Outside office hours

A new Korn Ferry report explores how the shift from work-life balance to work-life integration is changing the workday as we know it.

When a person starts a new job, they’re starting a new relationship. The person and their new company enter into an agreement, each with expectations of what they will put into the relationship—and what they will get out of it.

Recently, it seems both employers and employees feel like they’re not getting quite what they bargained for. The latest federal statistics show that, though rates are declining, US workers are still quitting in droves—a trend not lost on other countries. Meanwhile, companies continue to double down on returning to the office despite surveys showing most professionals prefer either remote or hybrid work. Experts say employees feel they’re overworked and underappreciated, while employers worry their workers are just phoning it in. The result? Quiet quitting, low engagement, and burnout. “When balance fails or isn’t respected, people do phone it in. It’s a form of resistance, and it’s a form of self-preservation,” says Tiffany Williams, director of DE&I in Korn Ferry’s RPO practice.

Many organizations find themselves trying to figure out how to re-engage their workforce, pulling all sorts of levers to keep the engines running. However, experts say, many leaders are rerunning old plays and looking back over their shoulders. But just because these problems aren’t new doesn’t mean the same solutions are still valid. “Quiet quitting has been happening for a long time,” says David Herrera, head of people and organization analytics and associate client partner in Korn Ferry’s Advisory practice. “It’s because leaders aren't changing the way they lead and inspire to match the ‘new’ way of working.”

Although the last three years have seen a stronger focus on company purpose, leaders continue to lag in providing the necessary support to enable and empower their workforce. And because leadership has been slow to evolve, experts say, the gap between employee expectations and employee experience has grown considerably. “There’s an incongruence between what we’re told and what we feel that we’re forced to reconcile,” says Andy Holmes, a Korn Ferry associate client partner in EMEA.

For decades, how to achieve the elusive work-life balance has dominated business conversations, but the recent shifts in when, where and how people work have illuminated the need to move away from such rigidity. The solution, according to new research from the Korn Ferry Institute, is for organizations to move towards a culture that embraces flexibility over balance.

As Williams explains, employees today are feeling different levels of fatigue, which require different levels of problem-solving. Where work-life balance draws a hard line between personal and professional lives, Korn Ferry’s research suggests that work-life integration allows employees to create harmony between the two, thus improving their well-being, boosting their productivity, and optimizing their performance. “An integration-focused approach doesn’t ask people to choose between meeting their individual needs and working,” she says. “It enables them to consider both.”

In other words, by promoting work-life integration, the question moves away from if we work, and instead gives people the agency to answer the when and how for themselves. “Working from home shouldn’t mean living at work,” says Ben Frost, senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Products business.

To learn more, click the image to download our report, “Outside office hours: how the shift from work-life balance to work-life integration is changing the workday as we know it.”


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