Drawing Lines: How to Maintain Healthy Boundaries at Work
December 6, 2021
During a recent presentation, I asked my audience – a group of early-career professional women – this question:
“Which professional boundaries do you find difficult to maintain?”
Their answers showed that:
- 66% struggled with committing to their personal time outside of work hours because they continue to check emails after the workday has ended
- 22% had difficulty saying “no” to opportunities that did not align with their lifestyle needs and values
This same audience agreed that the challenge is further exacerbated when you have goals and desires around your work including:
- Wanting to be recognized and valued for your work
- Feeling respected by others
- Getting feedback in private
- Being valued for their willingness to express differing opinions
It’s easy to feel torn between reaching for our career goals and protecting our personal lives. It might be tempting, even, to forgo our boundaries and personal lives for the sake of our career goals.
I caution you against that mindset. Once a boundary is given up, it’s much harder to regain. Plus, that’s a short-term approach. I’ve thought it myself: “I can do this for a year…”. But one year turns into three, which turns into a lifetime of imbalance.
It’s not just that you’ve opened the door and now you can’t close it. It’s more that it’s a habit that you’ve created within yourself. You don’t even see it happening… but habits are pervasive and difficult to change.
We’re also talking about setting other people’s expectations. If you don’t maintain healthy boundaries in your current job, it can be difficult to reestablish the boundaries you want without changing jobs altogether. If your boundaries are so compromised that you’re miserable, that’s a viable option… but if you can stop it from happening in the first place, you’ll save yourself a lot of pain and frustration.
So, decide right now what you want your career to look like and how you want that to balance with your personal life. It’s better to create stricter boundaries now that you can loosen later than to create loose boundaries that are almost impossible to tighten.
This problem of maintaining healthy work/life boundaries is not new, but it has gotten worse with working from home. These lines get fuzzy when they exist within the same four walls.
I encouraged the women in my audience – and I encourage YOU - to clearly define what your boundaries are:
- What boundaries do you want to create and maintain?
Be specific! Examples: No checking email after 7pm, or only take on opportunities that are in line with where you want your career to go.
- What does crossing the boundary look like?
Again, be specific. Envision it so that you’re more likely to see it when it happens.
Once you have a clear definition and understanding of your boundary, your next step is to have a conversation with your manager. When you are both on the same page about what you each expect, your boundary will likely require less management and, should lines start to get crossed, it will be easier to get back in bounds.
Want a little bit of accountability? I’m here for that! Tell me in the comments below: What’s the boundary that you want to maintain?
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