Separator Vs Integrator What Works for Us and Why

Co-workers and working mums Emma Willars and Emily Manson explain what (mostly) works for them and why.


Hopefully, you’ll find a moment to take stock during the upcoming National Work Life Week. As working parents, this inevitably involves a constant juggle of work life priorities and organisation.

Jennifer’s piece, ‘Your Best Work-life Balance Depends on Your Personality’ got us thinking. We thought we'd share what works for us and why.

The Separator - Emma

I like to give things my full attention.  Various personality indicators and assessments I've done over the years reveal 'focus' and 'competence' to be strong drivers for me - colleagues, friends and family have commented on this too.

So, when I began juggling my career with starting a family, I knew there would be a fair amount of challenge ahead.  I remember being out-and-about with my two pre-schoolers on a non-work day (ha!) and picking up an 'unknown' call on my mobile.   "Hi, it's Gary."  I could feel my brain whirring into work mode and it took me about half the conversation to place him, but I finally remembered...we'd had a meeting the previous day.

That was just one of the many moments that nudged me towards a full-focus-separator-model in managing my work and family commitments. I decided not engaging with work on a non-work day would mean staying in control of choosing the moments to be available and check in.  The alternative was potential frustration all round and probably a sizeable dent in my professional profile.

Now my children are older they get that when my office door at home is closed they cannot enter as I'm unavailable (they can text if it's an emergency!) In my line of work, opening the door might mean having their faces beamed around the world via webcam on one of our global webinars or group coaching sessions, so it's a high risk move.

Paying attention to my preferred working style and wider priorities means I've got pretty good at smart working, I run a reasonably tight ship. I've learnt to pay attention to a few golden rules: keeping an up to date diary that others can edit; prioritise and planning my work across the day, without allowing emails and internal channels to distract me; and to be flexible with changing hours or days of work as needed. I've also got a great home support network which I've learned to fully trust so I can really step away when I'm in work mode.

For me, being a 'separator' is a win:win:win - my work gets my full focus; my family (usually) gets the attention and engagement in whatever they need; and I get to enjoy a rich and varied work-life balance.  Of course, some weeks are better than others...

The Integrator - Emily

I am that mum in the playground on her mobile phone. I just can't help myself.

It all stems from a decade of working in hospitality (pre-kids), where work was all consuming, with shift work mixing inextricably with late nights socialising with colleagues. I just became used to my work life blurring into my personal life.

This was followed by a decade of writing about hospitality - with equally blurry lines, hobnobbing with chefs and hoteliers who are super-affable and always up for a late-night debrief. To be honest, calling it work often seemed inappropriate. It was the best job in the world for a young, single, independent woman and I loved living every minute of it.

The past decade of freelancing and consulting saw me permanently at the beck and call of my clients. I had one particular client who, lovely as they were to work for, and despite knowing I was a working mum, would call without fail at 6pm on a Friday to review the week. This was, of course, so he could clear his desk and hop off happily for his weekend - leaving me with a massive to do list to work on over the weekend.

Six pm on a Friday - as most parents will know is not a great time for a work call - frequently dogged with playdates, ratty, overtired, hungry children who've just about made it through the week. I've taken that call while making pancakes, clearing up home-made 'slime', repairing train-tracks and, yes of course, in the corner of playgrounds.

The kids got used to it, they didn't really notice. I was around but not available. The client didn't seem to care, even when the children were making noise. He knew I was juggling, but also knew I would do the work well. He just wanted to clear his desk.

Now back in the office world, I find I naturally integrate. I have work emails on my phone, I don't have to look but I can when I want to as I like to keep on top of things and know what's coming up.

I'm happy to be called on my 'day off' because I'd rather someone give me a quick buzz and avoid a screw up, than have a potential disaster waiting for me when I come back on a Monday morning.

It just doesn't bother me as I seem to switch on and off easily - well most of the time. It also allows me the freedom to be with my kids while working, to be mobile and agile, yet still feel I'm delivering my best job.


Emma Willars, Coaching & Consultancy Manager, Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions, parent of 3

Emily Manson, Content Manager, Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions, parent of 2 (can't imagine how Emma juggles 3!)