• 1/25/2023 10:37:26 AM

The Art of Building Boundaries at Work

Quiet quitting, which refers to refusing to put in extra effort without additional pay, has increasingly become a popular topic in different industries around the world. Half of American workers are quiet quitters, according to a recent survey by Gallup.

Quiet quitters actually say they were doing so before the term was coined. On the other hand, a recent study by LendingTree discovered that 57% of quiet quitters improved their work-life by establishing professional boundaries.

Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University, encourages employees to take a more active role in improving their work lives, rather than a passive one. Here are ways Wooolley, and other experts, suggest setting boundaries at work, before getting to the point of disengaging completely.

Communicate what’s not working

Employees who disengage at work often do so quietly and do not communicate their intentions to their employer. To establish boundaries in the workplace, it is important to be open and direct with your manager by discussing what is not working and expressing your personal goals. Having regular, meaningful conversations with your manager can help establish a system of accountability, according to Jim Harter, Chief Scientist for Gallup's workplace management practice.

Talking about money

Career and workplace consultant Mary Nice suggests that having a conversation with your manager about a raise, and clearly communicating your reasons for why you deserve one, can be a productive step towards achieving a fair salary. “Conversations about money are going to be uncomfortable, but they are also completely expected and deserved,” she says.

Working overtime

A common example of setting boundaries in the workplace is managing overtime. When we are consistently working long hours or responding to emails outside of regular business hours, it creates the impression that we are always available. While there may be times when working overtime is necessary, it is important to set clear boundaries and communicate when it is and isn't acceptable. This helps to establish expectations and prevent burnout.

When the role becomes “an empire”

We should also set boundaries for our responsibilities to prevent taking on too much and becoming overwhelmed. We may not even realize we are doing this, but when we work hard and become skilled at certain tasks, we begin to “build an empire” around our role and others may always expect us to always handle these certain tasks. It will also prevent them from learning and growing in those areas.

As Dale Carnegie suggests: decide how much time and energy something is worth and refuse to give it more.

When we take on too many responsibilities and don't share the workload with our team, it can also limit our own career growth. It can create a perception among senior leaders that we are only suited for a certain role and therefore, promoting us would create a vacancy that would be hard to fill. To avoid this situation, we should set and enforce boundaries for our responsibilities and share the workload with our team members.

Taking time off

Many people feel uncomfortable asking for time off, even when they have paid time off (PTO) days available to them. In 2020, Americans on average did not use about one-third of their PTO days, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Not taking breaks from work can lead to burnout, chronic stress, and other health issues.

According to career advisor Mary Nice, it can be hard to gain perspective while we are in our daily routine. Taking time off through PTO gives us an opportunity to break away from our routine and manage our stress levels. To prioritize oneself, it is important to request days off with advance notice to your manager, so that you can return to work refreshed. It is important to remember, PTO days are provided to be used.

Finding meaning in work

The World Health Organization states that one of the major factors that lead to burnout at work is an increased mental disconnection or negative attitude towards one's job. Having a sense of passion, purpose, and variety in the work can make a significant difference. When an individual feels that the work they are doing has an impact, is important to them, or for the company it can be more meaningful. Even when the work may feel monotonous, it's important to remember that it still plays a role in the bigger picture of the company.

Instead of immediately quitting a job, try to make the current workplace work for you and your goals. If you haven't set boundaries and communicated your needs, taking that lack of clarity to a new job will not solve the problem either and it will just transfer the stress to a new setting.

Setting Boundaries As a Leader

As leaders progress in their careers, they may have to deal with increased demands on their time and attention from others in the organization. To manage these demands, it is important for leaders to set and enforce boundaries with others, but it is also important for them to respect the boundaries of others. If leaders don't set boundaries themselves, it may discourage their team members from setting boundaries as well. When employees feel comfortable setting boundaries with their leader, it can create an environment where they can be more open and honest about their own boundaries and work together to achieve results.

It can be challenging

On the other hand, enforcing boundaries as a leader can be challenging, as it can lead to disappointment from others. However, leaders at higher levels cannot always prioritize making everyone happy and must focus on what is best for the organization.

They should be mindful not to cross other people's boundaries when trying to make decisions. If they make decisions based on how they think others will react, they are trying to control the emotions of others. Leaders should show up in a composed and respectful manner, without trying to control how others react.

It is also crucial for leaders to consider discussing limits and capacity with their employees. When an employee communicates their limits, such as being able to work on only certain projects within a certain timeframe, leaders can ensure that the work is done well, since the employee is not taking on too much.

They should also make decisions to manage other resources within the organization to ensure that work gets done. If there is too much work, it may be necessary to hire a new full-time employee. However, this conversation should start with a discussion about boundaries, to ensure that all parties understand their limits, and how to work within them.

Building Boundaries is Building Trust

Boundaries are important for building trust in relationships. Without boundaries, it can be difficult for others to understand what is expected of them, and they may not know when they have crossed a line. It can also create an unspoken expectation that others don't have the right to set boundaries with us.

Boundaries remind us that we are not victims of our circumstances; they give us the power to make choices. By setting clear limits on what is acceptable behavior, we can create a culture of respect and professionalism that benefits everyone. We should also remember that building healthy boundaries is an ongoing process, but by taking small steps and being mindful of our needs, we can create a work environment that is both productive and fulfilling.


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