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As a busy executive, Margaret Keane has had to find creative ways to fit time with her family into her busy schedule, especially when her children were teenagers. One method that she found particularly effective was driving her kids to school every day. “That way, we had at least 20 minutes just for us,” she says.
As the CEO of Connecticut-based Synchrony Financial, a credit card provider and consumer financial services platform, Keane does her best to achieve work-life balance but doesn’t beat herself up when she’s not able to achieve perfection. “Those years taught me to take each work-life challenge day-by-day and put less pressure on myself to accomplish everything at once.”
And Keane is far from alone: Professionals in what’s been called the “always on” work culture—especially women—often find it difficult to achieve work-life equilibrium. But, unlike Keane, many of these working people are wracked with guilt for failing to achieve complete harmony.
Now the idea of “work-life integration” is gaining currency, as more and more people concede the ideal of “balance” may just be an unattainable goal.
"It's liberating to give up finding 'balance,’” says Elisa Steele, CEO of the New York-based human resources platform Namely. “In fact, when I was seeking balance all the time, I just felt like a constant failure. There is no perfect balance—it’s just life. It’s dynamic and demanding and fluid and forgiving.”
Establishing your own personal definition of what balance means is the first step toward making it a reality, says Jae Ellard, author of the 2014 book The Five Truths about Work-Life Balance. And even though the original work-life balance idea has since morphed into discussions of like work-life integration or work-life harmony, her advice remains relevant.
“Once a definition is established,” Ellard says, the next step “becomes about creating awareness around behaviors that support or sabotage the desired outcome at both the individual and organizational level.” The process might entail having uncomfortable conversations both at home and at the office about boundaries and priorities.
Ellard observes that the work-life conversation has recently evolved into one about corporate culture, “which is a huge leap in working to address some of the drivers of imbalance.”
Companies have begun to understand their roles in creating environments conducive to work-life success. Mathilde Collin, CEO of the shared inbox Front App and Forbes 30 Under 30 alum, is helping to lead this charge. She recently challenged her employees to delete all nonessential apps from their phones, including social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as a way of keeping them more present both at home and at work.
Since work-life balance is no longer the only way to define the successfully management of professional and personal life, there now appears to be an opportunity for people to hone what works for them—without feeling as though they need to live up to a certain standard, set by someone else.
“I hold the belief that it doesn’t matter what you call it,” says Ellard, referring to the idea of “balance,” as opposed to “integration.” “What matters most is that people have a clear idea of what it is they are wanting to create.”