The question of productively integrating work and personal lives is certainly a “hot topic,” both now and in recent labor history. Once upon a time, work and personal lives were more separate spheres. There are many reasons one might cite for this. One is that in, say, the 1950s or 1960s or so (that “Mad Men” era as known today in pop culture), men were expected to be in business while women were expected to stay at home, usually with children. Think of such iconic somewhat stereotypical images as “the company man” or “the man with the grey flannel suit.” At that time, people usually had one job for a whole life or career, and they did not change.
However, various factors have driven changes in nearly all of these socioeconomic dynamics. Such factors include the increase of women in the workforce, the decline of various industries such as manufacturing, and advances in technology. All of these factors have led both women as well as men to restructure and to redefine what constitutes work life vs. what constitutes personal life.
It is interesting that the question describes “integrating” work and personal lives because “integrating” and “balancing” work and life are two different ideas. The relevant description of “work-life balance” is a connotation that reaches back to at least the 1980s. It describes corporate efforts to retain and to reward employees by offering alternatives to a lockstep life of all work and no play. Such efforts included more flexible vacation times other than the typical two weeks, “flextime,” in terms of work hours, and “job sharing,” in terms of sharing work responsibilities of one job description among more than one person. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is an example of a piece of legislation that arose out of urgent needs for people to care for families (including children and elders) and for themselves in medical emergencies while protecting their employment.
The idea of “integrating” work and life speaks to technology trends driven first by the Internet and currently with the addition of mobile devices. These technologies allow people options that were not available in previous decades or eras. For example, people can work anywhere – at home, at the beach, in a coffee house, on public transportation – all aided by computers and phones.
The productivity issue seems to come down to whether one is an employee or an entrepreneur. Especially as an employee, the issue rests with the employer in very similar ways as in previous years. Employers especially in a tight economy will favor business needs over employee needs. It really depends on the culture of the work environment in terms of allowing people to work somewhere other than at a desk on the employer’s premises. If the employer determines that people are productive in other arrangements than “9 to 5” at the workplace, the options for the employee favor more integration, or even more balance, between work and life. If the employer is rigid in ideas about productivity, the opposite is often true. For this reason, many people, particularly in Generations X and Y, have chosen to start their own businesses or to freelance as independent contractors.
As such, two somewhat competing ideas regarding either integrating work and life productively or work-life balance are: 1)to find a flexible firm that offers flexible options in light of technology or 2) to be your own boss.