Boundaries are a scary concept to most people because they think of them as a set of rules that are hard to communicate to other people especially at work. In today’s remote working environment, boundaries are almost a myth because we’re so interconnected and always on! You see an email at 10 pm and immediately want to respond to it. Your boss calls you at odd hours into the night asking for a report and you must comply or else they might label you incompetent.
It’s very hard to avoid burnout where there are no boundaries because the truth is, people will take advantage of your willingness to take on more work and to be available all the time. Boundaries may have your colleagues thinking that you’re too uptight but it’s better off that way than not drawing the line between work and personal life.
We aren’t on this earth to simply put all our hours into work. Work is just a means to an end – to feed and sustain ourselves. When we give it too much eminence, we forget and disregard the other aspects of life that should be enjoyed. This is not to say don’t take your work seriously but to remind you that overworking has been proven to cause death and chronic diseases.
Finding a balance is so important for your physical and mental health. Some say work-life balance is impossible especially for women. But maybe the key lies in prioritizing what to do and when to do it – which calls for boundaries.
What are boundaries?
Dana Gionta and Dan Guerra, authors of “From Stressed to Centered: A Practical Guide to a Healthier and Happier You” define a boundary as a limit defining you in relationship to someone or something.
Boundaries are there to protect yourself from committing too much and people using you for their benefit. Boundaries at work can be:
- Physical boundaries – the level of physical interaction you allow and are comfortable with e.g., hugs vs. handshakes. Also, your personal space and belongings e.g., people taking things with/without your permission and coming too close to you.
- Emotional boundaries – separating your emotions at work and not getting too attached to relationships. This doesn’t mean you don’t care about people – you’re just not invested in non-work-related issues about them like their romantic relationships.
- Mental boundaries – freedom to share or not share your ideas, thoughts, views, opinions, and values on matters at work e.g., respectfully disagreeing with someone about a topic or choosing not to indulge in discussions like office politics.
- Time and Energy boundaries – this is choosing how to expend your time and energy and communicating what you can or can’t do like not working after a certain time or on the weekends.
Work boundaries look like this:
- Not working on the weekends and after business and being assertive about it
- Closing off on all work-related business when time’s over
- Communicating your priority list and project timelines to avoid pressure
- Using your days off, sick leave days and vacation time
- Prioritizing your mental health and asking for time off when you need breaks
- Delegating tasks that you don’t need to handle yourself
- Always staying professional and not crossing the line to personal business
- Saying no to responsibilities outside your job description
- Turning down invites to your coworkers’ personal events or not inviting them to yours
- Not socializing outside working hours if you’re not comfortable with it
How to set work boundaries
- Get to know yourself first
With an understanding of the different types of boundaries, you now know what you want and don’t want in the workplace. What are your values? What are you okay or not okay doing? What makes you uncomfortable at work? Know your worth and remember that work is just one part of your life that should be respected and not spill over to the other aspects of life.
- Communicate your boundaries to your colleagues
Let everyone know where you draw the line so that they can respect you and for you to avoid assumptions and expectations from them. Be clear on the times you sign in and sign off at work, what times and how fast you can respond to their emails, and when you’re available. This may also call for assertiveness when you’re asked to do tasks that are not yours to do.
- Don’t postpone addressing boundary violations
Let people know immediately they violate your boundaries. Don’t bury it in the sand hoping they will do better next time. Say it now but do it with compassion – not in an accusatory manner that may make the other person feel bad. Sometimes people can forget about your boundaries so gently remind them when they cross the line.
- Respect your own boundaries
The only way you can inspire respect is if you respect your own boundaries. If you say you won’t respond to work emails after 5 pm and you’re constantly working into the night, people won’t take you seriously. Define what emergencies are like and only, under those circumstances, should you be contacted. You won’t avoid burnout if work is all you seem to do and carry home. Boundaries begin with you.
- Be ready for hesitation
People will cross your boundaries and you’ll have to respond each time to reinforce them. Not everyone will respect them because they don’t want to but stay assertive about having them in place. They are there to serve and protect you for a reason. It may help to visualize your responses for when people cross them so that you can have readymade answers.
Boundaries are a form of self-care – to remind yourself and others that you come first and you’re seeing to it that you do. You are the gatekeeper of your wellness – don’t watch as you burn out. If you struggle setting healthy work boundaries, reach out to us for guidance.
No one is giving out a “You did everything and are exhausted as a result” prize at the end of life.
– Kate Northrup