From Work‐Life Balance to Work‐Life Integration or Work‐Life Invasion or even Work‐Life Alienation? Our choice, really

When I entered the work‐force in the 80’s, we used to talk about Work‐Life Balance or WLB. And it was
about how to best balance between our time at work and our time at home because in those days, we
had to be in the office to actually work.  But technology, connectivity and the associated productivity
tools changed that equation.

Gradually, it became possible to work anywhere and everywhere. The decoupling between physical
location and the ability to work and the resulting flexibility evolved the concept of WLB to WLI or Work‐
Life Integration. Soon enough, we realized that the new gained flexibility came at a price and anywhere
started to rhyme with anytime.

Few years after enjoying the ability to connect to our emails and documents regardless of time or
location, some of us quickly started cursing the “Always On” phenomenon and its toll on our personal
space.  WLI became Work‐Life Invasion. And the ever increasing availability of devices coupled with
ubiquitous connectivity pushed many to call it WLA for Work‐Life Alienation, forgetting and even
dismissing the tangible and very real benefits that were celebrated not so long ago.

So let’s pause for a minute and reconsider the situation in its reality. It is indeed possible to receive
email around the clock. It is equally possible to join a meeting remotely and collaborate on a proposal,
edit a document or review a budget almost regardless of where we are. But “being able to” does not
necessarily translate into “having to or being obligated to” and that is a fundamental difference that is
often overlooked or even dismissed.

As a working mother of 2 boys who always incorporated travel in her work life and as a people and
business leader, I have always had deep interest in this topic. Working for 25 years in the High Tech
Industry meant that I would always be amongst the first to benefit from new innovations and
consequently amongst the first to also acutely experience their related impact on my personal space. It
took me much longer to realize that those drawbacks were largely self‐inflicted and even longer to learn
how to be served by the flexibility I was gaining versus being enslaved by those technological

Blaming technology is much easier than defining priorities, drawing boundaries and standing by them
most of the time. Replacing the physical rigid boundaries of the past by virtual yet effective boundaries
can only occur when we have done our homework and clearly identified our personal list of “non‐
negotiable priorities” and empowered ourselves to protect them. Truly, this is not an easy exercise. It
requires self‐awareness and clarity, authentic commitment and relentless focus but it is a very
rewarding investment. In my opinion and in my own experience, this is the only way to successfully
integrate work and play on our terms.

And now, I truly enjoy the possibility to join an hour meeting remotely or read an important email on a
vacation day if this gives me the peace of mind for the rest of the day or if this is what makes this
vacation day possible. I also enjoy turning off the data connection on my phone when I choose to.
So back to the question in the title, it is really up to us to decide what the “I” in WLI stands for.


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