I am an integrator: I am happy to do some work in the wee hours of the morning (true story – it is 2am as I am writing this article…) if it means that I can spend time with my daughter when she gets home from school. I am comfortable working from home, knowing that I have the freedom to run errands between meetings if needed – even if working from home means enduring Frozen’s ‘Let it Go’ playing in the background for the hundredth time. I recently did a 30-minute yoga session during a virtual conference lunch break, and felt completely revived for the afternoon’s session.
If the thought of my life makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, then you are most likely a segmentor…
In her article, Segmentors vs Integrators: Google’s work-life balance research, Megan Huth, a People Analyst at Google, defines segmentors as: “employees who create rigid boundaries between their personal and work lives” and integrators as “employees who blur the lines between work and home, switching back and forth between the two”.
According to Nancy P. Rothbard, Deputy Dean at The Wharton School, there are, “generally speaking, […] two key dimensions that integrators and segmentors have to navigate: time and space. Understanding these dimensions will give you an idea of which category you fall in.”
For me, time is linked to how I structure my day to focus on my work and personal activities, and space is linked to the environment in which I am performing these activities.
Which are you: a segmentor or integrator?
You’re probably a segmentor if:
- You enjoy knowing that after giving it your all during the week at work, you can knock off at 5pm on Friday, turn off your laptop and not check another email or take another work phone call until Monday
- When you go on leave, you enjoy knowing that people will not contact you until you return
- Doing home-related activities during a workday stress you out, and vice versa
- Last-minute meetings set for after-hours frustrates you
You’re probably an integrator if:
- You’re happy to take phone calls and attend to work after hours, provided you can be there to take your child to their rugby game the following afternoon
- You’re comfortable sending emails while getting your hair cut
- You’re comfortable to work from home with family in the background, as you enjoy being able to check in with them between calls
Professor Karin Sanders from the UNSW Business School suggests that your preference for segmenting/integrating your work-family life is linked to your personality. Sanders says that “Personality is who you are and who you are is how you work”. I think it would make sense then for managers to invest in tools to help better understand their employees’ personality types to determine why employees prefer to integrate or segment their work-life. Understanding their preference, and helping employees put plans in place to support their work-life approach will build respect, trust, and will reduce stress.
How to help yourself navigate your work day if you’re a segmentor
Here are some tips from Rothbard to help segmentors navigate time and space while working from home:
- Select your WFH space carefully. Set up a separate space at home. Ideally, you need a space where you can close the door, enabling you to physically separate yourself from the chaos of domestic distractions during the day, and separate yourself from work distractions at the end of the day.
- Remove distractions. Rothbard suggests removing items from your dedicated space that people at home might need, so that they do not come into the room to get them, interrupting your workflow.
- Stick to a routine and set pre-determined working hours.
I believe that by consistently following a routine, you can manage the expectations around your deliverables and availability with your team and customers. Segmentors are keenly aware of their need to carve out family time with no shop talk and time for their health goals. It is therefore equally important to discuss this with your family and agree the time you will spend with them; this will help them to manage their routine and expectations and promote a sense of calm and security – especially if you live in a house full of segmentors.
- Dress for work.
I have heard horror stories from people in my network telling me of managers showing up to online meetings with limited clothing on, and colleagues comfortably videoconferencing in their pyjamas. It goes without saying that even if your physique resembles that of David Beckham’s, arriving sans shirt (or trousers!) to a meeting is not ok. No need for a suit and tie or stilettos, but dressing the part helps to prepare you mentally for the workday and remind your customers and colleagues that you are a professional. Managers also set the tone for the team culture and dynamic, so starting with wearing clothes to work is generally a good idea…
How to help yourself integrate your work and personal life
For the integrators out there, routine may sound painful and a tad boring, but here are some useful strategies I can recommend to help ensure that you find some sense of balance between personal and work life – without cramping your style.
- Negotiate flexible working hours with your manager/team. While you may have your flexible schedule fine-tuned, your manager and team members also need to know that you do. It can be very stressful for segmentors to operate if their manager or team members are integrators and not available when they need them. It is important to discuss your work-family life approach with your manager and get their agreement on how you will manage it. Most importantly though, is that to keep your manager’s and team members’ trust, you need to deliver on your commitments.
- Set boundaries. As an integrator, you may effortlessly move between the roles at home and work, and are comfortable taking calls ‘after hours’, but your colleagues/customers/managers, etc. need to know that there are set times when you are not available for work-related activities. This gives you the freedom to be fully present for family and personal activities and responsibilities. Similarly, your family needs to know that you have to dedicate sufficient time to work as well, and that they need to give you the time and space to do that. Being clear about these boundaries upfront, and putting together a schedule to support you with the process will help reduce anxiety around managing these two domains.
As a result of people having to work from home, companies are starting to identify standard hours in which employees can be contactable, and write this into their policies, to ensure that employees are given the opportunity to focus on their family and wellbeing. There is so much research out there to confirm that the need to switch off at some point in the day (especially having a break from our devices) is critical to our wellbeing – including getting better sleep, keeping alert, and operating with mindfulness.
- Keep a schedule. At the risk of appearing to micromanage my loved ones, I have created a weekly schedule with key activities, times, accountabilities and ‘do not forget notes’ that is up on the fridge, for all to see. It is a simple tool but has worked for me – even if my husband never reads the schedule! Scheduling allows integrators to keep on top of all the moving parts – from attending client meetings to preparing sales forecasts and from booking dentist appointments to logging onto your toddler’s virtual ballet classes.
- Breathe! Because your schedule is likely to be a little chaotic, remembering to literally pause and breathe to recentre yourself between activities is key. By stopping for a moment to catch your breath, you ground yourself, and allow yourself to get into the right headspace for the next activity. Speaking of headspace, there are many mindfulness apps that you can download to help get you into the mindfulness groove – try to work these pauses into your schedule, and a calmer, cooler you will emerge on a more regular basis.
What does the research say about which group is happier?
While Huth’s research determined that the segmentors at Google were “significantly happier with their well-being than integrators” because of their ability to detach from work, other research suggests that the ‘spillover’ between work and family can produce positive results.
In their research paper, When work and families are allies: A theory of work Family Enrichment, Jeffrey Greenhaus and Gary Powell highlight that the work-family interface does not need to be seen as “enemies” of each other, as is often the narrative. Rather, they can be “allies”, focusing on the process of “enrichment”.
In other words, work can positively impact our family life and vice versa. Think about the multiple tools and skills you are exposed to at work (leadership and interpersonal models, skills training, and coaching, etc.) that can be used to help navigate your personal relationships and roles at home. My clients are currently focusing on upskilling their people to be able to have courageous conversations. I know that I have used the learnings from this training many times in my personal life – and it has enriched my relationships. Similarly, the skills learnt in the family environment, such as empathy, can be used to foster positive relationships at work.
So, which is best – segmentor or integrator?
Neither. There is no right or wrong when it comes to being either a segmentor or integrator. Rather, it is matching the work environment to the individuals’ preferred work-life approach, so that they can operate from a place of power and focus. Placing an integrator into a role that has a rigid schedule will make them feel micro-managed and increase their level of frustration and stress. Similarly, placing a segmentor in a role where the schedule is constantly changing and where they cannot separate themselves from work, will result in them feeling out of control and stressed.
If you don’t fit into either of these categories, perhaps you are what psychologist, Dr Amanda Ferguson, refers to as a ‘cycler’ – i.e. “integrators during the week and segment[o]rs on the weekend”.
Either way, it is important that you understand your preference for approaching your work-family life interface, and ensure that you discuss this approach with people in both domains, so that you can find a balance that works for you.