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Integrate HR Can Be a Model of Balance

April 1, 1997
Welcome to the second installment of "Heart & Soul," Workforce’s newest column. This month I’m focusing on an important concept for human resources professionals—integrate. It’s certainly something that we preach to our workforce—to balance work and personal life—but we don’t always practice it ourselves. For a few minutes, let’s contemplate how integration can contribute to our own lives.

Keep the balance between work and the rest of your life.
Integrate means: that ability to combine or meld things; to assimilate different parts, roles or factions into a framework that works as well, if not better, than the old way; that ability to harmonize different factions so that the music from them is sweet and balanced.

As an HR professional, ask yourself, "How integrated is my life and is it possible to work and to still have an integrated life?" To integrate oneself, a structure is needed—some scaffolding or a form that will comfortably hold all of the pieces. This frame needs to be dependable, supportive and solid, yet tolerant and flexible. We’re out of balance or not integrated when our lives are lopsided or rigid, when we fall over at the first breeze, incapable of handling another thing.

Additionally, we need a picture, an image or a way of knowing that all of the pieces are there, just as in working a puzzle. With a puzzle, we have the picture in front of us, and we start to fit the pieces together—many times struggling to find just the right ones. One piece looks right, yet when it’s put in, we have to force and push to get it into place. As soon as that happens, we know it’s the wrong piece. Yet many times we try it just one more time, just in case we were wrong. Usually after two tries, we know we were right the first time, and we look for another piece.

For many HR professionals at work, when we try to solve a problem, we find a solution and put it in place like a piece of the puzzle. But maybe, it really doesn’t fit. So we push and shove, then force it into place saying, "There, it’s working now." Sound familiar? Sometimes it just seems easier to give in, to let go, to quit trying and pretend that everything is integrated. What does the puzzle of our work life look like? Are we happy with the picture? Do we like the structure? And how are we doing at achieving or being integrated with the image? Are we in balance?

Be an inspiration.
As HR professionals, we’re always modeling behavior. It’s one of our key responsibilities. Hopefully, we exhibit desirable behaviors within the framework of an integrated life for employees to emulate. And yet, sometimes I wonder. For example, take the number of hours that we spend at work. Yes, there’s a lot of pressure at work today. And yes, there’s much work to do. Yet, how balanced is it to work 10 to 13 hours a day consistently? Does this create the life that we want? Could we work better if we had more peace in our lives and decided not to engage in much of the drama? And do we want our employees working these hours on a regular basis? What happens to the quality of life? I know the material and financial value of work, yet if we’re so out of kilter, how do we enjoy our lives? I’m reminded of the song recorded by Peggy Lee, "Is That All There Is?" Possibly, part of our lifestyle at work is to keep up with the culture—to prove that we’re as driven and as busy as the next person, as we take ourselves too seriously in our need to be seen as a driving force. Are we sure that work today requires excessive hours on a regular basis? Perhaps we’ve become so bottom-line oriented that we’ve added more and more work to a downsized staff that must make do with less and less. There’s no sense of integration in this kind of life.

We need to rethink how we live our lives, because life without any downtime to integrate the various aspects of who and what we are won’t be rewarding. Goal attainment or success doesn’t in and of itself bring fulfillment. There’s more than just having a work life.

Examine four areas of your life.
How do we get balanced? It begins by taking small steps. It begins with our being willing to look at our lives, to examine and explore the four areas that support or make up a life: health, finances, relationships and self-expression or career (your work). These are the foundation and the structure for an integrated life. Think of them as legs on a table and then visualize how your table would look if its legs were different sizes. How stable, flexible, rigid or out of balance are you? If you resemble a lopsided table, then begin to change. You can already see what part is in need of strengthening. Perhaps it’s your family time, time for yourself or time to pursue a creative outlet. Just notice and observe. As you do, begin to picture how your life might look if the legs were the same length. Would you be happier? Less stressed? We must remember that for things to change and to be different, we must change and be different. It doesn’t mean you need to quit your job. It means to integrate your life into one of wholeness, peace, fulfillment.

We work in a field that’s as rewarding as any I know. We have an opportunity to make a difference with people every day, to use our creativity and our softness as well as our logic and our drive. Let sweetness come back into your life. Spend some time focusing on the magnificence of you. Perhaps our continual focus on problems could just fall away for a few moments as we look at how terrific we really are, and how terrific our company is and our employees are. Integrate. It’s worth it.

Workforce, April 1997, Vol. 76, No. 4, pp. 107-108.