You have an important report due at the end of the day and have blocked out the entire day to focus on it. Your morning routine was relaxing; the journey to work went without a hitch. After reading through your emails and having a chat with your colleagues, you feel ready to make a start. Suddenly, out of nowhere, your boss asks you if you have time to help with another urgent task due by lunchtime, which has come in unexpectedly. Do you say ‘no’? Or do you offer up your time, knowing you will be hard pushed to get your report done in an afternoon?
Setting boundaries, particularly saying ‘no’ to your boss, can be a difficult thing to do. We are empathetic creatures, and our survival as a species has depended on helping each other. We are biologically wired to work together in order to achieve more than we could individually. This means traits such as selflessness and compassion are valued highly in our society, and focusing on our own needs can feel unnatural or have a stigma attached to it.
In a work context, setting boundaries is essentially making sure you can negotiate for yourself and ensuring you have plenty of energy to get on with your daily tasks. Although this might sound obvious, when you are juggling the competing demands of customers, team members or clients, as well as your own needs, it can become difficult to find time for everything. It is important to give both yourself and those around you the appropriate amount of attention, and even more important to ensure you feel energised yourself first.
Although occasionally taking on more work than you can manage won’t do a lot of harm in the short-term, over time this will increase your stress levels and take its toll on your body. Whereas a little stress is necessary for getting things done, excessive stress can lead to poor physical health, difficulty relating to colleagues and underperformance. Striking a balance is crucial, and carefully setting boundaries is one way to work towards this.
In recent years, there has been a huge shift in work culture, with ‘work-life balance’ becoming the phrase of the moment. Although it initially appeared to be a trend bad managers could pay lip service to, millennials are now demanding opportunities for balance from their roles, and employers have had to step up. Many companies now go beyond empty reminders that employees need to take care of themselves, and offer structures to facilitate self-care and mental health.
There has never been a better time for taking care of yourself in the workplace, and setting boundaries more frequently is an effective way to begin.
If you have difficulty setting boundaries with your colleagues, particularly around your available time, these are our top tips to help you navigate each situation and communicate with others appropriately.
Remember, setting boundaries is a constant balancing act, not something anybody can perfect. It can also feel as though you are letting others down by saying ‘no’, but ultimately they will be more grateful if the quality of your work isn’t impacted by lack of time or stress. By making it a priority in your life to set limits, you can realise when you need to reset or look after yourself. If you can do this, you will be well on the way to feeling healthier and happier in your work and daily life.