Due to COVID-19 many of us are navigating a new work and home life. Professional life has changed a lot over the last year with an increasing number of people working from home due to COVID-19 restrictions. Work-life boundaries have become skewed with home life infiltrating into work life and vice versa. During this tumultuous time, you might feel that you have to prove how essential you are as an employee by being available 24/7 but setting boundaries at work plays an important part toward your professional and personal happiness.
Why We Need Work Boundaries
Work boundaries help draw a line between personal and professional life. By providing physical or emotional limits, they help us reserve our energy and purpose and help us stay focused on our values and goals. Some boundaries are very clear especially in corporate life while others can be more flexible. Given the ever-changing situation that the last year has presented, it may be time to revisit and manage those boundaries.
Uncertainty with expectations, job responsibility, and communication can lead to a frustrating situation at work. However, learning to set and keep boundaries with your boss, clients, and colleagues is necessary for remaining satisfied and productive at work. These firm guidelines open the lines of communication, so you are able to function more effectively.
Research has shown that those that love their jobs are more effective and engaged at work. But you cannot love your job if you cannot draw a line between work and non-work elements of life. You might hear a lot about striking a good work-life balance, but that can mean different things to different people. Being able to set boundaries shows others that you are taking responsibility for yourself and your work life balance. The following four tips will help you set boundaries at work, whether remote or on-site, and stick to them.
Know your Value
If you don’t feel confident in your role or abilities in your job, you might be tempted to throw yourself into your job to make yourself indispensable. But the truth is, no matter how hard you work, all jobs are indispensable. If you value yourself first, with all of your skills, abilities, and perspectives, you will be able to set boundaries when it comes to your job. When we value or skills, time, perspective, and energy, we become choosy about what to take on and what to pass on. When you are confident in your abilities, you will have no trouble saying no to work that infringes on your personal time or does not fit in your career path or goals.
Manage expectations about boundaries early on. This may require a conversation with team members, clients, or a manager. Be consistent with your boundaries and clear in communicating them. And as your life situation changes, it is understandable that boundaries that have already been set need to change. There is no need to apologize in situations where you want to create a boundary. For example, using apologetic language like, “Sorry to bother you but” or “I hate to be a pain, but I would like to talk about time off” makes it sound like you are expecting a no. Instead, communicate clearly so the intention is set. It is acceptable to assert boundaries clearly and effectively and keeps the lines of communication open as needed.
Create a Schedule Block
When working from home days can just blend into one another. However, blocking out time for both professional and personal tasks will help to create a routine. If you are no longer making a commute, block out that time anyway for either professional or personal tasks so that it is not wasted. One way to end work is to shut down your laptop or put your materials away to signal the end of the workday. This creates a physical boundary that is easy to enforce rather than being in ‘work mode’ all day and night.
Productive working requires some time of effective recovery. Push yourself for too long and you’ll become tired and likely to make mistakes. It’s essential for physical and mental wellbeing. In fact, a study from the University of Illinois found that not taking enough breaks causes a reduction in focus and productivity, while regular time off helps to increase it. Make sure that some of the time is reserved for things that you want to do and have nothing to do with work. Whether it is a walk mid-afternoon, or 15 minutes listening to a podcast, this time off will help to rejuvenate and revitalize you.
Set Office Hours
If you don’t work in an environment where hours are set, create your own. Let your clients and customers know when you are available for office hours or email response times. Put these hours in your email signature and/or autoresponder. Keeping regular hours also allows you to log off when you are done to concentrate on your personal life. And don’t be afraid to say when you are unavailable—clients will call early on a Sunday morning unless you tell them that is not part of your workweek. Even if you choose to work hours outside of a ‘normal’ workday, you don’t need to let others know. Compose the email and schedule to be sent the next morning. That way, no one is calling you at 10pm thinking you are available to work.
Creating boundaries at work will enhance not only your professional life, but personal life as well. The key is to clearly communicate those limits and stick to them.