We live in a world more electronically connected than ever before, but we also need to be more mindful than ever before of how we connect. This is especially true when it comes to how we connect with our work.
While it is fair for your employer to expect you to do the best you can while on the clock, it is unreasonable to expect anyone to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Unfortunately, the nature of a competitive workplace culture can make it difficult to maintain healthy boundaries. Employees with a strong work ethic may view being available and responsive outside of normal business hours as a way to set themselves apart and perhaps earn the inside track to a promotion. (Before technology began following us home, this often showed up as employees never taking sick days or vacation time.) Employers, for their part, perpetuate the problem by rewarding this behavior.
None of this is meant as a criticism of anyone who takes initiative or does what needs doing even if it means answering email or returning calls at odd hours. For many of us, work is an important expression of who we are, and it’s important to do it as well as we can. However, setting boundaries regarding when you’re “on the job” and when you’re not can help you not only keep doing great work, but keep you enjoying the work—and thus keep you more productive and engaged and less resentful and burned out.
What does setting boundaries with your work look like, exactly? Keep in mind the following:
- Don’t let what you do become what you always do. If you typically respond to email on weekends or during odd hours, it may cease to be viewed as “going the extra mile.” It may come to be seen instead as something you do, and if you try to pull back later, your boss may interpret your effort to establish work-life balance as “slacking.” Is this fair? Not at all, but remember: workplaces are filled with and run by imperfect people.
- Give your body and mind a chance to truly rest. Do the best you can to create a true break from your work when you have lunch, clock out for the day, and go on vacations. It’s okay to occasionally have lunch with coworkers, but if conversations are work-focused and the lunches are only at your workplace, try to limit those instances to once a week. When you come home from work, change your clothes or at least make a change that transforms your appearance. It’s important to get out of “uniform” and be at ease.
- Let your employer and coworkers know that your cell phone number is to be used in emergencies only. If they need to contact you during “off” hours for work-related reasons, they can provide you with a company phone.
- As tempting as it may be for the sake of convenience, don’t sync your work calendar with your personal calendar. Also, don’t sync your work email to your smartphone. Again, if your employer believes this is a need, let it provide you with a separate phone or device for it.
- For weekends, holidays, and vacations, set an auto-responder for your email. Also, update the recorded message on your desk phone and let those who contact you know that you will respond upon your return to work. Provide an alternate workplace contact, if possible.
By setting healthy boundaries regarding your work, you may have the space to think more creatively and problem-solve more effectively. What employer wouldn’t want that?
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.