Work on Your Wellness: Setting Boundaries
For many American tech workers, job stress is a major cause for worry. Research indicates that working long hours is not productive and can be harmful for health. To make things worse, technology has blurred the boundary between work and free time, making it possible for people to connect with each other easily and continue working after office hours.
Over time, this prolonged engagement with workplace responsibilities can lead to exhaustion and even burnout in some cases. Working from home during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is taking a further toll, with everyday distractions lengthening out the workday for many.
In such a situation, boundaries can fade away. But no matter how challenging, it is essential to productive work and overall well-being to set and enforce healthy boundaries. The benefits extend beyond just the individual — healthy boundaries can also be a boon to those we interact with at work, home, and elsewhere.
Being able to define boundaries is actually a useful skill to have at work and in life in general. Setting realistic boundaries contributes to better stress management, enhanced productivity, and general well-being. It can also help improve and sustain relationships.
Setting realistic boundaries at work and in personal life is necessary for better performance and emotional and physical health. It's important to let people know what your limits are so that they understand what you can and can't accept. Reasonable coworkers, relatives, and friends will respect your boundaries and modify their conduct accordingly.
When you clearly define boundaries, you give yourself much-needed space within which to work and grow, unwind, and take care of yourself. This will not only improve productivity, but also enhance mental and physical well-being, and help prevent burnout.
It's also important that people you engage with every day or frequently know what your values are and what you will and won't do. This will help you work according to your priorities. Self-assurance grows when you make it clear that you will not let people take advantage of you.
Sticking to healthy boundaries can help one regain one's sense of identity and develop a degree of independence.
Where (and When) to Draw a Line
It's a good idea to discuss your work-related priorities with your manager. You might want to write down your responsibilities in order of priority, and then ask your boss to let you know what they consider your responsibilities. Both of you can then compare the two lists and decide on what your work priorities should be.
At work, you may be asked to take on projects or duties that are impractical or a waste of time. It's important to take some time to consider and then communicate why you cannot accept a particular assignment. If you have your hands more than full, let them know that you have other commitments, and that you look forward to being considered for a similar project in future.
You may be asked to do something that you don't have an aptitude for. In that case, explain that it's not your specialty, and you're able to contribute best when you play to your strengths.
Also, if you don't want to attend to regular calls and e-mails after you get back home, let all stakeholders at work know that you need to focus on other priorities and that you're not available to respond to work communication after a certain time in the evening — or when you're on vacation — except when there's an emergency.
For those working from home, setting healthy boundaries with family members is crucial to performance and wellbeing. It's advisable to have a discussion with family members, including children, and make it clear that you need space and quiet to get your work done. Fix a schedule and let them know that you're not to be disturbed during that time.
Effective (and Less Effective) Strategies
If you want others to respect your boundaries, then you need to acknowledge and keep to their boundaries as well. In order to set realistic and effective boundaries, we need to consider our priorities and principles. Understanding our limits helps us articulate what we can and cannot accept.
Sometimes, you have to say "no". This is something everyone needs to learn. For those who struggle, practice saying "no" in different situations.
You can say "no" in many ways. If your boss asks you to travel at very short notice, or take on a project that you're not sure you have the time for, pause and think before responding. You can also try this, "I'll look at my schedule and get back to you."
It's better to let your boss or co-worker know why you'd be unable to do certain things that are asked of you. If you can think of viable options, then you might want to put those across to them. Once you set boundaries, it's important to enforce them consistently. Others may not take your boundaries seriously if you pick and choose when they apply.
Whether you work from home or office, you need to set aside some time every evening for yourself and family. Avoid answering work-related calls or checking e-mail after 7 p.m., for example. You might want to let your team members know that they shouldn't contact you after office hours unless it's something urgent.
The same applies, of course, whenever you're on vacation. Or even when there is a less consequential break from work in question: If you don't want to be disturbed when you take a lunch break, let your co-workers know.
If setting boundaries is to be effective, then it's essential to have clarity on where you need to define limits. Give yourself some time to think this through. Which work situations and colleagues tend to cause high stress? This is where you need to set boundaries.
In some situations, the problem might be due to the fact that you're doing everything yourself. Perhaps you need to delegate and trust your team members to take responsibility for some tasks. If your manager calls you to long meetings frequently, which keep you away from important tasks, then you might want set a schedule with one or two weekly meetings and discuss it with your manager.
Where it's necessary to work together with some colleagues who have unreasonable expectations, be clear when discussing work projects and other duties. It's always better to be up front and express yourself clearly. Communicate what you can handle and what is not your area of responsibility, and then negotiate a viable work arrangement.
Setting boundaries and reinforcing them may be somewhat challenging to start with, but it has to be done. Professionals that set and follow through with boundaries are usually productive, respected, and happy.