Looking for a way to stand out from the competition and gain a strong advantage? The answer might not be in your financials or in your customer outreach strategy, but rather in how you treat your employees. As more companies move away from fighting for work-life balance and instead focus on integration, they often gain an advantage over their competitors as a place where people love to work.

What's the difference between work-life balance and work-life integration? Balance is the old way of thinking--creating barriers between work and home so they didn't spill over into each other. The idea was that employees would be distracted with home things at work and that work things at home would lead to unhappy and unhealthy workers. However, a changing world with 24/7 technology, globalization, and a strong freelancer economy has created a need for service at all hours of the day and given us the tools to work whenever and wherever we please. Just like work demands around the world now pop up at all hours of the day and night, so too do home responsibilities. Instead of fighting the overlapping demands of work and life and having employees be constantly pulled between wanting to have a good career and a strong home life, work-life integration allows the two areas to work together to create a cohesive approach to an employee's personal and professional lives.

It used to be that an employee's success was based on a variety of factors, including how often they came to work and that they were present at every meeting and conference call. But integration focuses on something more vital to an organization's success: results. In the results-oriented workplace, employees essentially have the freedom to work whenever, wherever, and however they want, as long as they get their work done. Employees are judged only on their output and not on their attendance or methods, which means managers don't care if an employee is working all night from a coffee shop or spending their afternoons at their kid's soccer games as long as the work gets done. Without hard and fast schedules and creative arrangements, employees are motivated by their own schedules. That intrinsic motivation to get things done so they can move on to other activities at home or work can be incredibly powerful and the most important productivity tool an organization can have.

Does it sound too good to be true? Many companies balk at the idea of giving employees total control over their schedules, but the idea has huge success when put into action. After all, who better knows what it takes for an employee to be at their most productive level than that employee herself? Companies that have focused on work-life integration and put a results-oriented workplace into effect have been wildly successful. That was definitely the case at Gap, Inc., when Eric Severson was the co-chief executive human resources officer. He's now taken his expertise to the U.S. Department of Commerce as an advisor and continues to be a huge advocate for integration over balance. Integrating a results-oriented workplace allowed employees the flexibility to create their own schedules and work environments. The results included lower turnover and increased employee engagement, as well as a competitive advantage for hiring. When employees at other organizations got wind of what was happening at Gap, they were eager to join the company; many organizations who have tried similar programs have seen the same thing happen.

So how can your organization switch to a focus on work-life integration? It can be difficult for many companies to relinquish so much control to their employees. However, if managers and organizations truly trust their employees to get their work done, the employees will make it happen. Eric's best advice is to experiment and start small. Test out how work-life integration would work for your company on a small scale, and turn those results into quantitive data that shows the program's worth. From there, you can expand it and give employees more power and creativity.

As the future of work gets closer, employees will want more control over their lives and how they move between work and home. With work-life integration and a results-oriented workplace, employees can have the power to be flexible and companies can reap the results of increased productivity and engagement.

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