Does the Workplace Know No Bounds? 6 Steps to Setting Boundaries That Calm Your Mind and Feed Your Soul

There is a dichotomy in the workplace today – the need to be always on, answering emails at midnight, moving through the emergencies of day, poor planning due to an overload of work and simply the need to clear out our “to do” list. Being on all the time has a cache associated with it – you look like you are “on it” and willing to do what it takes to be a real team and company contributor.

All of this distraction and pace comes at a cost. In an Inc. Magazine article, “Distractions Are Costing Companies Millions. Here’s Why 66 Percent of Workers Won’t Talk About It, Darren Shimkus, General Manager for Udemy Business, an online learning company, shared an output from their 2018 workplace survey. ”…34% of employees like their jobs less when they find themselves in a distracting workplace and 66% of workers have never discussed solutions to address workplace distraction with their managers. When workplace distractions are reduced, whether through training or policies, we found that 75% of employees are more productive, 57% have increased motivation, and 49% are overall happier at work…

…These statistics are further supported by findings from a UC Irvine study that show ‘people compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a price: experiencing more stress, higher frustration, time pressure, and effort. In addition to the negative emotional impacts on employees, businesses also feel the consequences since even the briefest interruptions can double a worker’s error rate.’”

While employees are hired by organizations to do terrific work and further the company mandate, it’s vital to set boundaries to honor your space, time, health, well-being and most of all, mindset. The organization gets the best of you when you are operating at your best, not necessarily answering emails nightly at 3am when you can’t think.

If building a workplace environment of trust, respect and safety is vital for you then sharing with your employees how and when to set boundaries is a must. It’s the responsibility of leaders to show your team that you can set boundaries, AND it actually makes you more effective.

I had a client who shared that while he was leading a technology organization, he was exhausted. He wanted to stop the “pile on” as he called it – the onslaught of work that people were giving him especially on weekends. When we examined what was really happening, he realized that his boss and his bosses boss were indeed giving him extra work. Yet on closer examination he unknowingly was the one emailing his team on the weekends, giving them work at 4 and 5pm on Friday and setting expectations to have things back to him by early Monday.

While there was work that was important to get done quickly, not everything had to be done in an immediate timeframe. We talked about having a candid conversation with his boss and his team to share his new boundary which is – no more working on the weekends as much as possible. Working on the weekends will be fewer and far between, not expected every weekend – and an exception as much as possible, not a rule. We talked about enlisting his team to share his boundary and giving them permission to push back and to remind him of the new boundary he set.

Boundaries define how you guide and develop your relationships, behaviors and situations with others (e.g. your supervisor, colleagues, direct reports, clients). As you discover your boundaries and determine actions to take which respect them, your standards will rise. Knowing and learning what boundaries to set and how many is indeed a personal test.

Boundaries are not an absolute way to guarantee the way others will treat you, and if we teach people how to treat us, then isn’t the ownness on us to do what we can to be responsible for how we communicate and negotiate with others what works and what doesn’t?

By setting boundaries, it allows you to speak up, to communicate to others how you want to be treated, and most importantly, allows you to work and live in a space of respect, safety, and trust. By contrast, not enunciating your boundaries results in frustration, anger, and stress.

The 4 Categories of Boundaries

It’s easy to think boundaries simply consist of time constraints, but here are the four broad categories:

  1. Physical – These boundaries exist with physical space and things. Handshakes and hugs are part of this realm as are objects such as your stapler.
  2. Time – This parameter is on the clock. It’s about defining and measuring your time. It can be requesting quiet time when you first get home from work or carving out your exercise time.
  3. Emotional – This boundary is all about how you feel. Implementing a strong boundary might be committing to not letting others bring you down.
  4. Mental – Here is another intangible; It’s about your thoughts, values and opinions.

Examples of Strong Boundaries

Taking the categories of boundaries into consideration resulted in this list created by my clients:

      • Keeping personal and professional life separate.
      • Avoiding venting to clients.
      • Leaving the office at 6 pm to get home to have family time and then spending one hour on email.
      • Requesting co-workers not to make unreasonable demands.
      • Refraining from gossiping.

How do you create your own list? Read on.

Step 1: Identify where your healthy boundaries exist today

Where do you have boundaries that exist and are working well? With whom? By identifying where your boundaries are working well, they are terrific proof to you that you have done it successfully and can do it again.

Step 2: Tune into What Makes You Uncomfortable

Where do you have no boundaries or ones that are weak or permitting others to cross them? Are you given a project that causes you stress? Were you appointed to head up a committee you didn’t want to because no one else volunteered? Did you say “yes” when you meant to really say “no”? These are the symptoms that you need to set limits.

Step 3: Define Your Boundaries

Identify at least five people or situations in which your boundaries have been unacknowledged, stepped over or not reinforced. Pre-determine the action you are going to take and within what timeframe. Rank the boundaries in order from most urgent to address now, to those that have lesser urgency (rank from #1 and on).

Step 4: Share Your Boundaries and Get Buy-In

How can you begin to put your #1 boundary into place? What will you need to communicate and to whom? What is your expected outcome? What resistance do you anticipate? How will you overcome that resistance?

Step 5: Speak Up When Boundaries are Crossed

When boundaries are crossed, it’s incumbent upon you to speak up with grace, generosity and empathy. Just because you declared a boundary, it doesn’t mean everyone will rally quickly. Remember, if we teach others how to treat us, we spent a lot of time training people to engage with us in one way. If we are shifting that expectation that will require patience, flexibility, understanding the needs of others and empathetic communication.

Step 6: Start with Small Goals

Similar to the allegory about eating the elephant one bite at a time, start with small goals that you can accomplish easily. Perhaps it’s saying no to an ask or turning down a “volunteered” assignment. Earning success and respect with the small goals sets you up for success with the larger issues.

Remember that taking charge of you and your boundaries takes time. It’s one small step that leads to big results. Questions? I’d love to hear your comments and opinions.

Boundaries are just one part of the blueprint for creating a culture that puts people first and develops high performers. An organization that is 100% committed to people feeling valued for who they are, their contribution, their humanity, and the value they bring to the table by being themselves is an environment I call The Ready Zone. Download my free e-book Why Your Company’s Bottom Line is Not Your Top Priority: 6 Eye-Opening Strategies to Put People First” here.