What are boundaries, and why are they important?
A boundary is a limit that you define in relation to someone or something. A physical boundary, would be a fence or a do not enter sign, however, emotional and mental boundaries are subtler and less obvious. Most work-related boundaries will fall into this second group of emotional and intangible boundaries.
Boundaries help protect us by clarifying what is our responsibility and what is another person’s. They also serve to preserve our physical and emotional energy, to help us stay focused and identify personal limits.
Setting clear boundaries at work leads to a more efficient and pleasant workplace. When you communicate your boundaries, and ad-here to them, others will typically respect them as well. Remember that, you teach others how to treat you. Without boundaries, there are no firm guidelines for behavior.
The easiest time to set and keep boundaries at work is when starting a new position. But, creating boundaries in an already established positions can still be done with clear communication, practice and preparation. When trying to define your boundaries some good starter ones are:
The number of hour you’ll work in a week/day
Under what conditions and circumstances, you will work overtime
Which people, if any, you will give your personal cell phone number to
Here are some tips to get you started on creating your boundaries.
Prioritize your values Ask yourself what boundaries you need to be happy at work, “What does that give me? How does it feel when I am operating at my optimal potential?”. Take note at times where you feel frustrated, stressed or overwhelmed, these are indications that a boundary is being violated or that one needs to be established (or re-established).
Make rules for yourself, learn to leave work at work.
Example 1: If you don’t want your colleagues to contact you at all hours, verbally tell them the hours you will be available. However, in this same scenario, it’s important to figure out what constitutes an “work emergency,” and clearly communicate that as well.
Example 2: I will check email before dinner but then I will put away my device so I can spend the rest of the evening being completely offline and focusing on family.
Communicate boundaries clearly Be clear, open and honest with coworkers and managers about what your boundaries are. However, do not try to set all your boundaries at once. Take is slowly, one conversations at a time. You should practice identifying, asking for and protecting your boundaries. Keep what works for you, change boundaries that don’t work, and keep moving forward.
Example: If your rule is to not gossip with coworkers, tell them clearly and politely that you don’t want to participate before it happens. Don’t let them spend an hour gossiping over lunch while you listen then tell them weeks later you wish they hadn’t said those things. That is passive and unclear, and therefore ineffective.
Identify boundary violations right away When one of your boundary lines is crossed, it is common to get upset or stressed, however, do not ruminate about the situation, or wait to address the issue for days/weeks. It is very important to address the incident quickly, do so as soon as possible so that it maintains it poignancy and the person understands it’s importance to you.
When addressing concerns, avoid speaking from a personal perspective with statements like ‘I’m stressed” or “ I already have too much work to do”; others can interpret these types of statements as it’s all about you or that you’re whining about workloads. Frame explanations in concrete terms, “If I spend my time on X, there won’t be enough time for me to complete Y.”
If a superior or coworker makes unreasonable time requests, try to clarify what the request is and why they are making the request. Do not catastrophize, engage whomever is making the request, with something like “Can you tell me more about why we need to get this done.” It opens the door to negotiate a more reasonable and mutually beneficial option.
Prep for boundary breaches Prepare yourself to deal with boundary violations. Visualize a boundary crossing, then decide how you would go about handling that situation.
Example: Your boss emails you on Saturday with a task to complete. Visualize your reaction and create a plan of action. Would you reply to that email right away with the answer they want? Would you reply and say you will respond first thing Monday morning? Will you respond on Monday morning, with a reminder about your work hour boundaries?
Having a game plan in place helps you to be prepared and avoid being hijacked by emotions.
PRO TIP: If you are consistently being asked to work insane hours or performs tasks outside of (or far above your pay grade) ask your manager for a review of your job duties and compensation. Come to the table with evidence of the extra responsibilities you’ve been asked to assume, along with your track record of successfully completing those tasks. With such documentation, you’ll have a better chance of establishing a more realistic expectation of your role, and possibly, a boost in salary.
Hope these tips help! Let us know in the comments section if you have had success (or failure) enforcing your boundaries at work.