Thanks to tech progress and economic pressures, people across the developed world are increasingly struggling to balance their work and personal lives. But while everyone is feeling their time squeezed, not everyone is responding in the same way.

Over here in Europe, there's a trend recently to pass laws designed to keep work and life separate, and ensure employees have adequate time to take care of family responsibilities.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond in America where such legislation is pretty unthinkable, pundits often offer radically different advice. Forget the perpetual (losing) battle to wall off the different spheres of your life, they recommend, instead give in and mix everything together. Trade in the worn-out concept of work-life balance for the shiny new ideal of work-life blend instead.

Who's right?

You might argue that there is no right answer. That the right solution is whichever one you prefer and that happiness is being able to balance or blend as your heart desires. Which sounds reasonable (and there have been studies indicating this is true), but according to new Google research, this is actually a flawed response - there is a definitive right answer to the balance vs. blend debate.

Bad news for blenders.

To figure out whether it's more important that your lifestyle matches your preferred approach to time management, or whether one school of thought was clearly a better bet for everybody, the search giant asked Googlers for both their preference when it comes to blend or balance (in the scientific literature those who separate work and life are known as "Segmentors," while those who mix everything are dubbed "Integrators"), as well as whether their current reality matched this preference.

The data revealed that a match between aspirations and real life was less important than the specific strategy people chose. According to Google's numbers, if you're looking to maximize your life satisfaction, you should ignore the gurus who tell you to give up on balance and instead continue to struggle to wall off your personal from your professional life.

"We found that, regardless of preference, Segmentors were significantly happier with their well-being than Integrators. Additionally, Segmentors were more than twice as likely to be able to detach from work (when they wanted to)," reports the company's Re:Work blog.

But while the "segmentor approach" was more successful, it was also less popular. "Less than a third of Googlers behaved like Segmentors and over half of Integrators said they wished they could segment better," the post also reports.

How the most plugged in professionals disconnect

The takeaway for Google is pretty clear - helping employees actually switch off completely from work is likely to make them happier (and therefore also more productive and willing to stick around). The company is even trying out programs to assist employees rebuild a bit of old-fashioned balance.

In Google's Dublin office, for instance, they ran a pilot program called "Dublin Goes Dark," which asked employees to hand in their devices before walking out the door for the night to ensure they completely disconnected during their off hours. "Googlers said that this site-wide effort resulted in a shared sense of stress relief for many," claims Re:Work.

Also, employees are encouraged to set a goal for their personal life like "I will not check emails on weekends" and share it publicly with their manager or team, nudging them to take their out-of-work commitments seriously and holding them subtly to account for their work-life balance choices.

Google may be a high-tech company, but these ideas are both low-tech and easy for much smaller businesses to borrow. Maybe your company could give one of them a try.

Do you aim for blend or balance? Is your approach working for you?

Published on: Dec 27, 2016