You made a promise to yourself that you won’t work more than xx hours per week, you will go to the gym 3 times a week, you won’t miss another kid’s school event, you will switch off properly at weekends and you won’t let your manager micromanage you.
And then, you have a deadline to meet, or a new project to start, or a meeting you really must attend that means being away overnight, or a manager requests a daily update on your work – and these promises to yourself go out the window.
Sound familiar? If so, maybe you need to set some boundaries. Read on to learn more about how setting boundaries can help you.
Why set boundaries at work?
In today's workplace it’s more important than ever to set and maintain personal boundaries. With increasing technology and remote working you can find the lines between work and personal life getting blurred, leading to feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Setting boundaries helps you protect your time, energy, and mental health, leading to more happiness and productivity.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are a way of protecting yourself and what matters to you. Let’s face it, most managers / leaders / organisations want to get the maximum from their employees. Their main concern is achieving their own goals and making profit for the organisation. They’re no doubt happy to see you working additional hours and taking on more responsibility for no additional reward.
So you can’t rely on your manager or employer to make sure you’re doing what’s right for you. You need to do it for yourself.
Setting your personal boundaries enables you to be clear about the limits around your physical, emotional and mental space. They define what you are, and are not, comfortable with and prepared to do.
When we set clear boundaries we’re communicating to others, and clarifying to ourselves, what is acceptable to us.
What boundaries should I set?
This depends entirely on what matters to you. You can think of boundaries in terms of what do you need to put in place to ensure you are able to maintain your energy and enthusiasm for your work, and workplace.
These may be boundaries around your time and acceptable behaviour. Examples include:
You won’t start early / work late on X days (or ever).
You won’t respond to emails, messages or calls in the evenings or at weekends.
You’ll only attend meetings where you’re clear on the value you’ll add or gain.
You will take a lunch break every day.
You won’t attend social events past 7pm or at weekends.
You won’t hug colleagues.
You won’t participate in gossip.
You will stay true to your values.
If you want to explore what matters to you, so you can be clear on the boundaries you want to set, read my blog: What really matters to you?
How do I tell my manager and colleagues what my boundaries are?
This may depend on what your boundaries are.
If they are around flexing your formal working hours, consider the impact on your team. What can you propose to ensure your boundaries are workable? Do you need to submit a formal flexible working request? (See Acas for guidance on this.) Then arrange to speak with your manager to gain their agreement or understanding, and support.
Other boundaries can be communicated, clearly and confidently, to your manager and colleagues in whichever way is most appropriate for you. Your manager may be able to help you communicate and implement them with colleagues. Key points include:
Be clear about your availability, managing expectations. Consider an auto-response for messages outside of your working hours.
Ensure your colleagues, especially those in other areas, understand the scope of your work and when to invite you to participate in meetings and projects.
Help your colleagues to understand your boundaries and why they’re important to you. You may find you become a role model for others!
If anyone feels some of your boundaries may cause a problem, talk with them about why that is. Perhaps your colleagues are used to being able to call on you for help at any time, without realising the impact on you. Or perhaps there’s a project coming up that needs you to do something that will cross a boundary and you may negotiate.
How do I maintain my boundaries?
Be really clear yourself about why your boundaries are important to you, so you’re not tempted to do things that you promised yourself you won’t.
Be assertive with your colleagues. If someone tries to cross your boundaries, let them know and remind them of your earlier communication.
Be consistent. By staying true to what matters to you, people learn your boundaries and will be less likely to try to cross them.
Setting and maintaining your personal boundaries at work is good for your mental health and productivity. By setting your own, you can create a happier working experience for yourself.
About Karen Felton
Karen is a career change success coach, enabling people to find work that makes them happy.
She has over 25 years’ experience in HR and Financial Services, leading teams, coaching and mentoring people, developing leaders and enabling people to achieve their career goals. Karen loves empowering people to find what matters to them, and inspiring them to find or create a career they love.