Work Life Integration or Balance?

Wholeness in a disruptive world, wendy tan, worklife balance

There is much talk recently about having more women break the glass ceiling and take up corporate leadership roles. It is recognized that women bring both heart and mind into the corporations and help organizations be more effective that way.
At the same time, there is tension. While the labour force participation rate for men (aged between 25 and 54) is 92 per cent, the rate for women in that same range is only 78 per cent. The drop occurs after the 25 to 29 age bracket[1] – the age when many women start families. It’s fair to say the challenges in balancing both work and family demands leads some women to call it quits in their career.


Have our Cake and Eat it Too?

Most women can identify with the competing demands of work and family. The question is whether we can have our cake and eat it too – to be both a career woman and mother. I believe we can and the key is in seeing ourselves as a whole individual – professional and mother, whilst having the skills to integrate both spheres.


When I was recovering from an illness that nearly cost my life, I was in a similar predicament, do I choose between family and work? I want to spend my time and best energy with my children. But I realized that being such an achievement oriented person, if I don’t drive my career, I will probably drive my kids. Bad idea! I was unhappy with an either/or choice. A 50:50 compromise does not seem whole to me.


Some people told me you cannot have your cake and eat it too. But I thought, what good is a cake if I can’t eat it? I want to have my cake and eat it too! My whole includes both career and family, in fact, 100 in career and 100 from family.


Integrating Work and Life

Work vs personal life is one of the classic tensions we face. Many times, we think we need to choose either A or B. But either/or is not whole. There is another way of thinking to be more whole. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now 83, US Supreme Court Justice, shares in a Strait Times article[2], “When I started law school in 1956, the term work life balance made not been coined yet.” She attributes her success in law school to her baby daughter. She studied diligently in school till 4 pm, and then spent time with her daughter singing silly songs, reading, bathing and feeding her, before going back to her law books with renewed will after her daughter went to bed. “Each part of my life provided respite for the other and gave me a sense of proportion.”


So like the Mobius Strip, one loop will integrate into the other – work integrates into family and vice versa. So over time, it will travel across both loops, though at any one point, we are at one loop. The cycle continues giving her wholeness in both career and family.

Scott Fitzgerald says it another way, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.


So to be whole, we balance opposites over time – logic and intuition, task and relationship, short and long term interests. So career and family comes together to be a fulfilling life. How does this happen practically?


Do One Thing at A Time

For me, I remind myself to do one thing at a time, but to focus on it fully at that point. I work hard to hone my skills to be the best in my field. I form networks in my professional sphere to get advice from the experienced so I spend less time pathfinding. I negotiate with my boss and clients, on my work scope and timelines so I have sufficient time to deliver and avoid unnecessary time pressure. I create a network of resources and people whom I can count on to help me out in times of need. I also anticipate issues and intervene early to avoid crises.


In the motherly sphere, I create a network of support – other people who can care for my children when I am busy at work. I also make sure I offer help to other mothers, so there is healthy give and take. I attempt to cultivate good habits in my children so the basic aspects, like doing homework are on autopilot mode. I plan activities before the school holidays start so they are kept engaged. I focus on the gold activities, in which my role as a mother is not easily replaceable – reading and helping them with their work, and outsource the rest like cooking and housework.


However, the key is still doing one thing at a time, being focused and productive in the time we have. I avoid wasting time, doing rework, unproductive meetings, gossiping or watching television. Time is too precious to lose. In the transition between work and family, e.g., on the way home from work, I mentally review what has been done and note what I need to do, and then turn my attention to my family – what I want to do with them in the next 2 hours or so, before turning to work again.


In addition, I take time to get my personal needs met – exercises, enough sleep and occasional facial too. I need to take care of myself so I can take care of others in the long run.


These are ways I cope. I am sure you have your strategies too. We can only do one thing at a time, but over time, we can be both a career woman and a mother, when we see ourselves as both career and personal life in 100:100 portion over time.





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