Is Work-Life Integration Right for You?

By Jun Salipsip

Early in my career, there was a saying that when you leave home for work, you leave your family problems behind. And when you leave work for home, you leave your work problems behind. There was supposed to be a sharp division between work and family life. It probably worked then because change was relatively a bit slower compared to today and things could wait until the next morning.

But as deregulation opened up economies and competition of all kinds intensified, nothing could wait till the next morning because your customers need to respond to their own customers quickly before their competition could beat them on the draw. Technology added more impetus to changes that were happening by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of everything, especially communication. With better communication, new ideas and innovation spread more quickly, thereby creating more new ideas and innovation. Better communication also created better informed and more demanding customers whose taste for better and new products and services became more sophisticated.

A lot of demand is, therefore, placed on business organizations and the people running them. Some businesses could not compete and, therefore, either closed down, or were bought by other more effective and efficient business organizations. Successful companies streamlined their operations, adopted new technologies to gain efficiencies, and maintained only part of their formerly large organization.

Just like anyone else, I worked hard to help the company I was working for to get ahead of competition. When there was a new project that had to be launched, I eagerly volunteered for it, thereby adding more tasks to my overloaded “to do list.” Working late in the office and traveling was a regular thing. At that time, I had an elementary school-aged daughter. She had school events and games to attend and lots of homework to do every day. I leaned heavily on my wife to attend to the needs of our young daughter. To do this, she quit her job without any hesitation. And when I was working late or traveling, I called home as often as I could to talk to my wife and daughter.

As I moved up the corporate ladder, I continued to work harder to keep up with my ambitious colleagues. By this time, my daughter was already in high school and school work and home assignments had become more complicated. One late night, while I was waiting for my hotel room in Singapore to be ready for occupancy, I thought of calling home. I was surprised that it was my daughter who answered the phone. When I asked why she was still awake very late that night, she said that she was struggling with a particular school assignment that had to be submitted the next day. I asked her where her mother was and why she was not helping with her homework. She said that her mother told her that it was the kind of work that I could only do for her. I told her that I was sorry I was not around to help her.

She said, “It is alright, Papa. I know you are working and doing what you like to do.”

I was speechless and couldn’t say anything. Then my daughter, who was very considerate, said, “It’s late, Papa. You must be tired. Good night. Love you.”

After a long pause, when she did not get any reply from me, she hung up the phone. I must have been teary eyed because people were staring at me. It was one of those nights when sleep did not come easily. I couldn’t wait to finish what I was working on. I wanted to go home and embrace my daughter to let her know she was more important to me than my work.

From then on, every time I had to stay late in the office or attend a dinner appointment, I called up my daughter to let her know I would be late, ask her to sleep early, and promise her I would wake her up when I arrived home so we could do her homework together. It was not the best arrangement but we both tried hard to make it work.

All of us have a life to live. But what should we live for and how do we live that chosen kind of life?

I think the answer to the first question on what we should live for depends on what we value. It serves as a guide in setting our goals and the choices that we make in our life to achieve these goals. Given a set of alternatives, our values will help us select which ones to prioritize.

Value Clarification

This was clearly brought home to me when I took a value clarification session with some of my colleagues. There were almost a hundred index cards with one value written on each card prominently posted on the board in front of us. Since we were not too many, each one of us could get as many as 5 values each, if we wished to. We were given time to study all the values posted on the board and explanations were given to all the questions that we asked. A certain amount of tokens were equally given to all of us. We were told that each value will be auctioned. When a value went on the block, each one of us could call for our competitive bid by naming the price we were willing to buy the value for.

As the auction began, the auctioneer was fast and furious in her pace. She would sometimes put on the block a certain value and urge, goad, provoke, and prod the participants to call out for competitive bids and without much pause, declared the winning bidder if there was a lull in the process. At times, she would put a value on the block with an offer price that was equivalent to the total amount of tokens that were individually given to us, which sometimes caused failure of the participants to enter a bid.

As the auction continued, I was out-bided by my colleagues because I selected a few values for myself and allocated my tokens to each one of them in accordance to their importance to me. When the competitive bid went beyond the amount I had set in my mind, I hesitated to bid up because that meant I had to sacrifice the other values I had chosen. At the end of the auction, my tokens were intact but useless with no worthwhile values to show. I realized that I did not know which of those values I would have given and spent all my tokens for. The question was: “Is it the same with my life? Do I know what I would give my life for?”

The late Steve Jobs was one of those who clearly understood the importance of values. In his speech to a graduating class, he said, “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like, ‘If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’”

That was a powerful impression that left a lasting imprint in the mind of Steve Jobs and guided him in his life. He knew what he wanted in life and made sure that everything he did was in accordance or integrated with what he valued, even up to the time of his death.

Clear Purpose in Life

The words of Steve Jobs reminded me of the “Franklin Day Planner”, created by Hyrum W. Smith. It was meant to be a guide on how we should live our life. Before a planner was handed out to someone, there was a workshop that everyone was required to take. The workshop was about writing down what each one of us valued or what was important to each one of us. We were also asked to write down the long-term goals associated with what we valued. The rationale given to us that we all agreed to was the following facts: most day planners given every new year as a gift tend to be enthusiastically filled out in the month of January, less enthusiastically filled out in February, and forgotten by March because there was no compelling reason to write down and perform activities that are not supported by a clear purpose.

The “Franklin Day Planner”, without me realizing it at that time, was a system that would help the user integrate what one values with goals and life’s activities. It even has a ranking system of each activity: A — extremely important (because it is related to what you value), B — moderately important, C — relatively unimportant. This is quite close to Stephen Covey’s idea of prioritization.

Stephen Covey wrote a book entitled First Things First where he described a “framework for prioritizing work that is aimed at long-term goals, at the expense of tasks that appear to be urgent, but are in fact less important.” He used two dimensions of work by categorizing tasks into whether they are urgent and whether they are important.

Below is the Time Management Matrix by Stephen Covey classifying tasks as urgent and non-urgent on one axis, and important or non-important on the other axis. According to Stephen, the list on Quadrant 2 should reflect what is really important to us and where he believes we should focus to achieve our goals.

This time management formula is attributed to former US President Dwight Eisenhower. It recognizes that “important tasks may not be urgent, and urgent tasks are not necessarily important.”

Work-Life Integration

Another program I know that emphasized values was “Managing Personal Growth” (MPG) by Blessing/White, Inc. The Participant Guide given to us in the workshop explained that without firm values, we not only lose confidence in our decisions, but we also tend to be apathetic, indecisive, and inconsistent. However, it recognized the problem that identifying our most important values is not easy because of “cultural and organizational pressures to accept certain values as our own.” And if an individual does not know what he wants out of life and is not clear about what he values, he can be pressured to accept the values of the organization he works for, resulting in a feeling of being exploited by the company that may lead to a lot of misunderstandings.

The MPG program went on to say that people who have jobs they really like tend to perform better than those who dislike their jobs. And since an organization seeks maximum contribution from its employees, each employee must seek maximum satisfaction from their jobs. According to the program, each job has its own unique characteristics and it is the fit between the job characteristics and one’s own personal value that determines how satisfying a job is to an individual.

Below is an image of the “Blessing/White, Inc. — Managing Personal Growth (MPG) Model — Napkin Drawing.” There are two paths that cross each other: the organization’s path towards achieving its goals, and an individual’s path towards achieving his or her goals. Where the two paths meet is our work.

In the workshop, we were asked to map out where we were inside the box, indicating our current level of satisfaction and contribution. As the illustration below shows, there are three likely places you could find yourself in the resulting diamond-shaped box: first, on the left-hand side where an employee is very satisfied with his or her work but where contribution is at the lowest; second, on the right hand side where an employee is a high contributor but is not satisfied with his or her job; and third, on top, where an employee is very satisfied with his or her job and is also a high contributor to the achievement of the goals of the organization. On the first one, the employee is likely to get fired, on the second one, the employee is likely to quit, and on the third one, both the employee and the organization are achieving their goals — it’s the ideal place to operate.

It was so far the best illustration of work-life integration that I know of.

There was also a quote in the MPG program from Peter Senge that somehow expressed work-life integration: “To seek personal fulfillment only outside of work and to ignore the significant portion of our lives we spend working, would be to limit our opportunities to be a happy and complete human being.”

And if I may add another quote from Steve Jobs in his speech before the graduating class of Stanford, he said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

The work I did gave me a sense of accomplishment every time I overcame the many challenges of being given new and higher responsibilities. The changes in my work also provided me with new experiences and a sense of self-improvement whenever we adapted to new conditions in the market. And last but not the least, it provided my family a comfortable life.

But my work demanded understanding of the key factors that determined the value of my contribution to achieving the goals of the organization, and required developing new competencies and skills to remain competitive. My boss had always been supportive in providing insights and in giving me the training that I needed to succeed. But the continuous learning and development always took time.

Vilfredo Pareto Principle and Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours Theory

As we all know, time is a very limited commodity. As I performed my daily tasks, the 80/20 Pareto Principle kicked in. In a competitive world, one must excel in whatever one does. To excel, I learned that one would need to work much, much harder. I believe this is related to the 10,000 Hours Theory written by Malcom Gladwell in his book, Outliers. In his book, Malcom Gladwell said that “researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours of practice to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert — in anything.”

Since change kept happening, there were always new tasks to learn and it kept me glued to the same routine on spending more time at work. I recently read Thomas Friedman’s article in the New York Times entitled “Owning Your Own Future” (and reprinted in The Philippine Star on May 11, 2017). He wrote, “I believe the acceleration set loose by Silicon Valley in technology and digital globalization have created a world where every decent job demands more skill and now, lifelong learning.”

We all have only 24 hours a day and in those 24 hours you have to fit in the following: a time to learn new and more skills at a level where you become an expert in all of them; a time to be a better family man; a time for sports and exercise to maintain good health; and a time for some socio-civic activities. How will I ever find the 10,000 hours I would need to excel in all of them?

Is Work-Life Integration Right For Me?

Later, in another occasion, I was made to choose between work and family. I was then traveling with my boss to Thailand when I received a message from my secretary. The message said that my elderly aunt was in bad condition and was rushed to the hospital. My wife told my secretary that my aunt was asking for me. I grew up with my aunt but did not have much time for her when I started working. It was she who took care of me when I was a child because my mother was sickly.

With some hesitation, I told my boss that I had to head back home right away because my aunt was hospitalized. I literally dumped all the paper work and presentation materials on my boss’ lap and headed straight to the airport to fly back home to take care of the woman who brought me up as a child. When I saw her in the intensive care unit, there were all sorts of tubes connected to her. When she saw me, she cried. She held my hand tightly without a word. I stroked her hair and gave her reassuring words. I think that meant a lot to her.

Later, when she died, I missed her a lot and wished I could have spent more time with her. But she was gone and I could no longer retrieve the lost opportunity to be with her, and whatever I did with that time that I could have spent with her could not be changed.

I think it is not a question of whether work-life integration is right or wrong for anyone. I think, difficult as it may be, we need to keep trying on integrating our work with life.

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About the author:

Jun Salipsip has more than 48 years of business and management experience, including 17 years in consultation, and more than 31 years in MNC commercial leadership. He specializes in helping organizations increase business performance. His expertise includes strategic planning and change management, sales training and creating performance improvement solutions, and management and marketing training programs.

Jun is the Director of Research at Enderun Colleges, and the Executive Director of the American Chamber Foundation of the Philippines, Inc.