By Suzanne Brown
You headed out from the office a few hours ago for a friend’s birthday happy hour, and the office has emailed, called, or texted three times already. Can’t they figure it out on their own? It’s Wednesday and you’re at your son’s baseball game. Sure, it’s for a group of 10-year-olds, but it’s important to him, and that makes it important to you. Why has your boss called you four times already?
Your client keeps trying to contact you with a message saying, “I have a question,” but she won’t leave what the question is. Is it an emergency, or can it wait until you’re back in the office after the weekend is over?
Does this sound familiar? Don’t they understand you’re off the clock right now?
The Need for Boundaries at Work
Boundaries. It’s part of what’s missing in these scenarios. A consistent piece of advice from the more than 110 professional part-time working moms, whom I interviewed, was about the need to set and maintain boundaries at work.
Setting Boundaries Can Be Hard
Many of us want to be connected and not miss a thing. Setting boundaries means we might miss something. Deadlines don’t usually move for us. We move for them. A crisis might blow up or maybe we’ll miss a huge opportunity. And part of it is often simply trying to keep all parties happy. But, what’s the likelihood of these things coming up or a crisis happening in the hours after you leave the office? I’ll bet it’s generally low, especially if you schedule around deadlines and have an idea of whatever is coming up.
Technology as an Enabler
Technology is a blessing and curse. It allows us to work from anywhere anytime, which we love. And it enables clients, colleagues, and managers to get a hold of us whenever they choose. If you combine that with people who don’t have their own boundaries or maybe you haven’t established yours, you’re in for a lot of interruptions from the office during your downtime each day or even on vacation. Remember that it’s OK to walk away from the office and turn off technology.
The Boundaries at Work Are Important for so Many Reasons
- You want to pay attention to your family and be present.
- You need a break each day to recharge to perform your best.
- Time away from the office each day helps manage stress.
- You look at things with a fresh perspective when you can put them down for a while.
- If you’re working part time, it makes financial sense to work the time you get paid.
Want Some Ideas on Boundaries You Can Start to Implement?
- No phone or electronics time for X amount of time each day or for the time when you’re with family, unless it’s an emergency. I might check email or texts while I’m home with the boys, but I don’t usually respond to anything that isn’t urgent. And no phone at the breakfast or dinner table.
- Response to non-emergency communications (phone, email, text) within 24 hours or by end of day or whatever timeframe you’re comfortable with. You might be traveling, in an all-day meeting, sick, taking care of a sick child, or working on a major deadline. Give yourself some wiggle room, so that people don’t expect you to respond in minutes and then keep contacting you until you do finally respond.
- Real work emergencies can come up. Define what an emergency is to your team, clients, manager, etc. Everyone you’re interacting with needs to be on the same page, as they can vary from person to person or even project to project. If you get a rare call or text after hours, you’ll know something is going on that needs your attention.
- You can use boundaries to get your work done. Designate meeting or call days or times on your calendar, so that you have work time and time to get work done each day.
Boundaries Are Set—Now What?
The easiest option is to establish boundaries from the beginning of a relationship, either a new job or with a new client. If it’s an existing relationship, you need to create a plan and give time for people to re-adjust to new boundaries. Maybe you create a transition plan for yourself so that it’s not like a light switch between two sets of boundaries. It will take retraining a client, your boss or your team. You need to stick to your boundaries over time, though, even when things get iffy and pushback kicks in. You can do it!
I’ve focused on the consistent boundaries at work and how they impact you every day. If you’re interested in more on why vacation is important, since those are bigger boundaries, read my blog about the importance of vacation or time away.
About the Author
Suzanne Brown is a work-life balance speaker, strategist & author, and strategic marketing consultant.