Bring balance into your life by setting positive work boundaries
Last updated on 3 August 2023
A good work-life balance is part of any healthy lifestyle. Too much work means there’s not enough time to relax and recharge. But that’s not always easy to do. There are some traditional 9-5 jobs which require no input outside of work hours, while there are other jobs that really can dictate a person’s lifestyle, including shift work. So if you do find yourself completing extra work at home, staying late, picking up extra hours more often, or struggling to switch off, it’s time to set some boundaries.
Three main boundaries to consider
Work boundaries come in various forms; they’re not just a literal brick wall you can build to keep others from interrupting you throughout the day (although it’s not the worst idea). But it is helpful to look at the three main types of workplace boundaries so you can better understand how to protect yourself from work overload.
Physical boundaries at work can relate to a number of different situations, not just workload. Establishing physical boundaries and expectations of behaviour will also protect you from unwanted physical contact and interactions, if that’s something you are concerned about. For example:
- You respect personal space and only shake hands when meeting new people
- If you’re working at a desk on an important task, you have headphones in to show you’re busy and not to be interrupted – even if there’s no sound on
- Even though other staff are inclined to eat lunch at their desks, you always go to the lunch room or outside to avoid blurring the lines
Emotional boundaries are important for your own mental health and well-being, although they do differ slightly from the mental boundaries outlined below. Instead, this is all about distancing yourself from emotional and stressful situations that could otherwise add to your stress. Examples include:
- Being open and honest with your colleagues and management about the best ways to give and receive feedback
- Distancing yourself from situations where a colleague is expressing negative thoughts and feelings
- Not allowing negative work experiences to impact your morale, and recognising that everyone can have a bad day,
Where emotional boundaries are more related to your thoughts and feelings, mental boundaries focus on mental energy and workflow. Examples here include:
- Sticking to your assigned work hours and saying no to unpaid overtime
- Avoiding work conversations outside of work, such as when you’re at a social event with colleagues
- Email notifications are turned off on your phone after hours and on weekends, while you may also have a work phone which is only there for after hours emergencies
Simple steps to set boundaries at work
While we have outlined some ways to better safeguard your time and separate work from your personal life, there are other steps you can take to strengthen your resolve. Why? Because it is hard to separate work during personal times, and vice versa, as there’s no switch to flick off when you’re stressed or worried. But if you want to set strong boundaries at work, the following tips will help you build a strong metaphorical brick wall.
Check your workload
If you’re feeling stressed out all day and you’re regularly starting early, finishing late or even working from home when you shouldn’t be, your workload is either too large or you don’t have the resources to achieve what’s being asked of you. In either case, it’s time to speak to a superior about the workload because additional support is crucial. And if you happen to be at the very head of the table, consider delegating tasks to ease your workload.
Focus on personal matters
One of the hardest things to do is switch off at work when you have personal worries at home. Whether it’s a sick family member, a newborn baby or financial stressors, there are plenty of reasons to be distracted at work. Establish your personal boundaries and let others know what’s going on – at least those who need to know. A day or a week off to focus on personal matters is beneficial when you might be stressed over work and home.
Above all else, you have to communicate with others; no one can help you establish or maintain boundaries if they don’t know what they are. Strong communication skills will benefit both you and others as you create shared boundaries, set limits and support each other when times are tough.