The fusion of work-life-school and at-home togetherness is taking its toll on the best of us. Our workdays are longer, with the break normally found in a commute, no matter how short, reduced to a few steps from bed to makeshift office. Working mothers, in particular, are adding to their regular jobs by shouldering much of the burden of housework and childcare. Unless we are deliberate about it, it can be easy to let our boundaries slip away.
Healthy boundaries are essential to any relationship, including the ones you have at work. Your personal limits are an expression of your values. They let others know what you care about and how you define acceptable and unacceptable behavior. While it seems simple enough, for many of us setting boundaries, and enforcing them, is challenging.
Of course, in your professional life, there’s the extra factor of how to meet your personal needs without putting your paycheck at risk. Responding to a boss or client who oversteps can be more stressful than dealing with a friend or partner where you feel like you’re on an equal footing.
Here are some strategies to try if setting and enforcing boundaries is challenging for you.
Respect others’ boundaries
Treating your coworkers with respect is fundamental. When you recognize and abide by their boundaries, they’re more likely to reciprocate.
Take care of your mental and physical well-being and feel confident about your worth. Eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly. Remember your accomplishments and treat yourself like a close friend.
Know your limits
If you want others to honor your boundaries, it’s important for you to understand them first. Think about your core values and priorities. How will you react if someone keeps asking you to do something that makes you uncomfortable?
Talk it over
Be prepared to discuss your position. What’s important to you, what your values are, may be different from what’s important to your boss or client. Communicate with each other instead of making assumptions.
Offer compromises and alternatives that allow everyone to meet their needs. Maybe you’d be happy to work some hours on the weekend to make time to help your child with schoolwork.
Learn to say no
There may be some issues where you just need to draw the line. Let the other person know your reasons when you think that you’re being asked to do something impractical or even unethical, and again, see if there are alternatives you can offer up.
Overall, learn to advocate for yourself. Keep track of your accomplishments. Ask for feedback to help you evaluate your performance. When it is time to set a boundary, do it with confidence.
You might be tempted to let some violations slide, but consider the consequences. Others are more likely to recognize your limits if you stick to them.
Take time off
You need to protect your time as well as your self-esteem. Let others know what hours you’re available for office matters instead of checking emails, texts, and phone messages around the clock. For example, leave wherever you are and go out for lunch. Check out when you are on vacation.
We may think that setting boundaries will damage our careers or hurt our reputations, but the reality is that when it’s done the right way, we do just the opposite. Setting boundaries enables us to be more productive by saying no to things that waste our time. We improve our relationships with colleagues by opening lines of communication and clarifying expectations; and we reduce stress, increase satisfaction in our jobs, and create a greater sense of overall well-being. And right now, who couldn’t do with that?
Amy Kan is a leadership coach, with a focus on women’s advancement and authentic leadership.