How to set boundaries at work (and keep them!)
As many of us continue hybrid working, there’s a risk that the boundaries between home and work life can become blurred, and in some cases, toxic. Whether it be the expectation that you’ll respond to emails out of hours, or the assumption you’ll dial in for meetings on days off, it’s essential to set boundaries for your own wellbeing, to avoid burnout and maintain a healthy work life balance.
I returned to work following maternity leave in 2019 when my son George was just six months old. I wanted to hit the ground running, and make a big impact - I was clear on what I wanted to deliver and achieve, having returned to a bigger job on a compressed work week schedule. I loved my job and it really was a big part of my identity. Within about six weeks, I was suffering exhaustion - I was consistently working out of hours, and George was still waking two to three times most nights.
One of the major issues I faced was that I had zero personal boundaries and lacked the knowledge of how to set them - I was so used to working late and being available at all times of the day or weekends. Looking back, I can see how unhealthy that imbalance was and how my passion for my job was a driving factor, as well as the high expectations being put on me. I felt like I was on a never-ending treadmill where I couldn’t turn the speed down to a walking pace, it was constantly turning faster than I could keep up!
I soon realised that I was far from alone. A global Deloitte study of 5,000 women found that 46% reported feeling that they always need to be available to their employers, while a third (31%) said they struggled to to ‘switch off’ from work, with more than half of these saying this is driven by a fear that doing so will affect their career progression (52%).
Having learnt the value of setting boundaries personally, I founded The Women’s Vault to help more women, who are at any stage of their career, to set boundaries and learn to have a healthy balance between life and work. The outcome is that they are happier, full of energy and vitality and are highly productive at work!
top tips for setting boundaries and making positive changes:
1. Communicate boundaries clearly and concisely: for example that you can’t respond to emails out of hours, and that if there is something urgent, you would prefer a phone call.
2. Improve your own worth: when someone oversteps the mark, gently and calmly let them know. Stay strong and have confidence in your own boundaries; respect your own needs, time and energy.
3. Make your schedule clear - you may have previously worked late consistently and that is no longer possible, let your employer know and map out when you will be available. If you work flexibly, be sure to tell others your working hours - you can always add an email signature that outlines when you will be available to respond to messages (and also to communicate to others that there’s no expectation of response if you often work out of typical hours).
4. Once you set boundaries, you need to stick to them - be consistent. This is important.
5. Set boundaries with yourself and technology - if you check emails before bed, give yourself a strict cut-off time and put your laptop away in a cupboard. You could try deleting your email app from your phone over weekends, so you don’t check emails - unless you know you’re expecting something urgent. If you struggle with disconnecting from technology, think about how you’d feel if technology wasn’t imposing on your life - would you be relaxed or wound up? Would you be more present with your family?
6. Manage your time and energy: rather than using your most precious commodity (time) on things that don’t fulfill you, simply say ‘no thanks’. Spend time on things that restore and revitalise you. Many working Mums I meet are stretched so thin and aren't doing things they enjoy or are passionate about.
7. If you struggle with people-pleasing, and saying yes to things you wish you hadn’t, slow down in the moment - rather saying yes or no straight away, say ‘let me go away and think about it and come back to you’. Give yourself the space to make the right decision for you.
I hope you find these tips useful!
Take part in the Return to Work With Confidence programme
The Return To Work With Confidence Programme: Olivia created this online, self-paced programme so that you can return to work as the best version of you. Designed for professional mums who are on maternity leave right now, or have returned within 18 months, the lessons are less than 15 minutes in length; and you can watch anytime, anywhere. Over 50 women globally have benefitted from this course, with 98% recommending it. Price: £180 for 12 months of access and a limited mini coaching call with Olivia. Click here to find out more.
Olivia is offering an exclusive 25% discount for Mamamade followers with the code mamamade22. Code valid until 1st May 2022.
Biography: Olivia Bath, Founder of The Women's Vault; Executive Advisor and award-winning communications specialist. Olivia has worked with coaching clients globally, helping support them on issues such as confidence in the work place, how to successfully return from maternity leave and how to adapt and negotiate flexible working patterns. Many of these issues are particularly pertinent as employees continue to return to offices, and more companies embrace the possibilities of flexible work patterns following the pandemic. Clients work at companies including the NHS, Amazon, PwC, EY, Nomura Investment Bank and law firms.
Love this blog! Some super helpful tips. I used to struggle with work boundaries so much, especially when I worked for businesses that didn’t respect them (calling after hours, expecting responses asap, almost glorifying working late or through your lunch breaks…etc). Nowadays I’ve definitely established some healthy boundaries that I stick to – including putting my laptop and work phone away at weekends, and taking my full-hour lunch break as much as possible!