I recently read a great post and video blog, ‘Why Setting Boundaries Is Key On The Road To Job Happiness’ by Jenn Korducki Krenn of the website Dream Champs. It immediately resonated with me and reminded me of my earlier working life.
How many of you have experienced the situation of sitting at your desk until 6, 7 or 8 o’clock at night, just because it is what everyone else is doing? Perhaps you have the impression that you mustn’t leave before the boss. Maybe when you first started at the organisation you were told by a colleague that even though your contract said you would work from 9-5, that in fact “everyone stays until at least 6:30pm, and they never leave before 7pm during the busy season.”
I used to work part time at an organisation where no one, not even the administration staff left before 6pm, even though their contracted finishing time was 5:30pm. I know. I asked. The more senior staff regularly stayed until 7pm, some having started at 7am. This was supposedly just while they were working on a large client project, and they would get back to their ‘normal’ 8am-6pm (even though their contract was for 8:30am – 5:30pm) as soon as that project was finished. The problem as I observed it however, was that once the project was finished another one was ready to start, or had already started! Eventually these working hours were the norm, and no one dared do anything different for fear of appearing as though they weren’t working hard enough. Luckily for me, I was only there on a paid by the hour contract so I was expected to leave at ‘home time’ unless it was an exceptional circumstance.
In her video, Jenn Korducki Krenn questioned whether or not staying late was actually counterproductive and talked about the frustration many of us feel when you stay late just for the sake of it. If you have not set boundaries and clearly communicated them, your work day can turn into a vicious cycle of staying late at work, staying up later at home to enjoy your leisure time, collapsing in to bed exhausted and then waking early, wishing you could sleep longer, and eventually dreading going to work every morning. Not to mention ruining a Sunday evening!
I’ve certainly felt the ball of cement in the pit of my stomach at the thought of having to go to work. Luckily now, running my own business, I rarely if ever have that feeling. However, I have previously worked in roles where I almost made myself ill with the dread, yet I just believed this is what I had to do. Thank goodness I found out I was wrong!
So, how do you go about setting boundaries? As Jenn expressed in her video, the key is communication. Firstly it would be worth sitting down and clearly defining what your work life balance goals are, and if relevant, also sitting down with your family to hear their expectations. You can then define your boundaries, which perhaps may be “I will arrive at work no earlier than 8:45am and will leave every night by 5:30pm, go to the gym and be home by 6:30pm.” You may build in some flexibility when you are working on a deadline, setting up some guidelines such as”I will work up to 7pm no more than 5 times in a month, and review the situation if the number starts creeping to 8 or beyond.”
However, it is all well and good to set these boundaries. It is the implementation that is often the killer. There may be a number of steps you have to take to implement this but some suggestions are below:
- Meet with your boss: Arranging a meeting with your boss to discuss the issues you are having and the boundaries you are setting to manage the situation is often a key first step. Ask for their support and let them know you will communicate with them if and when you feel things are moving beyond your boundaries. If they have a huge level of resistance you have two options (1) seriously consider if this really is the job for you or, (2) compromise, start slowly, and gradually narrow your boundaries as both of you recognise the benefits to your wellbeing and productivity.
- Communicate with your colleagues: Often there is an underlying tension between colleagues if others aren’t seen to be working as hard as them. Informally bring up the fact that you are setting some new time boundaries for yourself to better manage your productivity and life demands. Don’t imply that you are much busier than them or have more going on outside of work than them (we all know how annoying that can be!). Let them know this is simply a step that you are taking to become more productive in all areas of your life. If they sound interested, offer to chat further with them and assist them in setting boundaries of their own. You may even want to take the brave step of writing up your time boundaries and posting them near your desk. This way your intentions are clear, and it may even inspire others to follow in your footsteps.
- Communicate with your family: If you can, do your best to let your family know in advance, even if it is only a day or two in advance, when you may be working late, and what time you plan to come home. This way they won’t feel let down when you aren’t home for tea or aren’t able to take them to soccer practice. You need to keep your commitment and ensure that you restrict these late evenings to the boundaries you have set. It would also be worthwhile reviewing how things are going with your family at regular intervals so you can ensure the boundaries you have set are still working for everyone.
- Stick to it!: If you keep going beyond your boundaries the main person you are letting down is yourself. Remember, there was a reason why you needed to set these boundaries in the first place. Keep your commitment to yourself, and any challenges or hurdles will eventually become easier.
Do you need to set up your own work/life boundaries?
Do you already have boundaries set up? What tips or advice do you have to share?