Part One of a Three-Part Series
I attended a Workforce Issues panel discussion during which panelist Tracy Brower discussed forces shaping work/life integration. Tracy and I first met when we were colleagues in the Learning Development Group at Herman Miller. Tracy is currently the Director of Performance Environments for Herman Miller.
In addition to her day job, Tracy is studying for a PhD in Sociology; her dissertation research is on the integration of personal and work life. After the panel discussion, I contacted Tracy to see if she would be willing elaborate on some of the themes she raised during her panelist remarks. She graciously agreed.
Here is Part 1 of our discussion, which defines work/life integration and why it’s an important subject for the workplace.
JM: You told me that one of the reasons you’re studying sociology is that you’re interested in how work shapes us and how we shape work. That seems to be a good place to start—why study work/life integration?
TB: Most people live it, in one way or another. We’re parents, or we have parents. Most of us work outside the home in some capacity. And, we all have interests, hobbies, and obligations outside of the workplace. There’s a lot of research that suggests successful life integration is high on people’s priority list. We need to find a way to make it all work, but we haven’t figured really figured out how to do it.
JM: What area does your research target?
TB: My research has focused on [interviewing] senior executives because they’re in the position to catalyze decision making; and because their choices and behavior tend to send cues to others about what is acceptable within their organizations. So people [who work at these executives’ companies] look to them for cues and signals. Company executives are important influencers of organizational culture. And, I’m studying both men and women, which is a slightly different focus than some of the already-published research literature which tends to study only women; women aren’t the only ones who face challenges with integrating life/work.
JM: How do you define work/life integration?
TB: The popular press calls it “Work/Life Balance”. The problem with that description is that it suggests there is a tradeoff—that one side must be “up” and the other one “down” like a weight scale that has two sides to it. Using the word “balance” suggests that the two aspects are completely separate from one another. The reality is they are completed integrated. So I use the term “integration”. You can’t decouple work from other parts of your life. Our personal lives and professional lives aren’t separate “containers”.
Another term I sometimes use is work/life “navigation”. In sailing there’s a term called “sounding” – it’s when you put the pole down into the water to determine how deep it is. That’s what work-life navigation is: you’re constantly “checking in” with the people in your life. It is fluid and you have to navigate through it. You are constantly reorienting and reconfiguring the logistics in your life to make it all work. There’s a constant shifting due to changes in one’s life.
JM: Thanks for helping us set the stage, Tracy.
Up next Tuesday: exploring the role that work team leaders play in creating successful integration of one’s personal and professional life.
photo credits: istockphoto.com