calendar guardrails to designate time each day to complete assignments or honor your morning routine. Whether it’s two hours in the afternoon or one hour every morning with an appointment that says “no meetings” or “busy” — you’re prioritizing what you need.
3. Consciously limit emails at night and on weekends
Don’t make checking your email at night a habit. Too many emails can lead to burnout and poor performance. Use this seasonal change as an opportunity to shift how you approach work email after hours or over the weekend. If you need to, choose to work late one night so you can consciously tune out on the weekend — and let your coworkers know you’ll be offline. The key takeaway: Work when it works best for you, but don’t expect others to fit exactly within the parameters you set for yourself.
4. Be a model at work
The best way to foster work-life integration is to model it yourself — and be an evangelist. Talk about your weekend plans with co-workers and leave more prescriptive out of office messages. Try writing something like, “Checking out the local Octoberfest with friends, be back Monday,” rather than “I’m out of the office.” Most importantly, don’t leave paid vacation days on the table. As we get closer to the end of the year, take advantage of the time off and actually use it. As a manager, boost well-being this fall and let your team know it’s important to take time off. Acknowledge or reward employees who take all their vacation time — they’ve earned it.
5. Make time for a mental break
Our energy, both mental and physical, is not an endless resource. We have to take time to recover, re-energize and build our resources back up. So, don’t cancel that afternoon volunteer event or skip your morning counseling session — instead, integrate well-being into your work day. As employees, we should feel comfortable committing 30 minutes to jog outside, take a walk while listening to a podcast or eat lunch with a new coworker to get a little mental break. And as employers, we need to trust our employees and work with the natural ebbs and flows of their lives if we want ongoing commitment and engagement. At the end of the day, when you align your well-being priorities with your work, you’re doing something right.
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