Setting boundaries at work is critical to managing the balance in your life as a human being in 2023, here is how to get started.
The Company vs. You
Your company will likely take as much time as you are willing to offer. And often to get to that next level, it means putting in more hours, being more accommodating and being a part of more conversations for more exposure to leadership. But, it can also be really unhealthy to not have balance in your life and the type grind in the past that was seen as almost having a sort of glamour, is becoming less attractive to employees, especially Gen Z. MacLean's recently wrote an article digging into this topic if you want to read more.
And parents have it especially tough.
Parents, especially of young children, have more pressure than ever to balance giving it their all at work and making it to school on time for pick-up! Daycare and school hours in no way align with the typical (and especially the not-so-typical) work schedule of parents. Society welcomed more women in the workforce over the last few decades so now many families have two parents working outside the home (and single parents have always had this struggle). Many industries and community norms remain completely misaligned. School pick-up and drop-off is a prime example of this dilemma. School runs from 9-3pm, but your work schedule is 8-5pm. Parents are left trying to find an exceedingly rare spot in before/after care or getting a (paid) helping hand from another parent/high schooler in the community.
Many industries and community norms remain completely misaligned. School runs from 9-3pm, but your work schedule is 8-5pm.
While some communities offer bus service to and from school, the unreliability of the bus system due to ongoing driver shortages and safety concerns has many parents uncomfortable with this option. Then, when your children get older, you are balancing running to school activities or weekday sporting events. No parent wants to tell their child they cannot watch their basketball game because they have another conference call.
Watch below as I share an example of how not setting boundaries was creating a lot of stress for me.
Five Ways to Make It Work For You
I recognize that not everyone has the option of flexibility in their jobs - shift workers, those managing bookings or client relationships, often worked fixed schedules and can be restricted by union requirements. I am incredibly grateful that in my role I can explore boundary setting because otherwise, I know without it, I would reach not personal limit of what I could handle pretty quickly.
For those of us that can consider setting boundaries, I wanted to share a few practical ways to make setting boundaries work for you based on my own trial and lots of error.
Be upfront about your constraints
Share how your own or your family schedule works with your manager and close peers. This is especially important in a more remote-friendly world where you may be working with others across different time zones or locations. People do not physically see what time you typically arrive or leave the office so don't assume others know your routine. Own your schedule and don't feel the need to always apologize.
Say: Me and my partner usually drop off and pick up duties, but on Wednesdays, my partner has a conflict, so I am unavailable after 3:45pm.
Don't say: I am so sorry that I have to leave work at 3:45pm on Wednesdays. You see, my partner signed up for a hockey league for the Winter season and I really want to support him having this evening out with his friends. I promise it will not go on forever but I hope you can understand?
Block your calendar
If you rely on your work calendar to show your availability to your manager and peers, be sure to block the times you are unavailable so meetings do not get scheduled during this window. You can adjust your default working hours in your calendar to make this a "set it and forget it". Watch this video (<2 min) of how to do this on Outlook. Alternatively, you can also set up a recurring meeting invite that shows you as 'out of office' or 'unavailable'.
Rarely make compromises
Now, it is your responsibility to hold yourself accountable to the constraints that you just set. A critical meeting, important review or emergency can come up and from time to time you may need to adjust your schedule. But, if you compromise too often, then you just undid all of your hard work. Hold your ground more often than not.
Be okay with the downside (and have a plan)
I am just saying that you ARE going to miss out on things at work because of setting new boundaries. You are going to miss an important update, a piece of context that could help you down the road, or the opportunity to speak up. But that is okay because you have other priorities. This is a great time to 'phone a friend' or have someone that can give you a quick update or send a Slack note with highlights after the meeting. Set up this back-up plan ahead of time and it will give you more confidence you can succeed in your job even when being late to that 8am meeting.
Remind yourself about your priorities
Living a life that brings your inner peace (a goal of mine) is likely one that has balance. My husband once told me "when you look back on your life, you are never going to say that you wish you worked more hours". Giving yourself that zoomed out perspective during a zoomed in moment can help remind you where it is truly important to spend your time.
Remember to set the example for others
Just like the move to have salaries be more transparent, the more people publicly share and discuss work boundaries, the more others not only feel comfortable doing the same, but also help to define the deeply embedded culture of an organization and what is accepted and what is not. Someone is looking up to you, whether it be another parent, a university intern, or a new hire at the company. Be the change you want to see!
Diversity, equity and inclusion tip
Be mindful that every person has a right to set work boundaries based on what is important to bring balance to their life - whether you are married with children, single, part of a couple or any combination of those. Keep in mind that everyone has different priorities, so hold off on judging others if you don't see the comparison between picking up your kids from school and making it to a networking event on time.
When someone publicly shares a boundary, please recognize that sharing that information may have been a difficult and uncomfortable moment for them. Try saying "thanks for sharing your priorities, let's find a new time or make sure you have another way of getting the information".
Keep At It
While these tips are geared to someone who reports into a manager, this is really about setting boundaries for yourself, so if you are an entrepreneur, it is probably even more more important to understand the freedom that boundaries can provide. And remember, that just like many things in life, the first few times we do something can be hard and feel uncomfortable. But, keep at it! The more you practice, the easier it will become to be vocal about protecting your time (a resource we cannot get more of!) Setting boundaries will bring a level of freedom between your work and personal life that will help you live a more balanced life.
Have any more boundary tips to share? Let me know!
As always, if you are looking for support through a challenging talent situation at work and want a fresh perspective or someone to talk to, reach out! I would LOVE to chat! Connect with me here, shoot me a DM on Instagram or check me out on LinkedIn!