Healthy Boundaries Make for a Happier Workplace

In the not too distant past,  American work culture centered around “above and beyond”– Going above and beyond your job description, work hours, responsibilities, and your own mental, physical, and emotional capacities. Employees and executives did much of this to be seen as hardworking, diligent, and driven individuals willing to do anything for the business’s success. 

With the advent of 24/7 interconnectivity via email, text, and workplace instant messaging, 9-5 careers soon started bleeding into our personal lives. Coupled with the continued “go above and beyond” culture, it’s not surprising that there has been a sudden wave of employee and company leadership setting healthy boundaries. 

What are Healthy Boundaries?

Henry Cloud, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author, wrote in his book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life:

“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end, and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom.”

In essence, healthy boundaries are the limits you set on your mental, physical, and emotional resources. By being thoughtful with your resources and clearly communicating those limits, you are ensuring that you can give the things within your boundaries your full attention. 

Mental Boundaries

Mental clarity and acuity are essential to doing your job well. It feeds creativity and allows us to be swift but accurate in our decision-making. Unfortunately, it’s often the most called-upon resource we have to offer, especially in a professional setting. 

Take Action

  • Set working hours and stick to them. 
  • Stop checking email after a specific time and create an away message to let employees or clients know when they can expect a response. 
  • Delegate tasks that fall outside of your core job responsibilities or expertise. 
  • Decline to participate in projects that would overburden your schedule. 
  • When leading meetings, create agendas clearly defining expectations and end time.
  • Don’t allow people to add appointments to your calendar without consulting with you first. 
  • Decline attending meetings where your presence isn’t necessary. 

Physical Boundaries

Some physical boundaries are often set by workplace policy and professional best practices but should go beyond contact between coworkers. They also apply to your physical presence at events, health, and body language. 

Take Action

  • Handshakes are typically expected in the workplace, but you can decline hugs, pats on the back, or any other superfluous physical contact. 
  • Preserve your personal time by not attending work parties, networking events, or after-hours activities that you don’t want to go to. 
  • Create blocks in your day where you have uninterrupted time alone to engage in deep work. 
  • Stay home when you’re feeling ill and use mental health days when you need them. 
  • Shut your office door when you are not open to having visitors. 

Emotional Boundaries

Emotional boundaries vary so much from person to person that it takes a keen sense of empathy to know what coworkers need to feel safe and supported in their workplace. Set a precedent by clearly defining your emotional boundaries and inviting others to do the same. 

Take Action

  • Define and share your feedback style– both when receiving and giving. 
  • Don’t allow others’ moods to impact your own. 
  • Walk away from displays of anger, aggression, or physicality that make you uncomfortable. 
  • If someone comes to you to vent, be vulnerable, or share their emotions, it’s okay to ask them to speak with you about it later if you feel that you are not emotionally prepared to handle the conversation. 
  • Explicitly communicate when someone speaks or refers to you in a way that is outside of your emotional boundaries. 
  • Leave workplace frustrations at the office so they don’t bleed over into your personal life. 

Handling Boundary Breakers

After setting your healthy boundaries, there are sure to be those who cross the line, whether by accident or because they feel they are the exception to the rule. Either way, you must address these incidents as they occur to avoid falling back into old habits that drain your mental, physical, and emotional resources. 

Take Action

  • Once a boundary is broken, immediately speak with the person about the action. Waiting until “the right time” lessens the impact of the conversation. 
  • Create an automated “Do Not Disturb” schedule on your phone during which you don’t receive notifications about new work emails, along with an automated message about when your email hours are. This will eliminate most, if not all, boundary breakers from infringing on your personal time. 
  • Remember that “no” is a one-word sentence. You do not have to explain or justify why your boundaries are in place. 
  • Offers alternatives for situations where you are not available and consider staggering deep work times with other leaders in the office, so someone is always around to answer questions. 

Healthy boundaries are hard, especially if you and your employees have never discussed them. It’s a skill worth growing, though, that will eventually lead to a healthier, happier workplace for all. 

Ready to level up your business leadership skills? Let’s chat! Catalyst Group ECR can help you in your journey to meeting your professional potential while preserving your mental, emotional, and physical resources. 

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