Work-life blending is the idea that it can be healthier and more productive for individuals to merge their work and personal lives rather than keep them separate.
Instead of seeing work as something to be done Monday through Friday from 9 to 5, and personal life as something that occurs outside of those hours, work-life blending promotes the merging of these two ‘worlds’. As opposed to work-life balance, which separates work-life and personal-life into two distinct categories, work-life blending combines the two harmoniously – with the aim of making our lives healthier, happier, and more productive.
To allow for greater work-life blending, companies can adopt a more flexible work model that gives employees the freedom to set their own schedule, and in turn, decide what takes priority in their life at any given moment. In practice, this could translate into employees making dentist appointments from their desk, working from home so that they can pick up their children from school, or even switching on their laptops on Sunday afternoons to catch up on work emails.
Businesses can embed work-life blending by:
- Introducing flexible and remote working policies.
- Implementing technology that allows staff to work anywhere, anytime.
- Avoiding an ‘always-on’ work culture with rules that limit ‘personal time’ (i.e., taking personal phone calls at work)
- Focusing on output quality rather than quantity.
- Creating workplace communities where staff are encouraged to socialise with each other.
History of Work-Life Blending
In a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, Christine M. Riordan, Professor of Management at the University of Kentucky, wrote about a concept called ‘Work Life Effectiveness’ that was being used by Catalyst – a research firm dedicated to women in business. Catalyst argued that while an individual’s professional and personal life were both priorities, they couldn’t be given equal attention. As such, Catalyst advocated for work-life effectiveness – a model where work fits in alongside other aspects of an employee’s life. Around the same time, Facebook executive Emily White coined the term ‘work-life merge’ – which gradually evolved into “work-life blending.” Work-life blending is often seen as the alternative to work-life balance.
In a 2017 interview, Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, explained that the concept of work-life balance is inherently flawed as it places work and life – wellbeing and productivity – on opposite sides of the same spectrum. Huffington called this a ‘myth’ – arguing that work and personal life were inextricably connected and inhabited the same side of the spectrum, rising and falling in tandem – an idea that gained even more traction during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Recent trends in Work-Life Blending
The recent push for work-life blending has been driven largely by the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused work and personal life to become increasingly intertwined. During lockdown, millions of people had to juggle their home lives with remote working. With this came an increase in the use and acceptance of online communication and video platforms, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and other digital innovations such as e-signatures, which allowed people to conduct business online rather than face to face.
The pandemic also caused many people to re-assess their values, purpose and relationship with work. According to a 2022 CIPD report, over a third of employers have seen an increase in flexible working requests for both work from home arrangements and flexitime – the latter referring to a model that allows employees to fit work in around their individual needs. The report also revealed that 56% of employers believed it was important to offer flexible working options when advertising roles and addressing skill shortages. As a result, many institutions have taken action. In 2022, the UK Government announced that workers will be able to request flexible working arrangements on their first day of employment instead of having to wait six months.
In America, Gallup reports that half of US workers want to follow a work-life blending approach. However, this also means that half of US workers prefer a more rigid split between their personal and professional lives. Gallup found that the majority of the people who preferred a work-life balance to a work-life blend were involved in production-oriented roles. In white collar, managerial and clerical roles, most people – just over 50% – preferred the blending approach. This puts an onus on employers to better understand what personally motivates current employees and prospective candidates – and to create structures that can accommodate both preferences.
Advantages of Work-Life Blending
- Work-life blending gives employees more freedom in managing their working and personal lives.
- Work-life blending leads to higher employee productivity.
- Offering a work-life blend model shows employees that their employer recognises that they are human beings rather than just working machines.
Disadvantages of Work-Life Blending
- Employers could exploit work-life blending by introducing unreasonable demands (i.e., expecting employees to work extra hours on the weekend).
- Work-life blending could create disharmony in the workplace if some employees try to keep their personal and professional lives separate.
Sanofi is a global healthcare company that provides treatments and vaccines to millions of people worldwide. The company currently employs over 95,000 people from 140 different countries. With regard to employee wellbeing and work-life blending, Sanofi has developed a strategy that is designed to help employees thrive. This approach includes embracing different ways of working and offering a variety of flexibility options.
The Chief People Officer of Sanofi, Natalie Bickford, recently wrote for The Workforce Institute that the work-life balance concept seems outmoded. For Bickford, the idea that work and life could inhabit disparate worlds is inconceivable, as she often orders her weekly supermarket shop from her desk at the office and sends work emails from her home after family dinners.
In recognition of the interconnectedness of work and life, Sanofi provides a range of solutions to help their employees transition easily between the two. This includes the provision of emergency childcare, support for elderly relatives, and financial planning. The company is also considering opening manufacturing plants 24/7 to give staff more flexibility to meet their individual needs.