Creating Worklife Integration

mother kissing her child on the cheek

Employee well-being is a comprehensive approach that is a marriage of wellness and worklife.

Worklife is the ebb and flow of time and energy between work and lifestyle that change over one’s lifetime as professional pursuits and personal priorities integrate. It provides programs, policies, referrals and education that support employees to be effective at work, school and home, enabling them to bring their best selves to work. It encompasses dependent care, personal growth, finding meaning in work, community involvement and that crucial workplace flexibility to make it all happen. 

Traditionally called “worklife balance” the industry has moved away from that term as it creates a sense of competition between the two elements rather than a whole-life integration of the two main places people live their lives…work and home. This shift has been driven by globalization, advancements in technology, a more competitive workforce, and a renewed focus on the science of human behavior pertaining to work. People have a natural drive to create an easy harmony and meaningful engagement between the interconnected roles, relationships and responsibilities that make up their lives. 

As a manager/supervisor you are in a unique position to either foster that harmony or impede it. Keep in mind that a content employee, with meaning connected to their work and harmony between their responsibilities, is a superior employee from which you, UC Davis, and our customers can reap the benefits. Plus, basic human kindness is always a good thing.

Environment of Support

We’ve all heard it, “People don’t leave companies; they leave managers.” Sadly, there is quite a lot of truth to support that idea. Research from the Gallup, 2013 State of the American Workplace Employee Engagement Study, found that 50% of employees leave their job “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.” 

Gallup identified four traits of successful managers discussed in this Inc. article:

  1. They are honest and transparent.
  2. They are supportive.
  3. They recognize the talents and strengths of their tribe.
  4. They display empathy.

Notice that the biggest human capital gains come not from reports, meetings or quotas, but on a humanistic managerial style, which is essentially Worklife in action. This support and empathy can come in the form of providing resources to the expectant parent or returning breastfeeding mom, creating flex around lunch for an employee who wants to attend a campus support group for caregivers, providing financial education to your staff to extend their paycheck, encouraging people to utilize their earned vacation time or simply a genuine inquiry about the picture of that cat on your employee’s desk. All small things with exponential positive results.

Additionally, consider the organization culture of expectations at University of California. Is your campus a family-friendly organization? Is that statement reflected in each manager and supervisor’s actions? Can we, as a business culture, expect that people do not have conditions and responsibilities that may affect their work? People are not robots. It is unrealistic to assume or require that people will not experience the normal trials and tribulations of a normal lifetime experience. These responsibilities and stressors cannot be “switched off” for eight hours each day. An “Environment of Support” and “Culture Change” are intertwined concepts. A subtle shifting of transparent cultural expectations and fostering an environment of support can immensely affect the work experience of both the manager/supervisor and the employee.

Family Supportive Supervisory Behaviors

Work, Family & Health Network (WFHN) is a transdisciplinary research effort created by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designed to enhance the understanding of the impact of workplace practices and policies on work, family life, and health outcomes. Their pilot work found that workers supervised by family-supportive managers were significantly more likely to experience lower levels of work-family conflict, higher job satisfaction, lower intention to change jobs, and higher reports of physical and mental health. In those employees, systolic blood pressure at work was higher than it was when measured at non-work times, and sleep quality was predicted by work-family conflict.

Their meta-analysis indicated two main Worklife solutions:

  1. Family supportive supervisory behaviors
  2. Employees’ control over when and where they work

The Work, Family & Health Network’s researchers are now analyzing the longitudinal, cross-disciplinary data collected over the 5-year study period on how changes in work practices and policies can affect workers, family members, and organizations.

The research sheds light on how work-family conflict can affect people’s sleep, energy levels, blood pressure, and exercise habits. It can even affect parent’s relationships with their children.

Worklife Balance & Disability

It is important to note that people with disabilities often have particular needs that can easily be addressed through a healthy work and life integration.  Managers should be attuned to meeting the worklife needs of those who, with a few tweaks to their work or schedule, can benefit from worklife programs and practices.  A good website for information and perspective is

Find Meaning in Work

Research from the social sciences on happiness and employee engagement have identified the root of happiness…meaning in life. “Meaning” is defined as;  “a sense of higher purpose, a transcendent and belonging experience.” In day to day life, it is how one makes cognitive sense of one’s life and the daily actions that contribute to the overall meaning one holds with importance. As most waking hours are spent at work, these daily actions matter.

Two sides to this as a supervisor/manager

  1. Your individual meaning
  2. Being a cultivator/not a hindrance to your staff’s sense of meaning.

5 Qualities of Meaningful Work:

  1. Self-transcendent: Making someone else's life better.
  2. Poignant: Taps into your emotions.
  3. Episodic: A high point at work (which doesn't happen all the time), can define the narrative of your life.
  4. Reflective: This can happen in conversation or personal time--tie events to unfolding life.
  5. Personal: Internal conditions/feelings at work that connect to the larger narrative/purpose of one's life.

7 Deadly Sins to Discourage Meaningful Work:

  1. Disconnect people from their values.
  2. Take your employees for granted.
  3. Give people pointless work to do.
  4. Treat people unfairly.
  5. Override people's better judgement.
  6. Disconnect people from supportive relationships. 
  7. Put people at risk of physical or emotional harm.

Workplace Flexibility

Workplace Flexibility is a crucial driver of employee well-being and performance and is responsive to the changing professional and personal demographics of the multi-generational workforce. Workplace Flexibility is achieved through Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA). FWAs, particularly for “knowledge workers” (as opposed to front-line or shift workers) is an effective business strategy with benefits for both the organization and the employee.

When properly managed, FWAs reduce turnover, lower absenteeism and increase job satisfaction. They promote diversity and inclusion, cross-training, and have a positive impact on workplace culture, morale, and employee recruitment, engagement and retention. FWA options support three UC Davis campus initiatives: Principles of Community, Sustainability, Healthy Campus Network

Benefits of Workplace Flexibility for the Employee:

Health: Employees who believe they have workplace flexibility lead healthier lifestyles, as demonstrated by their sleep habits, level of physical activity, and stress management.  The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College points out several ways flexible work options can help people mentally and physically, including:

  • Reducing Stress: “A study of more than 19,000 employees at nine distinct companies … showed that stress and burnout was lower among workers engaged in all types of workplace flexibility arrangement.
  • Better Physical Health: Similarly, a study of employees in a large multinational company found that greater levels of flexibility were associated with better health: that is, with less self-reported stress and strain, and better physical health.” “For example, a recent study of workers in extended-care facilities found that ’employees who worked for managers with low work-family openness and creativity were more likely to have elevated cardiovascular disease risks based on both biomarker assessments and reports of doctor diagnoses. They also sleep almost half an hour less per night than employees with managers with high levels of openness and creativity in relation to work-family issues.”
  • Reducing Negative Spillover: Spillover “is a process by which attitudes and behavior carry over from one role to another. Spillover between work and family life can be regarded as negative (i.e., work-family conflict) or positive (work-family enhancement).” The Sloan Center cites a study conducted by the Families and Work Institute “found that employees in more flexible workplaces exhibited less negative spillover between work and family life.

Productivity & Autonomy: Recent studies have verified anecdotal evidence that the more control people have over their schedules, the more productive they are.  There are many types of FWAs including flex-time and flex-place, but the main driver to productivity is not the type of flex but the ability of a worker to have some control over their work lives.  Studies indicate, when a supervisor focuses on results, rather than face time at the office, there is less absenteeism, and increased presenteeism, loyalty, retention, and employee engagement. 

“We have decades of studies showing that people are happier, healthier, and more productive when they feel autonomous.” He added, “It’s because autonomy is a basic psychological need. The more autonomous we feel, the more likely we are to be engaged.” (Ron Friedman, The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace)

Research shows that employees are healthier, experience less stress, and are more productive and engaged when they effectively make choices about how, where and when they work. One way to do this is by responding to individual “work styles.”

Forms and Guidelines 

well-designed, formal flex policy, supported by trained managers and implemented with motivated workers, may be one of the best productivity-enhancing tools around.

Dependent Care

All employees have a family. A family caregiving unit can look very different for different families. Some "important others" may include spouses, partners, parents, children, extended family and even those with fur and feathers. It is unrealistic for organizations to assume that what happens outside of work-time will not affect what happens inside of work-time.

Temporary or semi-permanent life-responsibilities, such as caring for children, adults with special needs or elders with medical concerns, can make it difficult to manage the day-to-day responsibilities of both work and home changing over one’s lifetime and career. Highlighting existing resources, policy and flexibility to employees as they navigate this ebb and flow of time and energy leads to significant employee engagement, retention and long-term loyalty.

Breastfeeding Support

All UC campuses must provide lactation space and support to their employees.  UC Davis policy can be found on the Breastfeeding Support Program “Policies and Benefits page”  It is the manager/supervisor’s responsibility to identify an available appropriate space and determine a break schedule for those mothers wishing to continue breastfeeding upon returning to work. UC Davis encourages a managerial/supervisory case by case approach and encourages flexible scheduling to accommodate these breaks.

Mangers and supervisors should be aware of the resources available at their campus and communicate these resources to their employee as soon as they are notified of pregnancy.  At UC Davis and UC Davis Medical Center we have a robust Breastfeeding Support Program with classes, monthly support groups and free lactation consultations. Bringing this information of established services to your employee requires little effort yet has a significant positive effect on your staff member, their health, their family, their ability to return to work and their overall satisfaction of working for the University of California. It’s an easy way to care at a critical life-work junction for people.

Creating a Healthy Environment >