Workplace boundaries are the limits and guidelines you set to manage your time, energy, and responsibilities at work. They help you divide your personal and professional life to ensure a healthy work/life balance. Setting boundaries isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of self-respect. Establishing clear limits on your time, energy, and responsibilities creates a healthier work environment for yourself and those around you. Boundaries allow you to focus on your priorities, reduce overwhelm, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Embrace that you deserve respect and appreciation for your work and know that boundaries are a powerful tool to achieve that.
Last week, we talked about the importance of setting your boundaries and discussed a variety of different types of work boundaries. You need to know what you will and will not tolerate. Knowing where you draw the line in the sand is the first step to honoring your boundaries. (check out that article here)
The following steps are just as crucial to having your boundaries clearly defined. Having them isn’t enough if we don’t enforce them.
- Communicate. Effective communication is the key to enforcing your boundaries. If you have regular one-on-ones with your supervisor, you need to discuss them before your boundaries get crossed. If you haven’t communicated what you will and will not do, then you shouldn’t be surprised when someone tries to cross them, and you shouldn’t be surprised when they are upset they didn’t know they were crossing a boundary.
For instance, assume your boundary is responding to work emails on the weekend. You’ve decided that you are working too many hours on the weekend, and it needs to stop. It is interfering with your time off and time with your family. But you also are unwilling to walk into the office Monday morning and find the weekend blew up, and there is a huge mess to deal with.
Have a conversation with your supervisor that sounds like this:
“I’ve been re-evaluating my work/life balance as I spend a lot of time on the weekend responding to emails. That’s not good for me or my family. I’ve decided to keep my eyes on the email periodically, but I will only respond if it is a true emergency. I will instead respond on Monday when I get into the office. I wanted to let you know I still am keeping my eyes on things, but I’m not responding unless absolutely necessary.”
Be unapologetic in your explanation (meaning: Don’t say how sorry you are that you are doing this). Be direct, polite, and respectful. Don’t position your boundaries that you are doing something wrong because you aren’t. Don’t vent about how you’ve been letting people take advantage of you for years. Don’t look for any blame. Just share that you have a boundary that you intend to honor moving forward. Stay calm and composed, and don’t get emotional or defensive if they don’t like your new boundary.
Remember, setting boundaries is not about being unapproachable or uncooperative. It’s about fostering a healthy work environment that promotes productivity, collaboration, and respect.
- Learn to identify and enforce your boundaries. There will be times when your boundaries will be challenged. That means we need to say no or hold firm with the limits we placed on ourselves. Saying “no” gracefully is an essential skill for enforcing boundaries. Practice polite yet firm responses when faced with tasks or projects outside your responsibilities or capacity. Don’t use excuses, but instead offer alternatives (potentially suggest someone else who may be better suited for the task.) By saying “no” strategically, you’ll feel better about yourself and your job. You are honoring the boundaries, and that feels good.
In my example above, I would identify when something was genuinely urgent, and I would be willing to flex my boundaries in some situations. I know what those are. If you aren’t clear, everything will qualify as an emergency. Look at the consequences of honoring your boundaries and not honoring them.
- Have a Boundary Buddy. You will likely feel guilt the first few times you enforce your boundaries. You’ll give in even when you know you shouldn’t. We need support to hold us accountable. It’s essential to seek support from friends, family, or colleagues who can remind us what we want and agreed to.
Have an accountability partner (or a boundary buddy). When you feel you should flex your boundaries, check in with your buddy. They will validate whether this is a situation where flex is required. They may help you decide what you should say or do so that you don’t feel alone standing up for yourself. Knowing you have support for your decisions does make it easier.
Boundaries are difficult to hold, especially for those who identify as people-pleasers. We don’t have boundaries to let the team down; we have our boundaries to give them the best “us” possible.