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How to Set Healthy Boundaries in the Modern Workplace

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The modern office is evolving as we try to support cohesion without sacrificing productivity. But boundaries remain crucial—and difficult to implement.

Work environments have transitioned from maze-like cubicles to open floor plans. Multi-lateral leadership is replacing a top-down hierarchy, and employees are encouraged to share their feelings and workload.
This is good for the mental health of workers and encourages collaboration and interaction rather than isolation.

However, such an open atmosphere can result in unintended consequences. Without clear guidelines, your office can become a place where some workers are being taken advantage of and chaos reigns.

As a manager, you want to create a collaborative environment that promotes staff satisfaction. How do you achieve the balance between getting the job done without contributing to burnout or encouraging irresponsible behavior?

Whichever side of the big desk you’re on, there are ways you can set boundaries so that everyone contributes equally and the job gets done.

Office Studio

© Flickr user olle svensson.

Establishing Healthy Work Boundaries

A former supervisor once gave me some advice that helped me develop boundaries on the job: never show everything you can do or it will become a permanent part of your job.

I was constantly trying to prove my worth and flexibility. I would volunteer for everything: from closing, extra shifts, to design work so it wouldn’t have to be outsourced.

None of that helped me get ahead. It just led to feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated. The constant pressure I put on myself manifested in ways that affected my mental and physical health.
I had to step back and create boundaries.

In practice, it meant:

  • Learning to say no when something wasn’t my job or derailed me from my own projects
  • Learning how and when to delegate responsibility
  • Constructively communicating when I felt that I was being treated unfairly
  • Staying focused on tasks I was accountable for
  • Learning to ask for help from management when necessary

Establishing boundaries allowed me to excel at things I did best and gave others the space to do the same.

If you’re having trouble figuring out where you fit in and the extent of your obligations to your job and yourself, it’s time to step back and take stock.

  • Perform an internal audit. Determine what people and situations contribute to stress. Write them down, if you have to, and become mindful of how you feel and react in various work situations.
  • Start setting limits based on the results of that internal work
  • Sit down with your employer and discuss what you think your job entails and what they think are your responsibilities. This can be eye-opening.
  • Negotiate the discrepancies between expectations and reality
  • Prioritize elements that you feel are important to get your job done

Guidelines for Employers

Being a leader, you’re responsible for meeting company goals and for shepherding your team forward to achieve those ends. You’re answerable to everyone. That means you’re often squeezed in the middle, feeling pressure from both sides.

You can take the pressure off without transferring it to your staff by establishing a few boundaries and guidelines for yourself and your team.

Start by setting clear policies for operations and projects. Assign the right people to key positions and set realistic goals for individual workers and teams.

Learn to recognize problems and address them before they escalate. This is where having a close team, and knowing their individual strengths, pays dividends.

Don’t be afraid to loosen the reins a little bit. This means trusting that your staff knows what they’re doing, delegating tasks more freely, and transferring some autonomy to the employees.

It also means giving them the training and information necessary to get the job done, the right tools to achieve objectives, and empowering them to take responsibility for outcomes.

Managing Workplace Stress

Managers at all levels are inclined to micromanage every detail of their team’s work. They often feel that a hands-off approach means shirking responsibility. After all, a manager’s job is to manage—but only to a certain extent.

Micromanaging strains your capacity to contribute productive work. It also creates distrust among employees—which results in more stress and creates a vicious cycle.

In a business world where time is money, and everyone is racing for the top, stress management is essential for creating a healthy workspace.

Management works best when it comes from a position of confident leadership that includes trusting staff members to make the right decisions and providing them with the tools, training, and bandwidth to do their job. It focuses on getting results rather than simply following procedures.

Michelle Laurey

Productive work environments are free from unnecessary stress and arbitrary rules. That means we should support healthy, balanced workspaces through open communication.

Final Thoughts

We don’t need physical boundaries to separate us from co-workers. However, it is important to create emotional boundaries.

Using the tips above, you can create an open office space that’s conducive to harmonious interaction while establishing healthy boundaries that support productive collaboration.

Michelle Laurey works as a VA for small businesses. She loves talking business, and productivity, and share her experience with others. Outside her keyboard, she spends time with her Kindle library or binge-watching Billions. Her superpower? Vinyasa flow! Talk to her on Twitter michelle_laurey.

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