Work/Life Integration: Preparing for the Future of Work
No longer are employees trying to balance their personal and professional lives. Instead, they are looking to employers to help them be a whole person in and out of work. In this episode, we talk with Michael Dickerson of Dickerson Consulting Group and The Spillover Effect podcast about why work/life integration is the new approach to engaging employees.
We discuss the difference between work/life integration and work/life balance and why this difference matters to employees. Second, we chat about how to balance different life roles, from partner to parent to the employee. Third, Michael talks about how companies can find new ways to help employees excel in their roles, particularly when so many are working remotely. Finally, we share advice for business leaders on what they can do to build a better work/life culture for their employees.
Are you looking for more ways to engage employees? SentryHealth CMO Amanda Evans recently wrote a blog post where she shared four key factors for an effective employee engagement strategy.
In This Podcast
Michael Dickerson, Founder of Dickerson Consulting Group
Michael Dickerson is a sought after speaker, trainer, and consultant in the HR industry on positive organizational culture. He specializes in strategies on work/life integration, wellbeing, mental health, and positive psychology in the workplace. He is a Board Member of Central Oklahoma Association of Talent and Development, Certified in Applied Positive Psychology, Mental Health Advocate and the Host of The Spillover Effect Podcast.
Hey everyone. Welcome back and thanks for joining this episode of For Your Benefits. I’m Meghan Henry, Marketing Director for SentryHealth, the leading integrated health management company.
In today’s episode, we’re going to be discussing work-life integration and how organizations can create a positive workplace experience for their employees. No longer are the days of just focusing on work-life balance. It’s time to embrace the integrated employee.
And there is nobody better to chat with about this topic than HR consultant, Michael Dickerson. Michael specializes in strategies on work-life integration, wellbeing, mental health, and positive psychology in the workplace. And Michael is no stranger to podcasts. In fact, he has his own, The Spillover Effect podcast.
Thanks for having me, Meghan. I’m so excited to be here and just excited to talk about work-life integration.
Absolutely. We’re so glad to have you. To start off, I’d love to hear a little bit more about you and the work that you do.
I started off as a social worker, working with youth and young adults that were experiencing any type of mental illness or substance use. I particularly was a school-based social worker where I worked in alternative schools for about five years. And then once I left there, I went and worked for the State of Oklahoma Department of Mental Health, as a training specialist, where I did statewide training for all the social workers and licensed therapists in the state of Oklahoma, which I did for six years. Then for two and a half years, I was a manager in terms of providing mental health services in Oklahoma and consulting work to providers and agencies all over the state of Oklahoma.
And so, as you can see, my background is in mental health and substance abuse, and I enjoy talking about mental health and wellbeing. I then started a small consulting boutique firm that focuses on mental health and wellbeing for employees in the workplace.
Work-life Balance vs. Work-life Integration
Michael, I’d like to sort of set the stage for what we’re going to be talking about today. And I know that all of us have probably heard of the term work-life balance, but I’m not as familiar with work-life integration. So talk to me a little bit about what work-life integration is and how it’s different from work-life balance.
Work-life balance is really an idea that came out of work-life research. They had work-life balance to really help those, specifically women, which were interesting in going into the workforce in the 1970s. So, they got this idea, well, because a lot of the women who were coming into the workforce were single moms, or they were just moms in general, they would have this idea of work-life balance. There had to be some trade-off between the you at work, and you at home, so they came up with this idea of work-life balance. And that’s what we’ve been hearing for the last 30 years, in the workplace, to have work-life balance.
Well, the counter to work-life balance now has been work-life integration. And what that means is really just thinking about the intersection between work and life, and really dealing with a whole person and not having some trade-off of, I’m a work person, but then I have my life on the other side.
What we’ve really come to understand now is that you got to deal with the whole person and who they are. And that’s in terms of who they are, in terms of their role at work, and their role outside of work. Which is just one person, you can’t separate the two, that’s what work-life integration is about.
Ultimately, it’s about organizations dealing with the whole person and not trying to separate the two and say, hey, there’s a trade-off. You’re a person at work, and then you’re a person at home. That’s just not necessarily true. And if anything, the pandemic has shown us that you have to deal with the whole person. So, that’s where work-life integration comes in.
Love that idea. I’m a mom, and certainly still a mom when I’m at work, and I’m still employed and an employee when I’m home too. So I think that’s a fantastic way to look at it. And you’re right, work-life balance has been something we’ve been saying for a long, long time. But I think people are expecting something more than that now.
Managing the Different Life Roles & Creating Boundaries
Michael, there are so many life roles that employees have today. Spouse, partner, parent, friend, employee. We’re all of those things. The list goes on and on. So how does a person successfully manage these different life roles and still work a full-time job?
Yeah, that’s a great question. One of the things out of work-life research and work-life study is what they call work-life conflict. And so this work-life conflict is the conflict that you have between these roles of being a mom, being a dad, being a spouse, and then also having your work role.
What we have to do is, or what we say a lot of the time is, there comes a balance. But I don’t like the term balance. I like to say, what we have to do, is have good boundaries. You really need to set good boundaries in terms of what those roles are. For example, for me, between 6:30 and 8:30, I don’t take any emails or any phone calls because my role is being a husband and having time to be able to work out. I spend a lot of time talking to my wife in the morning and making sure that I get my workout in. So, I really create a boundary around my time, in that role, that I’m in.
Then once I get to work, there are some boundaries even in the workplace. One of the things I like to say is to remove the language around balance, we have to get away from that and really just create boundaries. But, that’s going to look different for different people, especially if you have kids. Maybe you might sit on a board, or you might be involved in different volunteer roles. That’s going to be different for everybody. But what we have to do is learn to create boundaries and not balance. Because once again, when you say balance, that means that there’s a trade-off somewhere and I just don’t think that’s a great idea to have.
What we need is good boundaries in our roles. Setting those boundaries and letting people know what those boundaries are. Because even at work, we can get extremely overwhelmed and that’s because we haven’t set any boundaries. People are emailing us, texting us, and calling us at 10 or 11 o’clock at night. And that’s just not healthy.
So do I have permission to say no, when I need to?
A hundred percent.
As a parent, that’s a hard thing. As an employee, as a coworker, as a volunteer, anything, it’s so darn hard to say no.
Especially when you’re in all these different types of roles. But this comes back to boundaries because what will happen is, you really get burnt out. And I know you’re going to talk a little bit about stress, but you get stress, which is not good for your wellbeing. None of that is good.
Saying no is great because if you don’t say no, what happens is you fall into doing too much and it’s just not healthy for you or your overall wellbeing. So I’m a hundred percent on board with saying no.
Whatever you need to do to let people know, here are my boundaries and I’m not going to cross them. And I think what happens, like when you spoke of your kids, people tend to think it’s bad because I’m putting some boundaries around my kids. We all need good self-care. And if that means I need to be away from my son or daughter for about an hour, just to regroup, then that’s okay to do that.
Absolutely. I’m with you. I do that regularly.
I have a 21-year-old daughter who’s in college and then I have a 23-year-old stepson. And when they were young, a lot of times there were just times to where I just needed my own space, to just be able to gather my thoughts before I really engage them as a parent.
Yeah. I think we must do that.
How Stress Impacts Us
You mentioned stress. I know you’ve got a mental health background. Talk to me a little bit about how stress, with any of these roles, impact our wellbeing and how we perform at work.
Yeah, stress is huge. One of the things that you see organizations do is they do a lot of stress management.
And I’m big into stress prevention because we want to help people not get to a point where they feel stressed out. We need to put things in place, in terms of how to really help them deal with their mental health and their wellbeing. Because what happens when you’re stressed out, what it does, it overwhelms you. That’s all stress is. I feel overwhelmed. I feel incapable of doing my job. I feel incapable in the role as a parent. I don’t feel capable of giving my all or when I’m present with my spouse. And so that’s what stress does. It overwhelms your system. It overwhelms your brain. It overwhelms you emotionally. It overwhelms you psychologically. If you’re not dealing with that stress, then it starts to play out in all the other roles.
One of the big things that I talk about in my podcast, The Spillover Effect, is if you’re not having positive emotions at work, then what happens is you’re having a lot of negative emotions like stress, and that stuff begins to spill over into your other roles. That’s why we really need to deal with this stress. Listen, it’s hard. If I’ve had a long day at work, or a very hard day at work. Or it’s a very negative or toxic environment that I work in, which all of that stuff tends to flow into your everyday life with your spouse, with your kids, with your family, with your friends. Which leads me to believe, I don’t think people are dealing with their stress well. And then it’s not good for your wellbeing. Because at the end of the day, for me, wellbeing is, are you your optimal self? That’s what wellbeing is about.
If you’re not your optimal self, then you’re not at your best. I want you at your best, at work, and in terms of dealing with your kids, being a great husband, or being a great wife. If you sit on a committee, being the best person in terms of giving advice and sitting on a committee. I want you to be at your most optimal self. So if you’re not dealing with your stress and you’re feeling overwhelmed all the time, then you’re not going to have good wellbeing. So with organizations, yes, they do stress management, but I say we need stress prevention.
We really need to focus on teaching more organizations and employees, how to deal with mental health before they get to a point where they’re so stressed out, that now we have to do an intervention, and that’s not good either. Because of this, I really try to promote stress prevention.
Right. And then you’ve got those folks that may go home and drink a little too much, or eat a little too much or whatever. And then there are other health problems that go along with that, which they then have to deal with, as an organization, through their medical benefits or whatever.
Yeah. So here’s the thing. This is good that you brought that up. There is more research coming down the pipe, and there’s a lot of it, that there’s a really good connection between, and a correlation between, the stress that you feel emotionally and how it affects your physical body. And I’ve even experienced this, where I’ve had so much stress that it was causing back pain. I went to three doctors and asked them, “I’m having this back pain, what is going on?” And at the end of the day, we came to the conclusion, it was just stress. It was nothing that I’d done when I was working out. It ultimately was stress. There’s a big correlation between what you’re dealing with in terms of emotional stress and how that impacts your physical body.
And then of course, you talked about the substance abuse side of it. You start drinking, you start using marijuana, then you can get into illicit drugs. All these things start to impact you if you don’t deal with that stress. So stress is extremely important to really try to deal with because it can overwhelm you and you just feel like you don’t know how to deal with it. So you deal with it in other ways.
COVID & the Future of the Workplace
Michael, you mentioned COVID earlier, and I know COVID forced a lot of companies to kind of rethink the future of their workplace and how they deal with employees. As a consultant, what’s your view on this? There’s an increase of employees working remotely. Have you seen this to have a positive or negative effect on organizations within the management and the employees?
Yeah. I think it’s a positive aspect. Not in terms of COVID, but I think what COVID did. Anytime that you have to rethink things in terms of your organization, I’m all about it. There’s a term that people use, if you don’t disrupt yourself, you will be disrupted. That’s just a sign of, okay, we need to think about how we do things. And one of the reasons that I say it’s positive is because it gave employees more leverage with employers. We needed employees to understand, now they have the leverage because they have experienced working from home and what that looks like and what that flexibility looks like.
Then on the positive side for employers, they have to rethink how they deal with employees. And do we have a really positive culture and what it means on how we deal with them going forward?
Because here’s the thing. All COVID did was accelerate everything. So if you had a five-year plan of like, this is our strategic plan for the next five years, what it did is said, all right, you have this plan in place, I’m going to accelerate everything. So what this has done to organizations, has accelerated everything to where now we have to rethink what our strategic plan is. I think it’s a very positive thing because it allows leverage for the employees and makes the employers also think about their whole strategic aspect of how they want to approach business and how ultimately, you want to deal with your employees. Because now employees are coming and saying, “Hey, if I don’t have this flexibility, I’m not going to work for you.” And we’re starting to see that.
I just read something about American Airlines. American Airlines is shutting down flights because they cannot hire enough flight attendants. Because they cannot hire flight attendants. And so they have to shut it down. So American Airlines is in that aspect of, we have to rethink how we hire because people are coming in with more leverage. Our employees have more leverage about how they want to work, and when they want to work, and how they want to get work done.
And so that’s just the reality of it. So for me, from my perspective and what I’m seeing, it’s a positive for both. It’s a positive for the employers and it’s a positive for the employees because everybody has to rethink. Everybody’s getting disrupted.
Organizations Using this Momentum to Help Employees Excel at Work
So now I think you’ve got a lot more, a heck of a lot more people working from home. And I think when we’re working from home, that line between personal life and work-life kind of disappears, or at least it’s a little blurrier than it used to be. Whereas if I was in the office, I would go into the office and I would go home at the end of the day. Now I may run to the gym on my lunch break, or I may run some errands on my lunch break when I hadn’t done that before.
Now that folks are experiencing that a lot more, what do you think organizations can do to address the need for wanting to be able to do those sorts of things, but also still help the employees excel at their roles, still help them be successful? Just working from home doesn’t mean that you’re not doing a good job. In fact, we’ve found, and studies have shown that people are excelling working from home. So what can organizations do to sort of promote that?
Yeah. One of the things I think we have to do is have what I like to say, have some active listening with employees. Then I think you also have to, as an organization, reevaluate what type of industry we’re in and think about how we’re going to go forward in terms of dealing with our employees working from home. What type of policies are we going to put in place? How are we going to strategize to get the best out of them?
Wellbeing is about being at your optimal self, and how are we going to create that within the organizations, because organizations right now are going to have to deal with people’s mental health and wellbeing and working from home comes out of that.
It comes back to really do some active listening to your employees because the reality of it is, there’s no cookie-cutter way to deal with this. Everybody is going to have to rethink how we deal with working from home and really put policies in place, and communicate what those policies are. I think a lot of it has to do with, we need to look at outcomes too because that’s important. It’s not about how many hours you work. It’s about how effective and how efficient you can be at your job. I know people that can work eight or nine hours a day and get nothing done. And then I know people that can work two or three hours and it seemed like they worked an eight-hour shift and are very efficient and effective.
Challenges for Organizations with Remote Employees
What organizations have to think about is how we measure productivity and outcomes. What we’re seeing with the research is people are more efficient and more effective at home. Now the challenge is, how do we help people have career development and grow within the organization when they’re working from home? Because the reality of it is, if I’m not in an office setting, it’s hard for people to know how I work when everything is built on relationships in terms of your career development. That’s going to be the challenge.
If I’m going to be a manager or an executive one day, and I’m not building relationships within my organizations, because I’m working from home, how are we going to know how effective people are and how they really work.
Then the other challenge that I’ve also seen with working remotely, is how do we make sure that we’re not isolating people? We have a lot of loneliness within the workplace and there’s a lot that goes into that. You really have to have some compassion, be empathetic, and really listen to what your employees are trying to tell you. And think about what industry you’re in and what that looks like for our employees, to be effective and still hit our bottom line, because that’s important too.
Yeah, and I think with work-life integration, I think there’s kind of two sides of the coin there. There are some people that may have difficulty with work-life integration with working from home. You’ve got kids home for the summer, they’re coming in and out of the office, you’ve got to worry about letting your dog out. All of those things, and then you’re still trying to get your work done.
And so, I think there are a lot of folks that may work longer hours or may work harder just to prove that they’re getting the job done from home. And then I think there are folks who, like you said, may not need to work as many hours, but still get the job done.
From personal experience, I’ve been working remotely for quite a while before COVID, and at times for me, that was a very big adjustment, having that work-life integration. It’s hard to unplug at times. It’s hard to just step away from that. And it goes back to asking permission to say no, and like you said, setting those boundaries and saying, okay, today I will only work till five o’clock and that’s it. And I can only do what I can do.
Flexibility, the Next Phase
A hundred percent. And I think too, just to add, work-life integration is sort of going to phase into flexibility. And what we have to look at in terms of flexibility is where and when we get the work done. Because each person gets work done differently. Like for me, I’m a morning person. So from about nine to about noon, man, I’m I’ll go. I can get a lot done, but for some reason after one o’clock, sometimes I just tap out.
I’m the same, I run out of gas.
Yeah. What’s interesting Meghan, for some reason, after seven o’clock it’s like I get another boost from seven to ten, I get some more energy and I’m like, oh, I want to work again. So I’m answering emails or I’m doing something with my business, when I have another boost of energy, that’s how I get work done. Then you have people who work really good at night. Ever wonder why you get an email from somebody at midnight because that’s when they’re working.
So, it’s just a matter of flexibility, if an organization can do this. Once again, it goes back to what industry you’re in, what that looks like, what that entails. If you allow people to work from home, it’s all about that flexibility and allowing them to think about where they get work done, when they get work done, how they get work done, and even with whom they get work done, if there’s need for collaboration. Organizations have to think about that flexibility piece.
The Positives for Organizations that Embrace Work-Life Integration
So Michael, as we wrap up, that really ties into my next question. When we look at work-life integration, I’d love for you to share, with our listeners, what successes they will see if they embrace work-life integration and they really allow that flexibility, as much as they can. What are they going to see out of their employees? What are they going to see for their organization?
I think what you’re going to see is more loyalty. When you allow people to be flexible and you have a work-life integration, it allows people to decide, once again, how they get work done, where they get work done, when they get work done. There’s nothing like having that flexibility because that’s why people are saying, you know what, I don’t want to work for this organization if they’re just going require everyone back in the office. I think organizations are going to see people really putting a lot of emphasis on spending time with family, which is good for your organization.
You’re also going to see in terms of organizations being more efficient. I think at the end of the day, what you’re going to see, is organizations that get it and they’re going to do really well. And they’re going to be able to recruit the best talent and they’re going to go forth and they’re going to change the world. And then you’re going to see some organizations that don’t embrace the work-life integration and the flexibility, and they’re going to fall off and they’re going to be disrupted. They might not even be in the industry or in business anymore. Because at the end of the day, your mental health and your wellbeing are so important. Being your best self at work and all your other roles in life.
I think that was perfectly said. Thank you so much, Michael. We really appreciated having you today and I’ve just learned so much from you. It sounds like work-life integration is absolutely something that every organization needs to consider to retain and keep fantastic employees.
Yeah, absolutely. A hundred percent. You still hear work-life balance, but I think you’re going to start hearing more about work-life integration and how important it is.
Thank you so much, Michael. And that wraps up this episode of For Your Benefits. We hope that you enjoyed today’s conversation. If you like what you heard today and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast. We’ll continue to keep you updated on what’s happening in the world of health and wellbeing. Thanks for joining us!
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