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The time is right for work-life integration

Particularly since the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the work-life balance conversation has shifted to one of work-life integration.

What is work-life balance?

Work-life balance refers to the personal and professional obligations that compete for our time and focus. For many, the secret lies in creating a mix of work, health, and relationships that feels both enriching and sustainable.

What is work-life integration?

Work-life integration is the natural evolution of work-life balance. In many flexible employment situations, the boundaries between work life and home life are blurred. This makes it even more important to consider how work—and the rest of life—are more integrated than we might think.

Rather than drawing a distinction between your personal and professional life, work-life integration creates space for personalized schedules that incorporate both work and life obligations.

The impact of thriving employees

When companies invest in the wellbeing of their employees, it has a positive ripple effect. A great first step in ensuring your employees are happy is to create a positive work culture, powered by empathetic leaders who care about personal development.

An increased need for work-life integration

The past two years have significantly reshaped our priorities. In fact, data from the Work Trend Index report shows that nearly half of respondents are more likely to put family and personal life over work than they were pre-pandemic.

Prioritize wellbeing in the workplace

It’s clear that finding a company with a positive culture and focus on wellbeing is at the top of people’s job search requirements. Companies that prioritize wellbeing show job seekers that they understand that a positive work culture inspires, engages and motivates their team.

The importance of employee wellbeing

No matter what setting you work in, it is important to prioritize your overall health, which includes doing the things that nourish and inspire you. This can include activities such as getting out in nature, reading, playing sports, or making new connections.

Employees’ part in wellbeing in the workplace

It’s easy to get caught up in the little things at work. But zooming out to find purpose in what you are doing can make a big difference. For some, meaningful work means serving their team. For others, the focus might be on problem-solving. Whatever the ”why,” finding purpose matters.

How to optimize work-life integration

Work-life integration requires a shift to workplace culture that acknowledges employees’ changing needs. Viva Insights provides data-driven, privacy-protected insights and recommendations to help improve employee wellbeing.
A person wearing headphones around their neck, smiling and using a laptop.

Tips to help you successfully navigate work-life integration

Take proactive steps to prevent burnout and stress

With blurred boundaries between work and home life, it’s important to remain professional while also taking care not to burn out. Just as family members and housemates need to respect your work zone and professional hours, managers and teammates need to acknowledge that back-to-back video calls for hours on end can lead to visual and mental fatigue.

These are some tips for setting boundaries around work-related issues:

  • Set focus time in your calendar and turn off notifications.
  • Send emails only during working hours.
  • Work with managers on team agreements that accommodate varied needs.
  • Set reminders to stretch, eat, and meditate—and protect that time.
  • Post your status if you're on vacation so others know not to expect an immediate response.

With Microsoft Viva Insights, you can configure your working hours so that when someone emails you after hours, they will see schedule send suggestions to align email delivery with your working hours. You can also configure quiet time settings using Viva Insights to silence after-hours mobile notifications from Microsoft Teams and Outlook.

Develop an awareness of your physical and mental health

Every person has different needs when it comes to daily movement. For many, focusing on increasing mobility and counteracting the effects of prolonged sitting is a great place to start.

With Microsoft Viva Insights, you can automatically schedule meetings to start five minutes past the hour or 30-minute mark to give you time to stand up and walk around. You can also use Viva Insights to book recurring time for regular breaks.

Other techniques for making the most of breaks throughout the day include shifting your gaze away from your desk or screen periodically, taking a nature walk, and daydreaming—yes, daydreaming! It’s a powerful form of “wakeful rest.”

Take control of your workday to maximize productivity

A study from the University of California-Irvine, shows that it can take an average of 23 minutes to refocus on a task after a distraction. Constant distractions in a home office environment can cause higher stress and lower productivity.

Further, it is difficult to focus on challenging work when you only have small chunks of time available between meetings or are distracted by incoming emails and chats. Blocking a few hours every day to focus without interruptions will help you make time to tackle your projects and achieve real progress.

Microsoft Viva Insights can help you protect time for focused work and silence Teams notifications during your focus time. Additionally, a new focus mode experience in the Viva Insights app in Teams can help you divide your focus time into short bursts of productivity, with breaks planned in between.

Take charge of your workday by creating a tailor-made routine

With the rise of remote work models, people have more flexibility to design personalized schedules. For example, you may be in your productive zone in the early mornings while everyone in your household is still asleep. Or you might have a burst of energy late afternoon.

Many people find that they have pockets of time throughout the day to do activities they enjoy—such as working out, helping kids with homework, having lunch with a friend, or squeezing in a midday walk.

Consider designing a schedule that optimizes your time, energy and attention, then strategize how to make it happen. To help you switch from work mode to home mode, try out the virtual commute experience available in the Viva Insights app in Teams.

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The benefits of flexible work

The increase of remote work models has far-reaching positive aspects, not only for employee wellbeing, but for employers’ bottom line as well. These are some of the ways that remote or hybrid work can create positive change:

Benefits for employees:

  • Inclusion: According to our 2022 Work Trend Index Report, over half (52%) of the people we surveyed feel more valued or included as a remote contributor in meetings. We’ve also watched in-meeting chat become a channel for more people to share their perspectives.
  • Empathy: Since the beginning of the pandemic, 62% of people we surveyed said they feel more empathetic toward their colleagues now that they have a better view of their life at home.
  • Work-life integration: When working from home, people are better able to meet obligations outside of work—such as pursuing job training and education, giving care to family members, picking children up from school, and well as exercising and eating well.
  • Lower stress: Numerous studies show that job-related stress is the main source of stress for adults and that it has escalated dramatically in recent years. According to the CDC, establishing work schedules that are compatible with demands outside one’s job is one of the top recommendations to reduce job stress.
  • Reduced need for paid time off: A flexible schedule allows people to reserve sick days to handle personal tasks like banking, errands, and medical appointments. With more flexibility, people can reserve sick days for when they are truly needed and preserve vacation days for more extended down time.
  • Overall increased wellbeing. Find ways to be creative and open up some personal time throughout the day, no matter where you do your work. Instead of another video call, propose an audio-only call so you can walk and talk or find a change in scenery. (A 2020 study of information workers found that moderate physical activity increases productivity and boosts moods.) To relax your mind between projects or decrease stress before a big presentation try our mindfulness content from providers like Headspace, which offers guided meditations right within Microsoft Teams.

Benefits for employers:

  • Increased employee retention: A 2018 survey found that 80% of workers would choose a job that offers a flexible schedule over those that did not. When managers find ways to accommodate employees with flexible work that allows them to better integrate their work and home responsibilities, they are rewarded by appreciative, loyal employees who tend to stick around longer and save the cost of replacing trained, experienced and talented employees.
  • Engaged employees: Gallup research from 2020 discovered that “engagement climbs when employees spend some time working remotely and some time working in a location with their coworkers.” And “the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60% to 80% of their time working off-site.” The happier and more engaged people are at work, the more productive they will be. Flexibility is a win-win for everyone.
  • Increased profit: According to Gallup research: “It is true that engaged employees are more enthusiastic, energetic and positive, feel better about their work and workplace, and have better physical health, but engagement isn't a perk for leaders to dole out, it's a way leaders can improve KPIs. As decades of Gallup research shows, when employees are engaged their performance soars: Highly engaged workplaces can claim 41% lower absenteeism, 40% fewer quality defects, and 21% higher profitability.”

When it comes to frontline workers who generally do not have the option of hybrid or remote work, employers need to understand that accommodating employees’ changing needs translates to a higher rate of employee retention.

According to a recent study, 44% of frontline workers left their jobs due to a lack of flexible working options, citing a need for more flexible schedules and more predictable hours. Natalie Bickford, Sanofi’s executive vice president and chief people officer, notes, “There’s lots of tools that we can use, as many organizations do, such as part time jobs, job shares, family contracts, and time contracts, all of which offer flexibility in those frontline-type roles.”

How to support employee wellbeing

Many organizations create wellness programs for their employees, but oftentimes they don’t make the distinction between wellness and wellbeing. Wellness programs generally focus on physical health—but when it comes to wellbeing, the approach should be more holistic. For example, employees may be thriving physically, but if they dread coming to work, this will obviously have a huge impact on their overall wellbeing.

Assess people’s needs

If you want to get a clearer picture of your people’s wellbeing, find out what issues your team is facing and solve the problems they need solved. Consider collecting anonymous data through employee surveys—or make the following questions a part of your annual employee survey:

  • How are you doing?
  • I feel well supported by <Company Name> at this time. (Strongly Disagree, Strongly Agree)
  • I feel a sense of belonging at <Company Name>. (Strongly Disagree, Strongly Agree)
  • I am able to disconnect from work in non-work time. (Strongly Disagree, Strongly Agree)
  • I have what I need to be productive working in a remote or hybrid setting. (Strongly Disagree, Strongly Agree) 
  • What is most critical as you think about your needs right now? (Select up to two: healthcare and health-related information, child or family care, customer support resources, hybrid/flex work resources, sense of safety and cleanliness at work, up-to-date information, job security, balancing work and personal life, managing workload, knowing where I should focus my efforts, access to training, belonging and inclusion in the workplace, I have no concerns, other please specify in comments)
  • What would help you feel more supported right now? (Open Ended)
  • What type of wellbeing practices do you find most valuable?
  • What does work-life balance look like for you personally?

Be inclusive

Being in a home office apart from colleagues can be isolating. The challenge to employers is to help their teams stay connected so that nobody is left “out of sight, out of mind.” Keep in mind that it’s natural for people at an in-person meeting to interact more with each other than with a teammate who is remote. In virtual meetings, be conscious of the need to intentionally include everyone, and not just those physically present.

Microsoft Teams is designed with inclusion in mind. Use Teams for chat, meetings, calls, and collaboration. You can customize your team’s space so everything you need to work on together is available anytime, all in one place. Employees can engage with all the teams they need to liaise with, sharing ideas, notes, and camaraderie.

Build real relationships

To avoid isolation and disconnection, make an effort to build authentic relationships with employees. Connect on a regular basis via video calls. If you’re a manager, invest in getting to know people on your team outside their work. Consider trying to meet up in a social setting as a team from time to time. Interactive online events are also a great way to connect with everyone, no matter their location.

Gary Vayerchuk, founder and CEO of VaynerMedia notes, “Another hallmark of a good leader is to ask questions. It’s the best way to show your team that you recognize they’re more than just cogs on a wheel. ‘Hey, how are things going?’ ‘How’s the new baby?’ ‘What are you excited about lately?’ ‘Any ideas you’d like to discuss?’ And then...listen.”

Frequently asked questions

  • Work-life balance refers to the personal and professional obligations that compete for our time and focus.

  • In flexible employment situations, work life and home life are less compartmentalized than they have been traditionally. Rather than drawing a distinction between your personal and professional life, work-life integration provides an opportunity to create personalized schedules that incorporate both work and life obligations.

  • An employee’s wellbeing encompasses physical, financial, mental, and emotional health.

  • Caring for the wellbeing of your people helps them avoid burnout, isolation, and stress and can help them thrive holistically. When companies invest in the wellbeing of their employees, it has a positive ripple effect personally, professionally, and financially for everyone involved.

Empower people and teams to be their best

Microsoft Viva is the employee experience platform designed to help people connect, focus, learn, and thrive at work.

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