After my last blog on Why I strive for work-life integration and not work/life balance, some got it and said, “important distinction.” Others thought it was just semantics, just a different choice of words but saying the same thing. I beg to differ.
Here’s another attempt to distinguish one from the other: work/life balance (apart from seeming to pit work against life) is the attempt to distribute time, energy and other resources equitably to all four buckets of life to ‘tick all the boxes’. On the other hand, work-life integration is radically different because it harnesses the power of all four buckets, making other buckets better by the power of other buckets. And it is living in such a way that one doesn’t have to hide the other buckets (say, on LinkedIn), pretend they don’t exist or be different things to different people in the different buckets. I’m quite certain a few poignant examples below may make the distinction clearer.
FACEBOOK AND FAMILY
Who doesn’t know about FaceBook and its 2.7 billion users. That number is the combined population of China and India, the two most populous nations in the world. 2.7 billion is more than twice the population of the entire continent of Africa! I was fascinated to learn that as founder/CEO, one of Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt at the integrated life in Facebook’s early days was to host FaceBook strategy sessions at his home on Monday evenings. And for Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, instead of missing dinner with her family, she would bring her children into the office. Here’s her testimony: “Facebook is incredibly family friendly, so my children were in heaven, entranced by pizza, endless candy, and the huge pile of LEGOs the engineers shared with young visitors. It made me happy my kids got to now my colleagues and vice versa” (George 2015, 173). I don’t know everything about FaceBook’s corporate culture, but these right here are great examples of the integrated life at FaceBook.
I’m proud of Databank in Ghana that has created a nursery in the workplace for nursing mothers as well as a quiet time room for staff to go and nourish their spiritual lives, especially after rushing from home at dawn in order to beat the crazy Accra traffic. These are laudable examples of the integrated life in corporate circles.
I love lions. I call my children cubs; not kids, hence we are the Perbi Pride. Last week, I handed over to the next CEO of ISMCanada after being at this role for eight years. One of the things I recalled at the handing over ceremony (and nearly everyone remembered) is how not long after I took the role I travelled almost the entire stretch of Canada (the second widest country on earth!) to get to personally know the staff and listen for the pertinent issues from the ground. What I haven’t told you yet is that as a family we decided to integrate our lives with my new work by making this a fun family trip. We rented a minivan and spent 30 days travelling from Montreal (on the east coast) to Victoria (beyond Vancouver) in the west. It was beautiful to see the different types of Canadian landscape and wildlife. Because our children our homeschooled, such opportunities are precious as ‘all of life is school.’ By the time we got back home we had clocked 13,000km and had enough geography, history, sociology etc. to last a lifetime! That is one of the best examples of the integrated life we’ve ever had as a family. Family did not get in the way of work or vice versa. We made both feed off each other and were the richer for it.
Over the last couple of years, I have adopted a tradition of travelling with one of the older four children. Just one, to make them feel special and have a one-on-one time with daddy. Don’t forget these are work trips for me and fun trips for them. After doing a Philadelphia and Washington DC road trip with our then four-year old she insisted upon returning home that “I’m Daddy’s travel buddy’ much to the chagrin of the others. I’ve been far from perfect in integrating family and work but I knew we were doing something right when my children got so used to the ISMCanada world that one day our then seven-year old son asked, “Will I become president of ISMCanada when I grow up?” Almost as if it were a family inheritance.
I’ve always worked from home over the last 8 years as CEO (or from an airport/airplane)–way before the rest of the world was forced to by the Covid-19 pandemic. Working from home and homing from work has its pros and cons but it certainly has helped more than harmed my work-life integration.
IMPACTING THE WORLD FROM WITHIN–‘AN INSIDE JOB’
In an article posted on the Harvard Business Review, author Stew Friedman rightly said that the most impactful leaders find ways “to integrate the different parts of their lives to reinforce and enhance each other.” Everywhere he looked he found successful individuals who used who they were as a person to influence how and why they worked. From Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (as I already shared above) through Michelle Obama to rock icon Bruce Springsteen, many influential people channel what made them a powerful person into creating a powerful product, service or project.
Take Michelle Obama, the 44th First Lady of the United States, for example. Michelle considers her daughters to be her first priority, even if this stance vexes those who would have her do more in seeking broader political and cultural change. However as Friedman rightly observes, in making sure her own children were receiving the most nutritious food possible, she began to advocate for better nutrition through the national initiative Let’s Move!. Her policies have won national and global acclaim.
One of the most impactful social enterprises in Ghana right now is the PerbiCubs Library Services, reaching 2,000 children in 200 schools. It might interest you to know that this did not start out as some mega altruistic attempt to ‘change the world’ through getting every child reading but out of our own family’s need for good, well-curated, reading level-appropriate books upon a long stay in Ghana. Whether it’s the Obamas or the Perbis, we’re running this for ourselves–we only get to scale and share with the rest of the world. If nobody signed on, we would still do it. It’s not just a job ‘out there’, it’s an ‘inside job,’ so-to-speak.
RUNNING MY FAMILY LIKE A CORPORATION
I’ve had partners complain about how their spouse is great at XYZ in the corporate world but doesn’t show even an iota of that competence or skill at home. There are those who might argue that they use ‘all of it’ out there and just want to chill and relax when they get home. While that might make some degree of sense, is it not inauthentic that who we are out there is different from who are at home? If you really believe in the power of vision and mission statements and values in your corporate world, for example, how come you haven’t couched one for your own family?
I’m learning to run my family like a corporation, in the sense of applying the things that have made organizations I’ve run succeed. Why not? Wherever two or three come together, you have an organization! I’m sure you can relate to how some of the most treasured members of your community, say church, actually are so because they bring their corporate skills to bear on the communal organization? On the flip side, I’ve also been the beneficiary of running businesses like family and seeing co-workers go over and beyond their job description and their contractual call of duty. The integrated life is the way to go.
CHOOSE INTEGRATION TODAY
“When you give your whole self to the moment, you not only benefit personally, but it dramatically impacts your business as well.” So says my mentor Bill George. The work-rest of life thing doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Bill is right about how “Many leaders are reluctant to combine their work and family lives, but bringing the two together can lead to more productive and fulfilling lives, both personally and professionally” (173). I have seen and testify that it takes being open-minded about this work-life integration notion, hard work, creativity, experimentation, patience, much discomfort and many failures to make it work but when it does, it really does.
Friedman, Stewart D. 2014. “What Successful Work and Life Integration Looks Like.” Harvard Business Review. October 07, 2014.
George, Bill. 2015. Discover your True North. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.