How to set clear boundaries in the workplace
‘Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create’ – Jana Kingsford
Like Dolly Parton’s song, working 9-5 can now be considered old-fashioned. Covid-19 has
revolutionised the way that we work, with flexibility, autonomy and digital communications
becoming the new norm. This shift has placed emphasis on maintaining a ‘Life-work balance’ –
where life is prioritised just asstrongly as work. While we want to maintain balance, we currently
face more blurred boundaries between work and home than ever before. To truly switch off and
achieve a balance, we need to set clear boundaries to ensure we are not working around the clock.
What are boundaries? Why are they Important?
Boundaries are the physical and psychological ways that we organise parts of our lives. They are
important for creating life-work balance, reduces stress and helps us to prevent burnout. Having
strong boundaries in place also helps us to avoid ‘work-life conflict’ where conflicting demands of
work and non-work activities leads to stress and anxiety.
How do we set clear life-work boundaries in the workplace?
Know your ‘work-life boundary’ management style
To identify your natural style of boundary setting to make active change. Researcher Ellen Kosseck suggests there are three main styles; separator, integrator and cycler. Are you a Separator? Where you strive to have a greater divide
between work and home life? How about an Integrator? Where you prefer to blend personal and
work roles? (e.g., blending hobbies with work roles) … or a Cycler? Where you are a bit of both –
going through periods of separating life from work and then intense period of life-work integration
(this is common if you pick up holiday work). Being aware of how you manage boundaries can help
you make change. For example, if you are an integrator and you want to become a separator then
you can learn to manage boundaries by working in chunks.
Define your values
Love, knowledge, success, stability, variety, adventure… the list goes on!
Values are beliefs that define what is important to us, guide our choices in life and provide us with
energy. If you are unsure of your values, you can reflect on ‘what gives you energy?’ and ‘what
makes your life feel worthwhile?’. Knowing your top values can help you to recognise how and
where to set boundaries so that you can feel energised and productive at work and at home.
Set clear start and finish times to have a greater sense of when you switch work mode on and off.
This gives us greater perceived control over boundaries. It may be useful to develop boundary
rituals to help signal when we place our work hat on and off. A 10-minute walk around the block,
changing into work-out gear, turning your phone on silent mode, driving around the block if working
from home are also useful rituals to help us keep strong boundaries in place. It can also help to set
physical boundaries – an office or a designated area of your home that could function as an office.
Communicate assertively to co-workers, your leader and your family members your defined
Consider having a conversation with your leader to ensure that you are both on the
same page about your work hours and your availability. This may include asking work colleagues not
to call you after work hours, or speaking with your partner about hiring a cleaner.
Plan your ‘you’ time
Book in a massage, leisurely reading time, movie nights – any activity that will help you to relax and recharge. When we schedule time for ourselves it enables us to recharge and reinforces that we are priority.
‘We have a right to disconnect’
By Tess Collins, Psychologist