5-Second summary
  • Work-life balance is highly desired but often elusive, especially for managers trying to accommodate their employees.
  • Most individuals are either work-life segmentors (who strictly separate their professional and personal lives) or work-life integrators (who switch between work and personal tasks throughout the day).
  • Self-awareness of where one falls on the segmentor-integrator spectrum can help individuals (and their managers) identify strategies for achieving the ideal work-life balance.

According to every SEO tool I have access to, work-life balance is all the rage. Did you know people enter that term into search engines over 22,000 times each month in the U.S. alone? Also 9,900 times a month in India, 3,600 times a month in Australia, and 18,100 times a month in Germany. And because it’s such a hot topic, each month around 450 new articles on work-life balanced are published on the interwebs.

The trouble is, the individual’s quest for work-life balance gets all the attention. Forward-thinking managers who want practical ways to support that quest have been, for the most part, left to figure it out on their own. Let’s fix that. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll understand the two basic approaches to work-life balance, how that affects what different team members need from you, and ways to accommodate both styles without losing your mind.

How to tell if your team members are work-life integrators or segmentors

At a high level, people try to achieve work-life balance either by strictly separating the two as distinct parts of their day (work-life segmentors), or switching between work and personal tasks throughout the day (work-life integrators). When you look closer, integrating and segmenting are really more of a continuum than a binary choice. But most people gravitate toward one end of the spectrum or the other.

Work-life integrators…

  • Transition fluidly from work to personal life and back again
  • Don’t mind answering emails and chats after hours (within reason, of course) because they popped out for that CrossFit class in the middle of the afternoon
  • Like to “talk shop” outside of work, and are happy to chat about their personal lives with colleagues

Work-life segmentors…

  • Have well-defined times when they are working – once they’re done for the day, they’re done
  • Tend to personal needs like errands and fitness outside of working hours
  • They don’t get into “bring your kid to work” days, and in extreme cases, don’t even keep photos of family and friends on their desks

As you go down your team’s roster, it’ll probably be pretty easy to identify who uses which approach. And (pro-tip!), if you can’t tell, you can should ask.

What work-life integrators need from their manager

Flexibility (and trust) – For integrators, balance means being able to jump out in the middle of the day for an appointment, or leaving early to pick up the kids. They need you to trust that they’ll make that time up at home in the evenings (which they’re happy to do), and keep an open line of communication about times you absolutely need them to be available.

Team events – Integrators tend to crave personal connection and camaraderie with their colleagues, so they relish opportunities to have fun as a team. Chances are, they’ll even help plan it if you provide the time and budget.

Success measures – Observing the hours someone keeps doesn’t give you a sense of how dedicated they are or how hard they’re working. That’s doubly true for integrators since they blend work and personal tasks throughout their day. What they need are clear, measurable goals that their performance can be assessed against.

What work-life segmentors need from their manager

Stability – A segmentor prefers to take care of workouts, dentist appointments, and family obligations outside of their workday, so a stable schedule is key. Asking them to shift their hours on an ad-hoc basis will start to stress them out after a while.

Respect for boundaries – Whatever you agree on as their working hours, they need you to honor that. No 5:00 meetings if their day ends at 4:30, please. If you send an email or chat ping after hours, be sure to let them know it’s fine to respond the next day (unless it really is an emergency).

Space to vent – Segmentors aren’t inclined to discuss work-related problems with family or friends. They need to feel like they’re welcome to come to you when there’s an issue or they just need to get something off their chest.

According to an internal study conducted by Google, work-life segmentors have a higher sense of well-being overall, compared to integrators. Furthermore, they found that many people who behave like integrators are actually segmentors at heart – they just can’t figure out how to break free of the “always-on” mentality. If that sounds like members of your team, suggest they block push notifications to their phone after hours or remove work apps entirely.

6 ways to accommodate both styles

Before diving into managerial tactics, take a moment to think about where you fall on the integrator-segmentor spectrum. A little self-awareness will go a long way when you think about which tactics will have the biggest impact on your team.

1. Assess performance based on results. Judging a person’s contribution based on which hours they work is patently silly, but plenty of managers fall into this trap – often, without even realizing it. Instead, set clear goals for each member of your team, along with success measures. If they’re meeting their goals, it shouldn’t matter what time of day the work gets done.

2. Set core working hours. It’s fine to require everyone on the team to be working at certain times of the day to make scheduling meetings and other collaborative work easier (10:00 – 3:00 is typical) but be flexible outside those hours. This will allow the segmentors to establish a consistent schedule, while integrators get the wiggle-room they need. Bonus: it gives everybody the option to commute during off-peak hours.

3. Encourage feedback and reflection. Holding regular retrospectives is a great way to give the whole team a chance to discuss what’s working well, raise issues, and figure out solutions. In addition, be open to hearing feedback from team members ad-hoc, or in more private settings like 1-on-1 meetings.

4. Play, as a team. Every once in a while, take time to relax, recharge, and get to know each other better. This blend of work and play is right in the sweet spot for integrators. Plus, it doing this during working hours give segmentors who may shy away from company parties or “friends n’ family” days, a chance to get in on the fun.

5. Get to know each other’s work styles. It’s one thing for you to understand that Maria is happy to respond to emails in the evenings, but Andre doesn’t check his inbox again until morning. What about their teammates, though? Try running the My User Manual or Rules of Engagement play from the Atlassian Team Playbook to give everyone a chance to share their preferences and collaboratively establish cultural norms or the team.

6. Use your tools. Whenever possible, choose tools that allow users to customize their notification settings (e.g., muting all push notifications after hours) so both integrators and segmentors can establish boundaries. Also, consider whether team members absolutely need to have work apps installed on their phones. Integrators love the convenience of being able to Slack from their spin class, but segmentors will appreciate the option to opt out.

6 ways to support the work-life integrators and segmentors on your team