Learn what boundaries are, why they’re important, and how to establish healthy ones while working from home.
It’s been well over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of us are still adjusting to the new reality of working from home (WFH). While some of the perks are undeniable — flexible schedules, comfortable work attire, home-cooked lunches, and more quality time with our pets — there are new stressors that we are learning to deal with.
Despite these newfound WFH benefits, there has been a sharp increase in employees reporting anxiety. With so many advantages of WFH, this trend might initially seem surprising.
The culprit of this concerning trend is often related to a struggle to establish healthy boundaries between the home and the workplace. If this resonates, we’ve got you covered with this guide to establishing healthy workplace boundaries.
But first, let’s dig into what boundaries really are.
What is a boundary, and why is it important?
Being able to set limits, and have those limits be respected, ensures that individuals do not feel taken advantage of.
Therapist Rebecca Pollak, MSW explains that a boundary can serve as a means of individual protection. She explains that being able to set limits, and have those limits be respected, ensures that individuals do not feel taken advantage of. When boundaries are consistently ignored it often results in poor mental health outcomes.
Working from home and having reduced face-to-face contact with colleagues can often lead individuals to feel increased pressure to exceed expectations and prove their worth. This in turn can lead to personal boundaries around logging off being disregarded. Unfortunately, this will likely put you on a fast track towards workplace burnout.
When your kitchen counter doubles as your office desk, and you’re feeling the heat of producing results, being able to set boundaries and preserve your personal space and time is a vital skill.
While most people understand the importance of having boundaries on an intellectual level, many of us struggle to say “no” in the heat of the moment. If you are finding yourself thinking about your next assignment while enjoying a meal with your loved ones, you might be struggling with this issue.
5 steps towards healthy boundaries at work
We spoke with Pollak on the importance of establishing healthy boundaries at work, and here were the 5 steps she recommended.
Step 1: Assess your need for boundaries
Recognizing the need for increased boundaries is an important step towards ensuring that boundaries become established. It might sound simple enough, but it’s important to keep track of situations where you are feeling resentment, frustration, uneasiness, or anxiety.
Pollak explained that, “These are often indicators that you feel you are not being treated fairly, or that you might have too much on your plate. Try to look for common trends and patterns in situations that are making you feel this way. This will help you identify where a boundary needs to be put into place.”
Step 2: Gain clarity of the boundaries you want to create
Before speaking to your boss or coworkers, it’s essential to reflect and clearly outline what your new boundaries will look like. No two people will have the exact same boundaries, so be clear with yourself about what your boundary is.
Try logging situations where you have a sudden change in mood throughout the workday. You should document the situation that occurred, who was present, and what you were thinking at that moment. At the end of the week, you can analyze your log.
You will likely find themes regarding certain situations, or individuals that might require boundaries to become more established.
Step 3: Communicate your boundaries
Take the time to let your colleagues know what you are no longer willing to do. This might mean not answering emails on weekends, or picking a specific time to “log off” every day.
Pollak explained that, “This step is anxiety provoking as it involves setting new expectations and changing old patterns. It can be helpful to review the tasks that you have been doing that are not part of your job description and therefore should not be expected of you.”
When you can firmly point out the tasks that are not in your description, it will be easier for people to understand why you no longer wish to complete them or why these boundaries are necessary.
Step 4: Make room to prioritize mental health
People often only start focusing on and prioritizing mental health when they are on the verge of breaking down. Try to make room in your schedule for self-care before you get to the point of feeling overwhelmed.
This means respecting boundaries you created for yourself, and not feeling guilty when you ignore emails and work calls on vacation. Pollak said, “Just like you would block off your schedule for a meeting with your boss, try to get into the habit of blocking off time for yourself at the end of the day.”
“Just like you would block off your schedule for a meeting with your boss, try to get into the habit of blocking off time for yourself at the end of the day.”
Step 5: Identifying broken boundaries
After creating and setting new boundaries with your colleagues, you may experience an immediate reaction from people on your team. While this might be distressing, Pollak explained that “it’s a sign that the boundary is working.”
Address any pushback as soon as it arises, despite the fact that this might lead to feelings of guilt. Try to remind yourself why you wanted to put boundaries into place in the first place.
Pollak said ,“A boundary will not become established if you give in as soon as you receive push back. Take the time to discuss why you put this boundary in place. With consistency, your boss and coworkers will come to understand the new patterns you are trying to set.”
Have you ever struggled to put boundaries in place at work? Let us know what worked and how this impacted your work-life balance. We want to hear from you!