The struggle with workplace boundaries
Steps to creating workplace boundaries
Setting workplace boundaries is frequently associated with time management skills, in particular maintaining integrity in relation to work-life balance
Workplace boundaries can also cover advice about relationships or inappropriate behaviour. But it can be more than that. Embracing your limits and having clear boundaries in place is important to maintaining your professional identity. It may mean redefining your reputation which can be challenging if what you do is "who you are".
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you are the go-to person for last-minute requests, information or opinions?
- Are you the person who can be relied on to deliver projects to tight deadlines?
- Are you the person who is always calm under pressure and gets things done?
- Do you never say "no"?
- Do you frequently take-up the slack, work below your level or in a low visibility roles?
- Are you starting to feel put upon, under-utilized and under-valued?
Changing your public professional persona which is core to your identity, is a tough shift for many. But boundaries serve to clarify our personal responsibilities and separate them from those that rightfully belong to others. They are firewalls which protect us, and allow us to perform to the best of our ability, while being true to ourselves (or as near as possible) with emotional and physical well-being. They stop us being flooded and people hi-jacking our space. This can be head-space, ideas, time, relationships, tasks, credit and values.
6 Steps to creating workplace boundaries
1. Identify your core vision
The first step in setting boundaries is achieving clarity on your key core vision. What are your goals, values and passions? What is your why and what do you stand for?
2. Set your limits
Pay attention to your reactions to any situation. Make a note on how you feel when you are asked to do something that pushes a hot button. This is a good indication that your workplace boundaries have been crossed. What specifically makes you feel stressed or uncomfortable? Is there anything that makes your feel positive? Monitor if you get feelings of recognition or being valued. These feelings and reactions will help you set limits. If you feel uncomfortable, guilty, resentful frequently, then these are red flags.
Boundaries are designed to protect you and your overall well-being. So like the pain test we do in hospitals, note the level of your reaction whether guilt, anger, resentment or feeling under-valued on a scale of 1-10. If your comfort zone is 1-5 then anything above that needs to be challenged and your behaviour and response modified.
3. Give Yourself Permission to Set Boundaries
If you have always been the person who does a certain task without complaint or question and you change your behaviour, then there will naturally be a reaction. You are disrupting the social order in your sphere. Giving yourself permission to evolve and being prepared to deal with any reaction is an important part of the process. It gives you ownership of the new you.
For many being willing to over-extend is part of being a good, colleague, report, boss, wife, mother or sibling. Remember you have a right to feel emotionally and physically well. If doing this make you fee uneasy it's important that you commit to the evolution. Prepare some scripts that will help facilitate that change and practise.
"I feel uncomfortable being assigned back office tasks and missing important meetings. I propose introducing a rota"
4. Benchmark your reactions
Our limits are personal so it's not always helpful to compare our own behaviour to our colleagues. We all have different histories and circumstances which cause us to make personal decisions. What it is useful to note is if you are usually the only one who allows these things to happen. Find out why others say no. Your idea of acceptable and normal might not be common. This is why so many people have different levels of tolerance. It is what they are used to. If you are out of step with your peers, it signals that careful examination is needed.
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5. Communicate clearly and constructively
It's important to communicate this new approach clearly and constructively. The change will cause a reaction, so be prepared.
Hermione a project manager was always called upon to drop the managerial elements of a project to take over low value work in order to meet delivery deadlines. This frequently involved weekend working. Her peers had all refused. Her new response was:
"I have a full workload. What are your expectations on this?"
By initiating a dialogue with her boss using attentive listening to dig deeper, she reached an agreement that she would be allocated two junior PMs from an engineering pool whom she would supervise. She added that the initial reaction of the boss was that he was taken aback and she must be stressed or in a bad mood. Hermione was then able to clarify her workplace boundaries and that she was willing to take a share of low value work, but only if it was rotated equally with her peers. This allowed her to do more satisfying, career enhancing, high visibility work.
6. Flag up a boundary violation
When a boundary violation occurs it's important to flag it up at the time and not let it stew. This will cause a return to the resentment and guilt cycle which leads to unconstructive communication and venting. Focus on statements of fact:
" This is the 3rd time I have been asked to step in at short notice. Help me understand why this needs to be done in this way?"
" Susan let me finish my point and then you can make yours"
Creating workplace boundaries takes time and practice. Colleagues and bosses are going to notice a change and will need space to adapt. Eventually a new equilibrium will be achieved.
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