Thanks to technology, we are more accessible than ever. If your boss wants to get in touch with you at any given time, they usually can, regardless of whether you’re at your child’s parent-teacher conference or reading them a bedtime story.
The good news is that most bosses and coworkers understand that you have a life outside the office. However, it’s not always easy to get them to respect that when you’re not signed on for work, you are not available. Period. This is why it’s so essential to establish and enforce boundaries between work and home, especially if you’re a parent.
What makes this problematic, though, is that as easy as it is to believe and understand the need for separation of your professional and personal lives, it can be hard to put it into practice. After all, if your child suddenly needs to go to the doctor in the middle of the workday, you will stop what you’re doing to make it happen. On the flip side, if you’re at your child’s ballet recital and there’s an urgent matter at work, it’s much less likely that you’ll walk out of the performance to manage the situation. So, how are you supposed to package these boundaries to your boss? What’s the most effective way to tell your manager that home is your priority without losing your job (or, at the very least, being looked down on)?
What Are Reasonable Boundaries?
While boundaries are essential to maintaining a healthy work-life balance, it’s important to remember that these boundaries must be reasonable. These boundaries should signal to your employer that even though your family is your top priority, your work is also one of your top concerns.
Here are some examples of what reasonable boundaries look like:
No work meetings or events after a specific time of day
No working on weekends
An established regular working schedule (ex: M-F 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) with no guaranteed availability outside those hours
Rules around reading and responding to emails/communication outside working hours
Flexibility in these boundaries as needed for family events, appointments, etc. (this flexibility should go both ways between you and your employer)
How to determine the proper boundaries for yourself
There are plenty of examples of what reasonable boundaries can look like, but don’t just establish these lines for the sake of it, do it with meaning. For instance, if you genuinely prefer working at night after the kids are in bed, limiting yourself to core working hours doesn't make sense. Or, if the idea of emails piling up while you’re on vacation is more stressful to you than simply checking your inbox once a day, then do what’s best for your well-being.
Essentially, your boundaries should not be arbitrary. They should have meaning and be put in place to help improve your quality of life. To come up with the proper limits for yourself, look at your current situation and identify your pain points, then do some problem solving to figure out if there are any boundaries you can create that will help alleviate some of that pain. There may not be a perfect solution to all situations, but even a slight improvement is better than no improvement.
Asserting Your Boundaries
Deciding on your boundaries can be challenging, but asserting them is where it may get complicated. You’ll need to have conversations with both your employer and your family (primarily if you work from home) where you communicate what you want your boundaries to be and then fine-tune the details so that they work for everyone involved. Then, once you’ve found an excellent middle ground, you’ll be tasked with enforcing these boundaries — because if you aren’t firm in them, then expect people to cross them.
Here are some ways to do this:
Continuously communicate the boundaries as needed, whether it’s to manage the expectations of people around you or to remind them of your limits, gently
Sync up your work and personal calendars so that your family can see when you’re in meetings and other times when you should not be disturbed and so that your employer will know when you’re doing something personal that can’t be interrupted (note: if you don’t want your employer to have all of your details, it’s okay to use privacy settings and simply block out time on your work calendar with just basic need-to-know information)
Say no to work or personal requests that impede your boundaries
Establish a regular work schedule, and stick to it (if you say you aren’t going to answer emails after a specific time, then commit to it and don’t break your own rules)
Separate your working and living spaces if you work from home
What to do when boundaries are crossed
The chances are high that some people will try to push your boundaries, and you need to be prepared to respond when they do. Come up with a mini-script with a respectful but firm response for when this happens. You may even want to come up with different scripts for different situations (for example, how you respond to your boss will be much different from how you react to your child or partner). Even though you can’t plan for every possibility, just having the framework for how you will push back when someone crosses a boundary may help you feel more confident when the situation arises.
Don’t Forget to Respect Your Boundaries
Remember, no one else will either if you don’t honor your boundaries. Yes, you’ll need to be flexible from time to time (give and take is expected with an employer that respects your need for work-life balance), but that should be the exception, not the rule. It is a battle you’ll need to fight for yourself — but it’s a worthy one!
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