Google, Segmenters, Integrators and Work-Family Balance

Google found that some employees are able to separate work and non-work, while others take a more integrated approach. How this insight has practical applications for employers and employees and highlights the need for more customized work-family solutions.

I'm impressed by Google's scientific approach to work-family management

I’m impressed by Google’s scientific approach to work-family management

I recently came across an excellent HBR.org article by Lazlo Bock about gDNA–Google’s scientific approach to studying their workplace and employees. By collecting and analyzing large amounts of data, they hope to implement workplace changes that accelerate productivity and enhance employee well-being.

They are even studying factors relating to work-life balance among their employees. Among their findings is that about 30% are segmenters and about 70% are integrators (although 70% of integrators wish they could be segmenters).

Both approaches to work-family balance have their pros and cons, and each group would benefit from different types of workplace changes to lead more balanced lives.

Segmenters

Segmenters prefer to, and tend to be able to, draw a psychological line between work and the rest of their lives. These are the people who prefer to put in their time at work, and then come home and shut off the “work parts” of their brains. As Bock puts it, “They tend not to dwell on looming deadlines and floods of emails, and can fall gently asleep each night.”

Gosh, I envy segmenters.

Integrators

Integrators, by contrast, either prefer to blend their work and non-work time and activities, or simply have a hard time separating work from the rest of their lives. Sometimes this integration is good, as “life stuff” can be taken care of during work hours, even if “work stuff” creeps in around the edges of family time.

Smartphones and late-night emails are killers for integrators. For me, while I have always felt energized at juggling multiple work and non-work activities and thrive on flexibility, I am also a victim of the incessant “to do” list constantly running in my brain. Classic struggles of the integrator.

The distinction between segmenters and integrators reminds me of my favorite quote about work and family. Work-family pioneer Tim Hall coined the phrase “we need less rigid forms of flexibility.”

What a great way to say that one-size-fits-all solutions aren’t all that great for work-family concerns, as every person and every family has different, and often frequently-changing needs and priorities. It seems to me that:

  • Segmenters need solutions that reduce chronic overwork, such as reasonable time demands and the ability to be fully unplugged from work during non-work hours. They need sufficient time at home in order to have sufficient time for home, and their non-work time needs to be respected by their employers.
  • Integrators need solutions that open up possibilities for autonomy and flexibility over where, when and how work gets done, such as ad-hoc or part-time telecommuting. They need the freedom and tools to customize their work schedules around family (and vice-versa), being held accountable for performance but freed to work in the way that matches their idiosyncratic styles and the day’s life demands.

The promise of Google’s really smart approach to workforce management is the creation of a range of work-family supports that are effective for different types of employees and different types of work-life challenges. From Bock:

“If indeed, some employees show a preference for, or seem to work best when segmenting- making clear delineations between work and non-work, while others either thrive on, or work best when the lines between work and life are blurred, then it is clear that some workplace interventions will work better for some and not for others.”

I’m excited to see what comes out of gDNA. I think they are on the right track.

Are you a segmenter or an integrator? What do you think about Google’s approach? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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4 Comments

  1. Really interested to read about segmenters and integrators, I hadn’t heard of these two terms before. I’d say that I’m generally a segmenter as I try to be pretty strict about not checking work e-mails when I’m not at work. However, I do end up becoming a bit of an integrator when I’ve got a lot of marking to do.

    Reply
  2. markprof33

     /  April 11, 2014

    Forgot to mention: Bock makes a good point in his HBR blog post that “integrators” and “segmenters” actually fall along a continuum of these dimensions. For example, a worker may use integration to a certain extent but still primarily be a segmenter.

    Reply
  3. markprof33

     /  April 11, 2014

    This is a fascinating and very timely question. I am an integrator who wants to be a segmenter (similar to many Google employees it seems). I would like to have more separation between work and home, but I find myself often catching up on work tasks during “home” hours. While I am grateful that technology gives me this ability, it can also be very intrusive. I see a lot of promise in Google’s approach to this issue because they recognize that integrators and segmenters have different needs regarding work-life balance.

    Reply
    • I think many of us aspire to being segmentors, but that, even if our employers aren’t imposing on us, I think a LOT of us check into work stuff on family time because of the pressure we put on ourselves or our own ambitions.

      Reply

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