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JUN 16, 2020

3 Principles for the New Age of Work-Life Integration

By Megumi Taoka
iStock/Aleutie

As in many countries, COVID-19 quarantine brought Japan a completely new look at work and life. Against many odds, Japanese businessmen and women, who are known for their office-boundness, coped well with—even enjoyed—working from home.

Still, it was a great surprise when Hitachi (after a successful practice round with 33,000 employees) announced its decision to make telework the standard going forward. However surprising, this is a clear sign that we are stepping into an unprecedented era:

The Age of Work-Life Integration.

We used to believe that we needed to balance work and life, as if these were independent variables. But in the new era, they will no longer be separate. Rather, they will be tightly woven in every moment of our daily lives. This will be a fairly significant change for many of us. To successfully transition into the Age of Work-Life Integration, we’ll need to embrace three principles.

1. Follow your women.
Women are ahead of the curve this time.

In Japan, traditional gender roles are still alive and well. Men take the responsibility of full-time breadwinner, and wives keep their work flexible to more easily respond to home needs. This segregation of duties between the two genders has been the primary cause of women lagging professionally and economically in Japanese society.

But now, thanks to COVID-19 quarantine, wives have suddenly gained the ability to merge work and life—and pivot between them at any moment.

For the first time in modern Japanese history, women are ahead of the curve of a significant social change. The flexibility that wives—and women in general—have developed under the adversity of gender roles has given them the skillset and mindset of independent, task-driven professionals. Women just get things done.

Meanwhile, husbands—and again, men in general—are tied up in the interdependency of traditional large corporations. Relationships matter there much more than getting things done. It will take some time to overcome the fear of losing the “membership” that they have worked so hard for.

But the reality of dual responsibilities at work and home won’t wait. Husbands will struggle with the learning curve. Wives are ready to take it on.

2. Manage your home just like your work.
Parents have opportunities ahead.

Home is the center of everything now that we are there (or here) 24/7. It’s no longer a hideaway from work. But that means now is the perfect time to make use of business management concepts for a more productive life at home.

Project management skills can help organize everyday chores. Families can use periodic meetings to stay updated (even keep minutes!). We should give effective feedback and help each other grow. These business management skills—and others—will likely find a more extensive application to both work and home life.

Especially for teens.

Teens, in particular, are facing the reality of work-life integration, as they stand on the brink of joining the global workforce from home. That means parents can help shape the foundation of successful careers and family life in the new era. According to the Harvard Business Review, daughters with dads who do their fair share of domestic tasks are more likely to pursue career aspirations (often in less stereotypical occupations) with more self-esteem and autonomy. Sons benefit as well, gaining a more egalitarian perspective of gender roles at home and work.

In short, parents can use their career-earned talent development skills to help their kids become work-life integration ready.

3. Build your work around the life you love.
We can all work from our dream home.

Loss of a physical office is giving many people around the world freedom to make their dream home a reality. According to Business Insider, a third of tech workers around San Francisco say they’d consider leaving the Bay Area if they could permanently work remotely — even if it meant a pay cut. It is a logical choice, considering the significant reduction in rents and increase in quality of life in less-crowded neighborhoods.

The same movement may soon come to Japan.

The Age of Work-Life Integration will be all about clarity: clarity in our values and in our priorities. The old way of building our lives around work is over. It’s the other way around now. Making a sustainable choice means satisfying all three critical elements of can, need, and want—not only for a career, but for life, as well.

This may seem like a big, scary new world of change now, but we’ll all soon be wondering how we lived any other way. When we look back, we’ll remember the Age of Work-Life Integration as the real beginning of authentic life—for people in Japan and everywhere.