From overly demanding bosses to oversharing coworkers, the workplace is fraught with traps for sucking away your precious time, turning you into an unpaid therapist, possibly making you lose your composure….
How do you set boundaries at work while maintaining a modicum of respect among your colleagues — andself-respect?
It’s not easy. You want to be well liked and a team player, the “go to” person in a work emergency. Those late hours can lead to your colleagues feeling close to you, and with that bonding comes sharing which can sometimes lead to oversharing. How do you put in your all without being a sounding board for everyone on staff’s issues?
Here is your boundary-setting cheat sheet to address improper and irritating situations at work:
Table of Contents
- Setting Boundaries with a Manager
- Setting Boundaries with Colleagues
- Setting Boundaries in a Toxic Workplace
- Setting Boundaries for Yourself to Disconnect
- Final Thoughts
Setting Boundaries with a Manager
1. Don’t be so available all hours of the day and night.
There’s a difference between staying late at the office when everyone on the team is pulling hard and being on speed dial with your boss day and night and throughout the weekends.
Don’t fall into the trap of answering texts, calls, or emails that happen outside of working hours unless there really is a work emergency.
Try not to pick up the phone if it rings over the weekend. If anyone from work calls you out for being unresponsive outside of work hours, tell them that you make it a habit to unplug after hours.
In situations where you must respond, one trick is to answer with a different mode of communication.
For example, if your boss calls or texts you, you could reply via email. This sets the tone for your preferred way to communicate and makes it less likely that your boss will call or text in the future. (See Point 2.)
2. Share how you prefer to communicate.
During working hours, you may have to make clear that yelling instructions at you across a noisy room or, conversely, sending a cryptic text with little explanation, won’t suffice.
If your manager is generally too busy or over-extended for a regular sit-down meeting to assign or track your projects, request an email exchange that provides sufficient detail. Emailed instructions will also provide documentation of what was shared.
3. Keep careful track of your hours.
While norms vary widely from profession to profession, you probably shouldn’t be putting in twice as many overtime hours as a colleague who’s in your exact position at the company.
If you find that you are on a regular basis, it’s time to arrange a meeting with your manager to discuss it. Maybe you can be compensated for your overtime.
If that isn’t an option, present solutions that set your boundaries. Maybe there’s an assistant who you can train to help you out. Maybe the work needs to get to you earlier in the month to avoid the time crunch at the end. Figure out what the issue is — too much work, disorganization at the top, someone on the team who is not pulling their weight—and suggest smart solutions.
When working late at the office, don’t forget to put in for taxicabs and Ubers if regular transportation options aren’t available. Be sure to order in food when working through mealtimes.
Setting Boundaries with Colleagues
1. Steer all personal conversations back to the task at hand.
Recapping what went on over the weekend or showing pictures around of a new nephew encroaches on valuable meeting time. Perhaps five minutes of this on a Monday morning is fine. But when these personal digressions consume significant chunks of the day, it’s necessary to bring the groups’ attention back to the work discussion.
You may want to cushion the redirect with a preface such as, “Glad to know you all had a good weekend,” or “Congratulations on the new arrival,” but then steer your colleagues back by restating the problem that needs to be solved.
2. Lead by example.
Oversharing, giving unwanted hugs, and using expletives are just some of the behaviors that should never surface at the office. In every interaction, keep it professional by keeping displays of strong emotion in check.
Don’t scream or cry in front of your colleagues — ever. Don’t call someone out in front of others — even if you think the person did a terrible job on an assignment. Don’t make jokes that are in poor taste.
You can still show empathy or understanding, of course, and you should.
3. Keep discourse civil.
Cordiality is a sign of respect and a way to show others your appreciation — and hopefully receive it in return.
Use “please” and “thank you” often. End your electronic correspondence with “Best” preceding your name. Call people by the name they prefer — not by a nickname or an easier-to-pronounce shortened version. Don’t get into ideological discussions that can devolve into political arguments.
4. Be transparent.
Don’t engage in sideline conversations or texts with certain teammates whom you “like” more than others. Additionally, be sure to copy everyone on all correspondence to forge team cohesion.
Let teammates know when you’re maxed out and need help, or could use more information. Your honesty will earn others’ trust. This will encourage them to reciprocate in being more transparent and open with you.
5. Bow out early.
No doubt about it, workplace camaraderie is enhanced by socializing outside the office. Show your team spirit by showing up — but limit your alcohol intake to a single drink so you remain in command of your faculties.
Try to listen more than you talk. Use the gathering as an opportunity to make new connections.
Setting Boundaries in a Toxic Workplace
1. Refrain from adding to the toxicity.
As tempting as it is to partake in bad-mouthing rants over your incompetent boss or despicable colleague, don’t do it. You’ll only add fuel to the negativity fire and it will do no one, including yourself, any good.
If a boss or colleague has driven you to distraction, it’s best that you take it up with the person one-on-one where there’s a chance that the relationship can be salvaged — or at least better tolerated.
2. Refuse to add to the gossip mill.
Be above board in all your interactions so colleagues know that you’re unwaveringly frank and straightforward.
Rise above the office cliques that only add to a toxic environment. Walk away from coworker conversations whenever derogatory remarks are made, or make it clear by your silence and body language that you’re not going to join in.
3. Take all your available sick/mental health days.
Credit yourself for valiantly showing up and doing your best work in a less-than-perfect job environment, but don’t be a martyr and give the company more than it deserves.
Mental health days are your reward for pushing through without sacrificing professionalism.
4. Communicate firmly if you hear inappropriate remarks.
Set a personal no-tolerance policy for allowing any derogatory comments to go unchecked — whether directed at you or another person. Advocate for yourself or others so that the behavior is called out as unacceptable.
Setting Boundaries for Yourself to Disconnect
1. Take a walk outdoors during your lunch break.
Check in with the world outside over the noon hour. Breathe in the fresh air. Notice what’s around you — the storefronts, the faces, the scenery, and whatever is happening with the weather.
Smile. Relish the moments you have to yourself away from the ploys and personalities of your coworkers.
2. Practice yoga.
Transition from your workday with a class that takes the focus off your brain and into your body. Connect to your breath to calm your mind, body, and spirit.
You can begin your yoga journey with these introductory movements.
3. Make after-hours a “no work talk allowed” zone.
If your friends discuss their jobs, listen politely, but don’t leap in with gossip about yours. As soon as possible, steer the conversation to a happier topic. Seen any good movies lately? Share them.
4. Don’t work on your days off.
Treat your personal time as sacred. Don’t let thoughts of work encroach on your home life, time with friends, or the hobbies you enjoy.
Embrace a work-life balance mindset, then stick to it.
5. Spend time away from the screen.
Turn off your computer and block notifications on your phone by 7 p.m. each night. Remind yourself that tomorrow is another day to tackle everything.
Setting boundaries at work in a professional way takes discipline and practice. But your self-preservation depends on it. You’re better off being known as a professional problem solver rather than a gabby gossiper or toxic taskmaster.
Featured photo credit: Surface via unsplash.com
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