A work-life balance refers to a sustainable and effective distribution of self between one’s work and life obligations, suggesting a clear separation between “work” and “life” with minimal spillover of one into the other. It refers to the ability to effectively attend to one’s work responsibilities and one’s personal responsibilities, with adequate reserves to balance it all. But consider this: More than 40% of psychiatrists believe their careers in medicine are “a calling.” Thus, we tend to have a deep connection to our work.1 This may be both a blessing and a curse: Data suggest this viewpoint may play a protective role in our resilience. However, it may also be difficult to separate work from our other senses of self. When faced with tahe age-old question, “Do you live to work or do you work to live?” it seems many of us would reply affirmatively to both options.
The idea of creating and maintaining balance has always been difficult and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. The drawing of a line between work and home life became impossible as we were suddenly thrust into telepsychiatry mode, without any clear ways to apply our office-based approaches and boundaries. On top of that was the need to simultaneously manage distance learning for our children, negotiate infection control, deal with pandemic fears, and so on.
The corporate world has pushed to reconceptualize this as work-life integration rather than balance. The word integration lessens the need to separate oneself into disparate parts to address various areas of life. In addition, the emphasis of integration over balance suggests that you are a whole person, with an identity and sense of wellness spanning, affecting, and being affected by all areas of work and non–work life. Because our profession necessitates maintaining clear boundaries for therapeutic and safety reasons, this integrative concept may best be applied in terms of how it affects our self-concept, by easing our need to find a way to split our identity. It also allows us the space to then prioritize ourselves and our health in all areas, knowing that when we are not feeling well in our personal lives, this greatly impacts our work life and vice versa.