5 Tips to Help You Leave Work at Work

Rubbing eyes while sitting at desk in living room with documents and laptopWe 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Armstrong, MS, NCC, MCC, LPC, Career Counseling Topic Expert Contributor

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.

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  • Dolly

    August 3rd, 2016 at 7:38 AM

    Goodness I have to get my husband to look at this because this is his biggest challenge. He likes his job but would love to be able to leave it behind when he comes home at night. Unfortunately his co workers just bug him to death about the smallest things and he never gets any peace.

  • shelby

    August 4th, 2016 at 11:12 AM

    Seriously I refuse to do anything that has anything to do with work after I walk out those doors.

    I do not take phone calls, I do not check email, this is my time and i plan to take it.

    I especially started feeling this way when the feelings of anxiety and overwhelm started creeping in. I had to ask myself why I was doing all of this when clearly no one else did.

  • Bea

    August 4th, 2016 at 1:11 PM

    Life is too short to worry about work all the time. Thats why they pay the boss I say

  • tatum

    August 5th, 2016 at 7:19 AM

    auto response is a great tool to use!

  • Johnny

    August 8th, 2016 at 4:28 PM

    Surely I am not the only one who thinks that they don’t pay me enough to be on call 24/7!

  • Patrick

    August 9th, 2016 at 2:29 PM

    It might sound awful but I used to care a whole lot more about my job than what I do now. I used to put in so much more work and effort but now it is like I am simply going through the motions.
    Not putting in the extra effort kinda scares me sometimes because I wonder what would happen if I just up and lost my job. I don’t think that there is any real danger in that happening but I guess sometimes you never know what could happen.
    I could do more but that would require me doing it on my own time after hours and I am just not all about doing any of that anymore.

  • Carmen

    August 10th, 2016 at 2:01 PM

    Work might just be killing my relationships with other people. They always tell me that I put my career first before anything else and they are probably right.

    But i love what I do and it is the one thing that I know that I am good at and it gives me a sense of feeling accomplished like nothing else ever does.

    I don’t think that it is wrong to feel that way and to love what I do, to give it my all even when others think that I give too much.

  • Johnathon

    August 28th, 2016 at 5:08 PM

    Don’t make a big deal when you leave for the day or when you return. This way, you are communicating to your dog that the time apart is no big deal. It’s just business as usual! Depending on the severity of the dog anxiety, you may need to practice the rule for five minutes or up to an hour before you leave and when you get back.

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