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The ‘Work-Life Balance’ Misnomer: Is Work-Life ‘Integration’ the New Norm?


The Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five is a pipe dream.

For employees in “traditional” jobs — office jobs with set, weekday hours — today’s status quo of ever-connectedness means that work often creeps into personal life (and vice versa): We often find ourselves taking personal calls at work, or sneaking peeks at an oh-so-urgent Excel file on our phones in the middle of family movie night. And for employees without a set schedule — surgeons, entrepreneurs, entertainers and countless other dedicated professionals — the delicate balance of personal and work life is even more precarious.

In order to examine the rising trend of work-life “integration,” we spoke to professionals doing their best to master the juggling act (career, family, social life), health experts and family psychologists. We found, encouragingly, that it is actually possible. Below are a few tips on how to make the puzzle pieces fit together while maintaining your sanity.

Put your health first

It’s tempting to skip the gym or grab quick (and nutritionally empty) snacks while on the clock, but in the long-term, these hasty decisions have negative consequences on productivity and ultimately on health and happiness.



Dr. Jesse Slade Shantz, a practicing surgeon, fellow in sports medicine and chief medical officer of OMsignal, suggests that making simple commitments — such as taking the stairs, packing a lunch every day or biking to work — can make a world of difference.

“Doughnuts just won’t cut it, so bringing healthy snacks is a good way to make sure the food you’re eating doesn’t drag you down after the sugar rush wears off,”

“Doughnuts just won’t cut it, so bringing healthy snacks is a good way to make sure the food you’re eating doesn’t drag you down after the sugar rush wears off,” he says. In addition, planning or cooking healthy meals in advance for a few days at a time ensures you’re eating healthily — and curbs the temptation to hit the vending machines.

When it comes to fitness, scheduling trips to the gym on your calendar can be helpful: Having a set block of time set aside for exercise makes it easier to adhere to a routine. You might also consider a fitness tracker or app to help you stay on track with your weekly regimen. Emerald-Jane Hunter, producer of ABC’s Windy City LIVE, uses a fitness app to count calories and stay fit, despite her hectic schedule. “I’ve got theMyFitnessPal app on my phone,” she says. “I track everything, I surround myself with things I know are somewhat healthy, and I pre-schedule all my workouts to ensure that I can get in at least four per week.”

Find spheres that overlap

Dr. Lyssa Menard, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, clinical health psychologist and business coach, spends a lot of her time working with entrepreneurs and executives. “For what it’s worth, I’m not a big believer in work-life balance, particularly for the types of clients I serve; I do focus heavily on work-life integration, though.

The key for shift workers and those who work long hours is actually to focus on creating a situation where the different spheres of your life overlap,

The key for shift workers and those who work long hours is actually to focus on creating a situation where the different spheres of your life overlap,” she says.

As an example, Menard provides a scenario of a nurse who works the night shift, who started a running group at work to connect with her colleagues and simultaneously squeeze a fitness routine into her schedule. The group meets three times a week during “lunch hour” for a quick, half-hour run and a healthy bite. “Here, you see the four major life spheres overlap: work/career, family/friends, health/wellness and fun/activities,” says Menard. “The closer my clients can get to this kind of overlap, the better they can function. They don’t need to try to find extra time to devote to each of the non-work-related spheres. It’s all built in.”

Hunter has also experimented with integrating fitness and social activities into work. “We’ve actually done things on the show using staff members where we’ll have weight loss challenges, and we’ll report on them and their progress. That’s the beauty of our show; we’re a small staff. We’ve really bonded. We work these things into work and the office, and it’s helped to create a healthier environment.”


One of the best methods for merging professional and personal lives is to befriend coworkers — they understand your crazy schedule, and can serve as a source of moral support. Kurt Johnson, a finance professional and part-time entrepreneur in Los Angeles, knows a thing or two about a hectic schedule: He spent several years as an investment banker in New York City.

“It helps to find friends with similar schedules,” says Johnson. “The most logical group of people is coworkers. As a junior investment banker, you typically sit in a cubicle farm with other people your age under the same time constraints. Make friends; they’ll understand and appreciate your schedule.” As for your social network outside of work, make the effort to stay in touch. “In periods of downtime, call, text or email friends so you stay in the loop,” says Johnson. “If you go silent on them because of your schedule, it will be easy for them to forget to include you in future group activities.”

Address stress

For mental health and mitigating stress, Sonia Friedrich of Kissing Lions Public Relationssuggests mapping out tranquil places near your office where you can take quick breaks throughout the work day or immediately before arriving/after leaving the office. “Look into boutique wellness centers with an open-door policy or ongoing classes; or consider a shavasana in a meditation class,” she says. Additionally, Friedrich suggests resources such as Breather in a city like New York, or Weleet, a co-working co-op that hosts in homes, lounges, tea houses and other unique workspaces, which can help over-stressed employees mentally reboot.

Speaking of rebooting, here’s another tactic: Take naps. (No, really.)

Speaking of rebooting, here’s another tactic: Take naps. (No, really.) If your schedule doesn’t allow for a solid eight hours of sleep per night, consider experimenting with polyphasic sleep schedules — a series of intense and “dense” naps spread throughout the day — which can cut down the amount of sleep you need to function and remain alert and healthy. Shantz is familiar with this method of sleep, which he says can be common for medical professionals who often have to work long shifts. “Sometimes polyphasic sleep is all you can get,” he says. “I’ve been forced to adopt this strategy at times when I’ve covered whole weekends at a trauma center. Under duress, I think that being trained to be able to take short sleeps is important.”

Jared Wyatt, CTO of Matchbook, stresses the importance of periodic vacations, or actually taking breaks (we know — a novel concept). “It could be one day, or a long weekend, or a couple of weeks. Whatever is reasonable for your situation. Vacations should be a break from the balancing act,” he says. “Don’t get stuck on the notion that a vacation requires traveling and spending money — it doesn’t. Just stay home and sleep, go to the park and play with your kids, go to the beach, whatever tickles your fancy.”


And though it’s easier said than done, it’s crucial to take steps to avoid burning out — in whatever way possible. “Avoid overworking. The burnout stage is one of the worst for your career: You’ll lose creativity; you’ll lose everything. Focus more on the quality versus the quantity,” says Hunter. “I have to take time to enjoy my accomplishments. Allow yourself to feel pride — those moments will refuel you to keep going.”

Family matters

A recent study found that close to half of all working parents fear that their family responsibilities could potentially cause them to lose their jobs, and close to 40% fear that they could be denied a promotion due to family obligations.

Kim Blackham, a family and marriage therapist, knows a thing or two about balancing family and career — not only does she work with clients facing a variety of work-life balance issues, but she has personal experience with the matter: Blackham’s husband, a surgical oncology fellow, works between 80-120 hours per week. The couple has four kids between the ages of 3-12.

When handling a trying work schedule, whether your own or your spouse’s, attitude is an important piece of the puzzle. “My first suggestion is to believe that it’s possible,” says Blackham. “I think that people often get really discouraged and wonder, ‘Is this going to work? Can I — can we — really do this?’ But there are many professions and many people who aredoing it. And these marriages do work.”


For Blackham, clear communication with her husband — and with her kids — helps set expectations. She says that the number one thing to avoid in a family situation where a spouse must work an unusual schedule is resentment.

“Make the commitment to not be resentful and make it work,” she says. “And if resentment does come up, be willing to talk about it and seek help.”

“Make the commitment to not be resentful and make it work,” she says. “And if resentment does come up, be willing to talk about it and seek help.”

“It’s totally about finding the holes [in your schedule], because there are pockets,” says Blackham. “Have a family meeting and really look at all the time there is potentially to be together — and be super creative about what that time looks like. Sit down and come up with a plan as a family: ‘Here are the hours that we have to be together; how are we going to make the most use of them?’ And then make time together a priority.”

Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, founder RoundPegg, raised three children while simultaneously building a business. “All of my kids have spent plenty of time sleeping under my desk, sitting on my hip during board meetings, and waiting in the lobby with a nanny while I’m meeting with a customer upstairs,” she says. Despite the craziness of managing a growing company, she still makes a point of putting in face-time with her kids. “I attend soccer games, nurse between meetings, write articles at 11 p.m. and juggle a million details in between.”

When it comes to family time, mobile devices and technology can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it does make it easier for families and loved ones to stay in touch when working unusual hours — on the other, “quality” family time together shouldn’t constitute hanging out in the same room on everyone’s individual devices.

Blackham says that her husband has gone as far as to take books to work, get on FaceTimeand read their kids bedtime stories when he can’t physically be there. But when the family is together, she says they prefer actual face time to staring at a screen.


The lesson? Texts, emails, Skype and other forms of screen-to-screen communication can be a godsend for a spouse or parents who can’t always be around due to long hours or a nontraditional schedule — but taking “tech breaks” when the family is face-to-face results in stronger bonding and higher quality time together.

Conduct self-assessments — and recognize when it’s not working

“Passion is a necessity. My passion and dedication comes because I love what I do,” says Hunter. “Anybody who wants to be in this industry — when you think about the one thing that would make you happy for the rest of your life, it has to be this. That’s what it is for me.”

Baumgartner agrees. “As a psychologist, it is fundamentally important to me to be an involved, present mom. But I’ve also learned that I need to intellectually challenge myself, and growing a company is about as intellectually challenging as it gets,” she says. “There is always something more and better that I could be doing on both sides — with my kids, for my business.

It’s brutally easy to fall into the hole of thinking about what I haven’t done well, but I try to instead identify, strive for and hit small, measurable goals along the way.

It’s brutally easy to fall into the hole of thinking about what I haven’t done well, but I try to instead identify, strive for and hit small, measurable goals along the way.

If you become incapable of taking care of yourself or your job/career path is severely hindering your ability to parent or provide support for your spouse — particularly for long periods of time — it may be time to consider changing paths. “On a regular basis, pause and assess your life. Are you tired? Are you stressed? Are you happy? Is there anything you wish you were doing, but aren’t? Is there anything you’re doing that you wish you weren’t? If the answers to these questions do not satisfy you, adjust your trajectory,” says Wyatt.


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