Money & Life: Seven tips for setting boundaries at work - Michelle Gibbings

Setting boundaries at work is not a sign of weakness or a lack of commitment. Instead, it is an essential practice for achieving success – both personally and professionally. In this article for Money & Life, Michelle provides seven tips for setting boundaries between work and personal life.

There are many reasons why setting boundaries between your work and home life is challenging. A few examples include: fear of consequences; being seen as not dedicated and promotion ready, and of letting someone down; difficulty in saying ‘no’; a workplace culture promoting long working hours; and technology blurring the lines between work and home life.

While working all hours of the day and night might appear to be an essential ingredient for success, failing to set boundaries can lead to burnout, decreased productivity, and poor mental health.

Economist John Pencavel from Stanford University found that productivity declines when people work more than 50 hours each week. Even worse, working 70 hours or more a week causes the person to get the same amount of work done as people who work 55 hours. His research highlights the impact of employee fatigue and stress on productivity and the probability of errors, accidents, and sickness.

In contrast, research revealed that having perceived job flexibility enhances an employee’s work life balance because it provides more control over their work schedule.

Setting boundaries is not a sign of weakness or a lack of commitment. Instead, it is an essential practice for achieving success – both personally and professionally.

So, how can you set boundaries between your work and personal life? Here are seven steps.

1. Define your priorities

Don’t wait for others to set boundaries for you. Start by identifying what is most important to you in your work and personal life. This step will help you establish boundaries that align with your values and goals. When you are clear on what matters, it is easier to say ‘no’.

2. Learn to say no

It’s okay to say ‘no’ to requests that don’t align with your priorities or exceed your capacity. Be clear on why you are saying ‘no’ and deliver the message positively.

Also, consider if your ‘no’ is forever or for now, because that changes the message. For example, ‘Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m at capacity’ closes the conversation. However, saying, ‘That’s a great idea. I’d love to be involved, but I don’t currently have capacity. Can I get involved later?’ leaves it open for future involvement.

3. Set guidelines

Establish guidelines for when you will be working and when you will be taking time off. You will want to outline specific work hours and block off times during the day when you will not be checking email, using technology, or taking calls.

As part of this, set realistic expectations and ensure your boundaries are achievable and workable.

4. Communicate your boundaries

Ensure your colleagues, boss, clients and other stakeholders know your boundaries. Talk to them about when you will be unavailable and how you will respond to work requests outside standard working hours. You want to avoid misunderstandings and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Also, be open to feedback from others about your boundaries, so that they are effective. Sometimes, you may need to adjust your boundaries to support your clients, colleagues and team members.

5. Be consistent

While you can expect an occasional adjustment, if you constantly shift your boundaries and are inconsistent, it sends a message that your boundaries don’t matter.

If you won’t honour the boundary commitment you have set yourself, it’s hard to expect others to.

6. Build switch-off routines

You want to resist the temptation to blur the boundaries by using technology mindfully. Consider establishing specific times or places where you disconnect entirely. You may want to turn off your phone at set times each night, not look at it during dinner, and not take your phone into the bedroom.

Prioritise time for rest, exercise, and other activities that help you recharge. Such practices help you maintain energy and focus, which makes it easier to establish and maintain healthy boundaries.

7. Celebrate your progress

Setting and keeping to your boundaries will take effort. You are putting new workplace and life habits in place, so be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress.

It all matters

Boundaries matter and are a critical part of creating the space, so you can be your best for yourself and others across all aspects of your life.