What is Work-Life Integration?

by Tina Freese Decker

Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Spectrum Health Tina Freese Decker reflects on the challenges — and joys — of juggling motherhood and a high level career.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, I drove the nine miles from my office in downtown Grand Rapids to my home for the sole purpose of spending approximately 12 minutes putting my daughter’s hair up into a bun for a mock gymnastics meet. Then, I headed back to work, where my day didn’t end until about 6:30 p.m. Crazy, right?

Not if you ask my 9-year old daughter, Maddie. Having her mom do her hair was non-negotiable. It was important to her, which made it important to me.

As chief operating officer and executive vice president at Spectrum Health, the largest employer in West Michigan, my calendar is pretty full.  As a wife and mother, my “off hours” are in short supply, too. But instead of thinking of my life as a juggling act, I prefer to view my challenging schedule as an opportunity. Of course, it isn’t easy to shoe horn my myriad responsibilities into a 24-hour day, but my personal and professional lives are both incredibly rewarding so the effort it takes is well worth it; I enjoy what I do, which is why I give it my all.

As busy parents everywhere continue to be challenged by professional and personal demands, the philosophy of work-life balance has morphed into work-life integration. This search for harmony seems appropriate and works pretty well for me, particularly now that technology can follow us anywhere.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 70 percent of women with children under the age of 18 were a part of the labor force in 2015. So clearly, my situation is not unique. According to the 2015 Pew Research Center survey 56 percent of all working families say finding a balance between work and family is difficult. These same families report that striking — or failing to strike — the right balance or integration makes parenting more stressful.

I know the stress of trying to do it all. I also know I’m incredibly fortunate that my husband, Jay, takes on the bulk of the work at home. Our two kids, Maddie and 7-year-old Drew, are lucky to have his undivided attention.

As they get older and busier with their own activities and interests, I hope they are guided by the example we have set for them.

Amid all the meetings, conference calls, school events and carry-out lunches, I’ve worked hard to maintain my patience and sense of humor. Communication is key. So is compromise.

“As busy parents everywhere continue to be challenged by professional and personal demands, the philosophy of work-life balance has morphed into work-life integration.”

Above all else, I believe I have successfully integrated my duties at work and home because I enjoy all aspects of my life. I give it my all. My commitment to my profession, my employer, my community and my family is unwavering.

Certainly, everyone’s experience is different. But when I talk to my kids about my work and its rewards, I feel good about my choices. I believe they understand that what I’m doing is important.

My hope is that Jay and I have set a good example so that years from now Maddie and Drew will find ways to integrate their personal and professional lives, too.

Here are some tips and advice that have helped me integrate work and family responsibilities:

Prioritize

At work and at home, decide what is most important to you. This may evolve over time. You cannot do everything, but you need to do the top-tier things and you need to do them really well.

Delegate

Surround yourself with a skilled team and empower each person to do his/her job.

Spend Quality Time

It’s important to be present. Whether I’m with my team or my family, I make time for their interests and concerns. This time is sometimes the most useful part of my day.

Take Action

Lead by example. My mother instilled in me the importance of volunteerism and I model that behavior for my children.

Keep Learning

I’m taking Spanish lessons because my kids attend a Spanish-immersion school. For us, practicing together is a bonding experience.

Take Time For Yourself

Go on vacation or read a book – for pleasure! It’s important for my kids to see me taking a break from work.


Tina Freese Decker is the chief operating officer and executive vice president at Spectrum Health, the largest employer in West Michigan with more than 25,000 employees.


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