By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO
[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post]
Setting and communicating clear boundaries is the fulcrum to creating sustainable balance in whatever way you define balance for yourself (and for your team if you are a manager). Odds are strong that when you are feeling out of balance, it has to do with values. Sometimes it’s because your values may feel threatened, or you have gotten away from them, and a lot of the time it is has to do with the boundaries you set (or don’t set) to protect and honor your values.
This is just as much true at work as it is outside of work. On a simple level, boundaries teach other people what your values are and how to treat you. Communicating your boundaries helps those in your life to be clear around how to treat you, what your limits are and how far you are willing to go (or not go) in certain situations and circumstances. At work, boundaries keep you clear on your business purpose, priorities, and time management. Regardless of whether or not they are talked about at work -boundaries exist in the workplace.
Boundaries are tricky because you cannot see, smell, taste, or touch a boundary, but you know when it has been crossed, and you know when you are in a relationship with someone at work who is crossing the line. A good indication someone has crossed the line with you is that you might find yourself pretending that you didn’t actually see what you saw or hear what you heard in order to avoid conflict or confrontation. For example, “I can’t believe he sent that as a text message!” or “I can’t believe he said that to the room of customers.” Or, “That’s not part of my job!”
Before you can set and maintain workplace boundaries it’s important to figure out what you need. For most people, not much conscious attention is paid to how, why and what boundaries we set at and about our work. Boundaries as they apply to work can be divided into team boundaries and individual boundaries.
At the team level the best example of a boundary is a job description. (We all know what happens when one is not clear — it causes confusion, frustration and the team is not very productive.) Other common boundaries include your actual work and workflow. Question to help define team boundaries include clarity around reporting structure and who generates assignments, which isn’t always the same in many offices. Also worth considering is who sets your work priorities? (Answer: it’s a trick question as often times many people play a role.)
At the individual level the best example of a boundary is when you arrive and leave “work,” which in today’s world doesn’t always mean a physical space. Other commons boundaries include accepting meetings over lunch or breakfast, blocking time out for yourself to do work, attending (or not attending) every meeting you are invited to, how often you work from home and if you take vacation (and work from vacation).
When setting and maintaining boundaries, it is helpful to become aware of the choices you make around your needs and see where your actions support what you need. Answer the questions for yourself. Share the questions with your team and your family. Be consistent about the boundaries you set and have the courage to have the conversation.