Welcome to the Age of Work/Life Integration

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Mother According to Reppler, 91 percent of employers use social media during the recruitment process, so it’s probably safe to say that social recruiting is no longer a trend — it’s a fact of life. But now that social media sites are staples of both personal and professional lives, people are changing they ways they use these platforms. Technology is blurring the lines between work lives and home lives, and people can no longer simply divide their social media accounts into personal and professional.

“There’s definitely a call to action here,” said Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millenial Branding, a research and consulting firm that specializes in Generation Y’s role in the working world. “This is a pretty serious topic.”

But while Schawbel pointed out that social media is no longer about just having fun and posting whatever you want online, he was also quick to acknowledge some benefits the shifting social media landscape may have for employers and job seekers alike.

“I think we’re moving toward an interesting time,” Schawbel said.

Check the Brand

Ever since the rise of social recruiting, people have been quick to throw around the term “personal brand” without thinking much about what it means. As it turns out, the concept of personal branding arose even before the dawn of social media. Many point to management expert Tom Peters’ 1997 article in Fast Company, “A Brand Called You,” as the beginning of the personal branding craze, and it is likely that the idea itself is even older.

But if people are going to use the term so frequently, it’s best that everyone operate with the same definition in mind. Schawbel, an expert on personal branding in the contemporary world, defines the concept as this: “At the core of it, it’s the same marketing strategies that corporations and products have built over time applied to an individual.”

While it used to be that people needed money to market themselves the way that companies do, social media has democratized the field by making the tools of marketing much cheaper. Because email marketing, social networking, video technology, and other strategies cost little to nothing these days, anyone can put the effort in, put content out there, and, as Schawbel puts it, “be known for something to someone.”

Much of the conversation around personal brands revolves around landing jobs. As the received wisdom goes, a strong personal brand impresses recruiters and gets job seekers hired. According to Schawbel, this is not the right approach to take: “If you’re only thinking about [your personal brand] in the context of getting a single job, you don’t really understand how the economy works or how careers are managed in the 21st century.”

Schawbel said that personal brands need to be about making longterm investments in yourself: “If you think about, ‘What is the one skill or the one topic that [I] can be the best in?’ as it relates to adding value to companies or to people, and you really invest in it seven days a week, and you put your time in, then you could become known as that type of expert and then you have something that you can leverage over the longterm, which would be much more profitable for you.”

When Schawbel talks about profit, he’s not only referring to the size of one’s paycheck. He’s also talking about meaningfulness and happiness in one’s life. It’s important to notice the way in which Schawbel talks about personal and professional profitability as if they were two parts of the same whole, because his language is representative of the biggest shift occurring in the working world today: the move from work/life balance to work/life integration.

Work/Life Balance Is Over; Work/Life Integration Is the New Norm

“Work/life balance made sense when there was separation between what you did personally and professionally,” said Schawbel. “Technology has pushed our personal and professional lives together.”

This is not a general observation — it’s based on empirical research. Harris Interactive found that 91 percent of Americans perform work-related tasks on their personal time. Conversely, Salary.com found that 64 percent of employees visit non-work related web sites every day during work hours, including social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Thanks to technology, the lines between work and play — between home and office — are totally blurred, if not completely nonexistent. This is what Schawbel means when he refers to work/life integration : work and life are no longer firmly divided. They mix together all the time.

Schawbel is optimistic about this change, because it means that we may begin approaching the workday differently. It will no longer be about completing work in a certain allotment of time (e.g., the stereotypical 9-5 workday), but merely about employees getting work done when it needs to get done.

Schawbel explained that, in some ways, this work/life integration is empowering for employees, because it allows them to juggle their work and personal lives according to their own preferences and schedules. “So, it’s not letting the company manage those preferences,” he said. “It’s you managing those preferences.”

Everyone is different, and work/life integration allows people to work and live according to their own schedules and preferences. Employers benefit, too, because the work they need is still getting done.

While work/life integration isn’t a total reality yet, Schawbel believes we’re well on our way. “It’s definitely headed in that direction, with telecommuting, where companies make money with less office space and individuals have more flexibility,” he said.

Work/Life Integration on the Web

The old social media advice for jobseekers used to be, “Keep personal and professional activities totally separate.” But Schawbel believes that advice no longer holds up. “It’s getting a lot harder to do that, and eventually it will become impossible,” he said.

That’s because work/life integration is happening online, in employees’ social media profiles, as well as in their offline lives. “I think people need to brace themselves now and really think about what they’re putting [on their profiles], regardless of whether it’s personal or professional,” said Schawbel. “People are not going to be able to manage 20 personal profiles and 15 professional profiles. It’s just not going to happen.”

When social networking was limited to two or three sites, the personal/professional divide was a little easier to manage: maybe you had a Facebook for personal life and a LinkedIn for work. But as TechCrunch columnist and Google Ventures general partner MG Siegler pointed out in January, the age of the big, all-encompassing social network is ending. The Web now belongs to specialized, single-purpose social media platforms: people post photos to Instagram; they share links and short bursts of text via Twitter; they publish long-form content on Tumblr and Medium; they send messages on WhatsApp. The list goes on, as niche social sites continue to proliferate.

Schawbel foresees people using fewer profiles, combining their personal and professional lives online. This change “has a huge impact,” he said. It offers both new opportunities and new challenges.

On the one hand, the melding of personal and professional will offer new possibilities for professional connections. “If you’re marketing, you’re probably not going to [connect online] with someone in accounting. But, if you both like the New England Patriots, that’s your connection point,” said Schawbel.

On the other hand, people will need to think differently about what they post. A blurring between personal and professional lives does not mean that everything is suddenly fair game. Schawbel pointed out that about 10 percent of Millenial Facebook users have lost out on job offers because of their social media activity. As personal and professional profiles merge, people will need to be extra careful: if inappropriate personal profile activity could negatively impact employment, imagine what could happen when that inappropriate activity occurs on a partly professional profile.

What Does This All Mean for Recruiters?

Social has already proven itself integral to contemporary recruiting, but Schawbel predicts that work/life integration will only serve to make social media even more important to the hiring process. This is because profiles that combine both personal and professional details will not only give recruiters insight into candidates’ skills, but also insight into candidates’ personalities, allowing recruiters to more accurately determine whether or not a candidate would be a good match for a company’s culture.

With access to more personal data, recruiters can make smarter hires and decrease the chance of hiring the wrong candidate. That’s a risk that recruiters would do well to mitigate, because hiring the wrong person is an exceedingly costly mistake: according to a study conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management, replacing a bad hire could cost up to five times that hire’s annual salary. 

“[Work/life integration] is just going to add more weight [to social profiles], because basically a company is trying to hire for cultural fit. Looking at these social networks, where people present personal data, gives people an insight into, ‘Will this person fit in with the company or not?’” Schawbel explained.

Recruiters and job seekers alike should see work/life integration as a blessing: it gives job seekers a chance to show off their personalities as well as their skill sets, and it gives recruiters a better method for determining cultural fit – a crucial, but often frustratingly vague, component of the hiring process.

By Matthew Kosinski