How to talk to your boss about boundaries

As our working lives continue to evolve, the line that separates professional and personal domains can seem a little blurry.

In a recent study, SEEK found that 2 in 4 workers feel pressured to answer messages, calls and emails when they received them outside of work hours. 47% of Kiwis feel that their ability to switch off is impacted by messages, calls and emails they receive outside of work hours.

The increased reliance on mobile technology creates pressure to be ‘always on’, and with more of us working from home than ever before, the daily commute to work may be a quick trip from one room of our homes to another.

Work-life balance may seem harder to achieve than ever, but the best place to start is by creating work-life boundaries.

That’s the advice of SEEK’s Resident Psychologist, Sabina Read.

“Setting work-life boundaries is about making commitments to yourself, just as you would make commitments to someone you really care about,” she says. “The problem is that many of us tend to place ourselves lower on our list of priorities.”

Achieving balance through boundaries

‘Work-life balance’ is used to describe the harmony between the personal and professional areas of life. It helps reduce stress and prevent burnout and creates space for the things that bring us the most satisfaction and fulfilment, whether that’s time with family and friends, more hours for exercise or hobbies, or being more productive at work.

“Boundaries may not mean working less, because work can be highly energising for many people,” says Read. “But boundaries help prevent the personal and professional from merging and can help you maintain a sense of energy. They help you to support the life you want.”

How to set boundaries at work

The key to creating work-life boundaries is in identifying your values and needs.

“No one else knows what matters most to you or what you need more or less of in your life,” says Read. “That’s why you are the only one who can create boundaries for yourself. When you overlook your values and needs, you can become frustrated, resentful or even fearful.”

Identify your values

Creating boundaries helps you to honour the things you value most, says Read.

“When your boundaries are in line with your values, the benefits include feeling a sense of agency and wellbeing,” she says. “You’re more likely to feel like you’re in the driver’s seat and that what you're doing aligns with who you are, how you think and how you want to behave.”

Communicating your boundaries

Setting boundaries with your manager and your colleagues can seem challenging, especially if you’ve let them slide or if you’re new to a job.

Read suggests focusing the conversation on the benefits a boundary can create for everyone.

“Don’t focus on what you're taking away, but focus on how you will be better equipped to deliver the requirements of your job,” she says.

“What will having less meetings during the week or feeling more rested bring to your offering? This might include increased productivity and passion, or more focus. These are outcomes your manager and colleagues would also want.”

Focus on shared goals

When speaking to your manager about your boundaries, Read suggests focusing on shared goals, rather than trying to defend or convince your manager about why you need to draw the line.

“A shared goal may be to have more energy so you can be more effective in your job or meet the needs of stakeholders,” says Reed. “These goals will likely be reliant on a level of your own wellbeing.”

Remain open and engaged with other ideas

Read suggests being open to brainstorming the boundaries that support your values.

“You may want to change your settings to turn off notifications and emails at certain times, or block times out in your calendar where you are not available for meetings. That time can be used to focus on what really energises you.”

Boundaries can help create a roadmap for achieving work-life balance. “It’s not about getting away from a life you don’t want, but supporting a life you do want,” says Read.

“Identify the boundaries that will help you to honour your own values and needs and then take the steps to put them in place. The result is likely to be a win-win for both you and your employer.”

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published August 2022.

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