Work/life balance is so 20th century. Role integration grows businesses.

Now we come to one of the most interesting findings from my research project. Many women leave employment with the aim of achieving a level of flexibility that working for others does not permit. This desire is frequently the primary reason for setting up a (micro-)business and applies in particular if there are family demands too, such as bringing up young children. Oh yes, ladies, we are still asking ourselves “can I have it all?” And the clear answer from the interviews is “yes – but you have to work at it!” What does that mean? The women I interviewed were making clear decisions about what would take priority in their lives at the current time – and it all depends on the number of priorities, their importance to you and how you divide up your life between them.

Let me give you an example. One of my interviewees has a teenage son on the autism spectrum and was wondering how he would ever find work. She decided to set up a social enterprise that makes the most delicious handmade chocolates – and would employ her son and others on the autism spectrum in roles that would be ideally suited to them and their needs. Her daughter is involved in designing the packaging and her husband offers his complementary skills, especially relating to financial planning and other matters, in addition to his full-time job. The business and family are one and the same thing – there is no separation or conflict. The whole family is working on the business to a certain extent.

Here’s another one of my heroines: she grew up in a home with an absent mother undertaking a high-flying job and was determined that she would be available to her children. She started her business when she had a couple of very young children and would work around their needs. As time went by she was home-schooling 4 children and running a growing business from home. In fact the business (internet retailing) was taking over the whole house. The children learned their multiplication tables counting off stock for example until one Christmas they reached a crisis point. Her husband took redundancy from work, they hired a small warehouse and moved the business out of the home. With both parents working in the business, this gave them the flexibility to share family and business roles and continue home-schooling. Later, their business was hit badly – firstly by the recession and then by personal tragedy. She told me that it was extremely important at that time for the whole family to be together to recover – which would not have been possible if one or both parents had been employed. Now, some years later, the business is growing again and she felt it was the right time for the children to go to school. The family still have one toddler at home and all the business and child-care duties are shared. Their business is completed integrated into their lives. Again there is no separation between the two.

Women whose businesses had not grown had not achieved this level of integration. They felt they were juggling a wide range of responsibilities and were not able to dedicate their full energy to the business.

So this is where tough decisions are called for – and there are no right answers. To what extent do you want to integrate your life and business? Do you want to give the business your single-minded attention? Is it important for you to be involved in a wide variety of things, e.g. charities, social groups, involvement in partner’s/spouse’s business? Are other things more important than the business? How can you achieve the level of integration that gives you the flexibility you are looking for?