Rethinking Work-Life Balance: Why the Traditional Concept is Flawed

Studies show that a lack of work-life balance is one of the biggest causes of stress. But how do you achieve the right balance? This article provides advice on how to help each of your employees achieve work-life balance.

January 2023
min read
09-Rethinking Work-Life Balance: Why the Traditional Concept is Flawed
Skrevet af
Written by
Samuel Kirk-Haugstrup

Psykolog, specialiseret i pædagogisk psykologi og formidling.

Samuel Kirk-Haugstrup

Psychologist, specialized in educational psychology and communication.

What is work-life balance?

What is work-life balance? Is it an equal division of time between work and private life? Does a good balance require you to make a sharp division between the two? Do you have a bad work-life balance if you spend more hours at work than in your private life, or vice versa? The answer to these questions is no.

In my opinion, the very premise of the concept of "work-life balance" is flawed. There are two reasons for this:  

First, the concept sets up a contradiction between work and private life, creating a tug-of-war where the two sides are constantly fighting each other.  

Secondly, it gives the impression that there should be clear boundaries between work and private life, that work cannot be part of life and that life is not part of work, that you have to separate the two in order to thrive.

<hl>The problem with this sharp division between work and private life is that it does not suit all people<hl>. For some, a sharp division would certainly be a good thing because they enjoy being able to distinguish clearly between the work role and the private life role, to work when they work and take time off when they have time off.

But for many others, and perhaps even more so after the COVID-19 pandemic, the line is not so sharply drawn. For many, it doesn't make sense to separate their work identity from who they are when they're not at work. They invest themselves personally and identity-wise in their work. For them, a sharp division becomes a constraint rather than a help.

A new way to understand work-life balance

So, does this mean we should just throw out the concept of work-life balance? No, we don't have to. Because even if the concept is not flawless, it still makes sense to stick with it. In fact, studies suggest that a lack of work-life balance is one of the major causes of stress. But to use the term in the 21st century, where many people have blurred boundaries between work and private life, we need to nuance our understanding of it.

Instead of thinking of work and private life as a battle between the two, <hl>I think we should define work-life balance as the degree of satisfaction with the relationship between work and private life<hl>. In this understanding, it's not about having equal time at work and equal time in your personal life, or separating the two. Instead, it's about finding the balance that works best for you.

As a leader, you can prevent stress in your team by allowing the work-life balance that suits each of your employees. So how do you help your employees find the work-life balance that's right for them? You do this by first finding out whether your employees are "separators" or "integrators."

Separators and integrators

Separators are characterized by their preference for <hl>clear boundaries between work and private life<hl>. They typically feel most comfortable working at their designated workplace and at roughly the same time, as this creates a physical boundary between work and home. Separators may also thrive while working from home, but they often prefer to have a dedicated workspace in their home. What can cause stress for separators is when the boundaries between work and private life merge, such as when they are expected to be available outside of normal working hours or to answer emails in the evening.

Integrators, on the other hand, <hl>thrive best in fluid work-life boundaries<hl>. They enjoy being able to manage their own time and are comfortable working outside of normal working hours and in locations that suit the task or their mood. For example, an integrator doesn't mind meeting a friend for coffee in the middle of the day or working a few hours after dinner. They can become stressed when there is not enough autonomy and flexibility in their work, such as when it is not possible to work remotely or when the working day is rigidly set from 8am to 4pm.

It's important to note that these types should be seen as different ends of a spectrum, and most of us will fall somewhere in between. However, typically, we tend to lean towards one end or the other. Additionally, it's not necessarily the type that determines whether someone has a good or bad work-life balance, but rather how well they are able to organize their working life around their preferred type.

As a leader, by creating a shared language and by understanding the types of employees you have and catering to their specific needs, you can help prevent stress in your team.

How to determine if your employees are separators or integrators

To determine if your employees are separators or integrators, you can start by asking them questions during employee development dialogues or status meetings.  

Examples of questions to ask could include:  

"Do you prefer a clear boundary between your work and your private life or would you rather have fluid boundaries?" or "How do you feel about working outside of normal working hours?"

Once you have an idea of the types of employees you have, you can tailor your management approach to cater to both separators and integrators.

How to lead the separator

The separator needs a clear boundary between work and private life. However, it varies how sharp the separator wants the line to be. So, as a leader, it's important to start by talking to your separators about where the line is for them and try to respect that line as much as possible.

One way to do this is to only send out emails during normal working hours. As a leader, you are a role model and it's important to set an example by not expecting a reply until the next day and avoiding sending emails late at night. This shows that you respect your employees' need for a separate work and personal life.

The separator also typically <hl>needs a set framework and clear direction<hl>. Therefore, when managing the separator, it's important to be more direct in your leadership than with the integrator. Make sure that the employee understands the overall framework of the work and how the tasks are to be carried out.

Research shows that the separator needs leadership especially when they are working from home. This is because the separator may find it difficult to judge when a task is complete or when it has been done well enough. To address this, it can be a good idea to check in with your separators during the day, just as you would if they were in the office. This could be through sending a message or giving them a call to see how the work assignment is going and if there is anything they need some support with.

How to lead the integrator

The integrator thrives best with blurred boundaries between work and personal life. However, the degree to which each integrator desires to merge work and personal life can vary. Some may prefer no boundaries at all, while others may prefer more fluid boundaries. As a leader, it's important to have individual conversations with each of your integrators to understand their specific needs and preferences.

To accommodate these needs, you may consider offering a few extra days of remote work per week, or allowing more flexibility to structure their workday. Flexibility and autonomy are key for managing integrators, as they are often energized by an open environment and motivated by the ability to control their own schedule. <hl>Where workload allows, it's important to give integrators the freedom to manage their own work<hl>.

Work-life balance in the 21st century

It's important to note that a lack of work-life balance is one of the major causes of stress for employees. As a leader, it's crucial to understand that work-life balance in the 21st century is not the same for everyone. Some employees thrive with clear boundaries between work and personal life, while others prefer greater flexibility and autonomy.

To help prevent stress in your team, <hl>it's important to actively listen to each of your employees and understand their unique needs<hl>. Once you have a clear understanding of their preferences, you can then help them create a balance that works best for them. This may involve offering flexible working hours, remote work options, or other solutions that cater to both separators and integrators.

It's important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to work-life balance. By understanding and catering to the needs of each of your employees, you can help them achieve a balance that works for them and ultimately prevent stress in the workplace.


Akademikerne.(2018). Psykisk arbejdsmiljø og stress – hvilke faktorer har indflydelse på det psykiske arbejdsmiljø og medarbejdernes stress.

Gratton, L.(2022). Den hybride arbejdsplads. Djøf Forlag.

Kossek, E. E., Ruderman, M. N., Braddy, P.W. & Hannum, K. M. (2012). Work-nonwork boundary management profiles: A person-centered approach. Journal of Vocational Behavior.

Mellner, C., Arronson, G.& Kecklund, G. (2014). Boundary Management Preferences, Boundary Control, and Work-Life Balance among Full-Time Employed Professionals in Knowledge-Intensive, Flexible Work. Nordic journal of working life studies.

Motlke, H. V., Lykke, T. F. & Nielsen, I. G. (2022). Hybrid ledelse. Dansk Psykologisk Forlag.

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