Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion

It’s time to replace work-life balance with ‘life-work integration’

January 24, 2022, 2:30 PM UTC
"Life-work integration starts with asking ourselves what our non-negotiables are, what are the things in our lives that are critical components of who we are and who we want to be," the authors write.
Getty Images

The Great Resignation has led to a Great Reevaluation about the place of work in our lives. People aren’t just quitting their jobs, they’re rethinking what they want out of life. What people are resigning from is a culture of “workism”: the idea that we’re defined primarily by our work, and everything else—i.e. life—must fit into the increasingly small space that is left. And they are realizing how backwards our thinking about work-life has been. 

Yes, work is important. It can give us purpose and meaning. It’s an essential part of a thriving life. But it shouldn’t take the place of life. 

The time has come to do away with the idea of “work-life” altogether. Language matters. In the years before the pandemic, much of our language about work was taken from warfare—killing it, crushing it, defeating competitors. This helped fuel a perpetual state of fight-or-flight that in turn fueled burnout. It also supported the zero-sum idea of work and life reflected in the myth of “work-life balance.” 

The truth is that work and life are on the same side, so they don’t need to be balanced. They rise and fall together—increase your life’s overall well-being and you’ll also be more effective at work. Believing that the two can be balanced, and that when we achieve this balance we can “have it all,” is a recipe for certain failure. “Work-life integration” is a definite improvement because it’s based on the idea that when we bring our whole selves to work—whether in-person or remotewe don’t have to choose between success in our work and success in other parts of our lives. 

Our work and our lives are always integrated, so acknowledging that truth in the way we talk about our lives makes it easier to sustain. That was a step in the right direction, and now we can take it one step further with “life-work integration.” 

And to reflect that, we’re making a symbolic but important change and renaming our Work-Life Integration Hub (in collaboration with Deloitte and edited by Jen) the Life-Work Integration Hub. 

This change in language is a way of going back and fixing a fundamental flaw in the code that led to an increasingly unstable operating system, along with more and more crashes. And people are definitely crashing. Even before the pandemic, we were in the midst of a growing epidemic of stress and burnout. In May 2019, just months before the pandemic began, the World Health Organization officially recognized burnout as a workplace crisis.

At the same time, the Great Resignation continues, with a new record number of workers—4.5 million—deciding to leave their jobs just before the holidays in November. Among the key reasons are burnout and the demand for more flexibility. According to a recent global survey by Future Forum, 76% of workers want more flexibility about where they work, and 93% want greater flexibility in when they work. But it’s not flexibility for its own sake—behind the desire for flexibility is a desire to recalibrate our relationship between our lives and our work. That’s what’s at the heart of the Great Reevaluation. People want their lives to come first

And in response to this collective mindset shift, forward-thinking companies are rethinking their approach to well-being. It’s no longer just a perk, or something to be squeezed in as work allows. Life-work integration is about embedding well-being into the workflow itself. It’s about well-being as a set of guiding principles that we can design our day around. It starts with asking ourselves what our non-negotiables are, what are the things in our lives that are critical components of who we are and who we want to be, and that allow us to show up as our best selves. 

In a world of life-work integration, we redefine success for ourselves, and work is just one way to fulfill that definition. As organizational psychologist Adam Grant put it recently in The Wall Street Journal, “For several generations, we’ve organized our lives around our work. Our jobs have determined where we make our homes, when we see our families and what we can squeeze in during our downtime. It might be time to start planning our work around our lives.”

As the Great Resignation shows, millions agree. Life-work integration is a framework on which we can build a way of living and working that allows us to truly thrive.

Arianna Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive Global. Jen Fisher is chief well-being officer at Deloitte and editor-at-large, Life-work Integration at Thrive Global.

Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.