Setting Healthy Boundaries at Work

Setting boundaries at work has never been more important since COVID happened and everyone has now started, and continued, to work at home. Technology makes it extremely difficult to truly disconnect when we are off the clock and this new age of people pleasing makes everyone assume they have to be the most agreeable employee. We live in a world where if we get sick, don't answer an email/call/text immediately, or pick up every shift that someone calls out on we think we will get fired. I am here to tell you that I am that person and it is ridiculous. Remember that taking care of yourself and your mental state is top priority! Working yourself into exhaustion doesn't help you and it certainly doesn't help the job you're doing.

When I am having a crisis of if I should use my PTO, or call out because I am sick, I have to remind myself that if I were to die tomorrow my job would replace me within two weeks. They would have to! It seems like an extreme, and slightly morbid, thing to think, but we so often don't take the time off we earned because we are worried about what will happen if we do. We keep pushing through and working to please everyone all the while our energy is depleting. I was talking with a friend recently about how COVID had clearly changed everyones way of thinking about work. We were given this enormous amount of time off work that kept us at home with our families and it was amazing! For the first time we were disconnected and at home all together. It was genuine quality time. It was extremely difficult to give that up once it had been given. It has shown in the amount of people who have switched to at home jobs, completely not gone back to work, and have started using all of their PTO. Work-life balance has never been more important to a nation as a whole, and it should be important to you too!

It is also super important to note that no two people have the same work style. You need to set your own boundaries that make sense for you! There are three types of boundaries you can set and I will break them down for you:

Physical Boundaries

Why are we starting with this particular boundary? Well, if your physical boundary at work is being stomped on it is likely the rest of your boundaries at work at being stomped on. Here are a few ways you can create physical boundaries for yourself...

  1. If you do not like people in your physical space you can offer handshakes over hugs.

  2. Don't attend "work events" past your scheduled shift, or past a certain time of night if you are someone who needs to unplug from work when you leave, or have other plans.

  3. Take your lunch break alone and outside of the office. This creates distance for you where work cannot be discussed.

  4. Say no to working on your off days.

  5. Take your sick days and your PTO days

  6. Have something that makes it clear you are busy (a closed office door, headphones on, etc.)

Mental Boundaries

If you are the person who hits a wall in the middle of your shift and then finds its difficult to keep going until the end then you need to set more mental boundaries! Here are a few quick things you can do to boost your mental energy...

  1. Set your schedule and hours then stick to those.

  2. Decline unnecessary meetings and suggest/encourage management to have more efficient and all encompassing meetings

  3. Do not engage in anything that can be perceived as office/work gossip

Emotional Boundaries

This type of boundary is really hard to identify sometimes, but it's important because it helps from someone else's bad day affecting yours. This doesn't mean we cut out the person who is having a bad day, but better yet we learn to disengage from them and their energy.

  1. Communicate how you like to give and receive feedback

  2. Do not comment or involve yourself in someone else's bad mood.

  3. Delegate work when necessary

  4. Create a schedule that works for the balance of work and life.

Now that we are clear on the types of boundaries that need to be set, how do we go about setting these boundaries in a way that is professional, yet firm. The actual setting of boundaries in the workplace is hard for a lot of people because we do not want to be perceived as difficult, or disliking of our job. The way I gauge if I need to set boundaries at work is if I come into work tired after I have had a day off, I feel unmotivated throughout my shift, or if I have been at work a certain amount of days in a row and I start to feel irritated by smaller things. Here are 8 ways to establish healthy boundaries in the workplace:

  1. Assess your personal boundaries first. These will come from your personal life and your personal values. There is a woman, Dr. Dana Gionta, who wrote a book called from stressed to centered and in this book she describes that the way to asses your personal boundaries are to know your limits, pay attention to your feelings, give yourself permission to set boundaries, and consider your environment.

  2. Communicate Upfront. Once you have figured out your personal boundaries it becomes easy to communicate them. An example could be letting your team know that you don't answer your phone on your off days, or that you aren't available to them once you get home from work.

  3. Create Clear Structures. Setting up blocks of time you are unavailable for work questions/conversations. If you are in a management role delegating to your team who they can turn to when you are unavailable is crucial.

  4. Keep your Relationships Professional. Everyone deserves a work bff/confidant, but that doesn't mean we need to be besties with every single person we work with. It is important to keep your relationships at work as professional as possible so the environment remains positive and productive.

  5. Delegate Work when Appropriate. Delegating work can be the best thing you do for yourself. Asl yourself these 3 easy questions when wondering if you should delegate what's on your plate: Do I have time to complete this task? Is there someone on my team better suited, or looking for an opportunity to grow that can complete this task? Is this a task that can be justifiably delegated?

  6. Say No. This is my favorite because none of us want to say no to a task our bosses deem us capable of handling. This is what I have learned is called yes to the request, no to now. This may sound like: Yes I would love to perform this task for you, but right now I cannot fit it into my workload, is it okay if I get it to you by xyz?

  7. Take Time Off. Take your PTO and genuinely take the time off by unplugging and not talking work matters, even with your work BFF. Letting your vacation time accrue without using it is not a point of pride. It is time you have earned to take a break. Use it.

  8. Use Technology to Help. Technology is so advanced that we can now use it to set our phones to Do Not Disturb and it alerts people that we are not to be disturbed. You can set message replies to people when they email/text you to reply telling them you are busy. If you are bad at setting boundaries then use your technology to help you.

Lastly, prepare for people to break your boundaries. If you have gone so long without setting any and now you start people will still expect you to overwork yourself in the same manner you have always displayed. When someone breaks this boundary stand firm in your decisions and professionally let them know you are unavailable. If boundaries are still repeatedly broken after you have expressed this then you may be in a toxic work environment and now is the time to look elsewhere for your own mental sanity! I hope this helps some of you set those boundaries I know you are long overdue for setting! As always, if this is a topic you want to discuss more with other likeminded humans you can start a discussion here.

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