What Are Workplace Boundaries And How Can I Define Them?

Hi!, this is {narrator name},Between corporate oppression, professional duress, and social anxiety, millennials have found themselves in a rather precarious situation. All we can do right now is maintain a healthy boundary so they can save themselves from overwork, burnout, and stress.

Boundaries to maintain a sense of self, boundaries to support your self-respect, boundaries can be a lot of help. There is a barrier between the professional and personal, and we must find it and reinforce it if we want to make our careers run smoothly through this crucial time in our lives. But is it even possible to keep up boundaries at the place you spend more than 45 hours a week? 

I hope it is because if it isn’t, then we are in a lot of trouble. Boundaries, as you will find in this class, give way to your safe spaces — Safe spaces that have better emotional and mental health in store for you. Safe places are the essence of a positive work culture that is needed today.

As the Chief Marketing Officer, I have seen people emotionally deteriorating themselves only due to the lack of boundaries. As well-meaning adults, we want to help other well-meaning adults, and in that process we find ourselves doing things we had no plans of doing.

Let’s Learn Something From Rachel’s Story

The whole thing reminds me of Rachel. Rachel started out her career here. She was (and still is) as bright as she was tenacious. She was always willing to go the extra mile. For her, it did not matter if the task was hers or someone else’s, all that mattered to her was “is this going to benefit the tool in any way?”. This was all she would think about while she dove into the vast variety of tasks she wanted to pursue. The tasks turned into opportunities, opportunities turned into projects. When I asked her what made her become this steam engine come to life, she would always have a different answer. Sometimes it was Harvey Specter from Suits, Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation, or Beth Boland from Good Girls. 

Apart from all the tasks that she undertook, and the responsibilities she wanted to burden herself with, she was also an absolute hoot for our office. This girl was entertaining, she was optimistic, and when she spoke, she had the power to hold everybody’s gaze. 

But then things started to slip. She started to lose her grip on priorities, some days she would do everything that was required of her but the quality wasn’t the same. And yet on some days, she would deliver quality work 2 weeks later than the deadline. We all saw her fall into a vicious cycle of not being able to deliver outcomes and hating herself for it. She was a dissatisfied, demotivated mess, headed towards an untimely burnout. 

I told her to come and see me in my office. When she walked in, I saw that she was looking drained. She did not have the same air of charm around her. It looked like she had shed everything that gave her that edge. When I tried to ask her what was happening, she told me that she was receiving a wide variety of tasks from all high-ranking managers here. Everyone wanted her to be part of their project not just because they knew she was that good, but also because they believed in her abilities to undertake work as if it was her own. 

She told me that these are her tasks, they have become her niche, and no one can catch up, and she is unhappy that she can’t seem to impress anyone anymore, especially herself.

She complained that nothing seemed challenging anymore. She said that she has lost the motivation to put her own twist on her tasks because she just has too many of them. She could not say no, who else would they trust those tasks with? But there was another reason that prevented her from saying no. She had set a precedent for herself. One that she could no longer stand up to. Disappointing her superiors was the last thing she wanted. She was at a point where she had started to look unwell. I gave her a week off. She absolutely deserved it. And after our conversation, I was happy to do it for her. 

The questions of “What to say”, “When to say?”, “Am I contributing enough?”, and “Did I do my best?” are going to eat us up. Almost makes you wish all of life was scripted, right? 

If we let things take their way, we would start to feel underappreciated, overworked, and exhausted real quick.

Setting boundaries will allow you to make rational decisions instead of emotional ones. Great decisions are always respected, along with the people who make them. In addition, workplace boundaries will fetch you your team’s trust as your coworkers would be sure about how you are going to react to anything that they throw your way.

These sound like terrific outcomes, however, the path to achieving them involves practices that are easier said than done.

Setting up boundaries for how you want to be, how you like to be talked with, and how much work you can do comfortably is an absolute necessity. This is especially important considering how these things take a toll on our emotional and mental health.

For instance, did you know that since 2013, millennials have seen a 43% rise in major depression diagnoses? According to Blue Cross Shield Health Index, the overall increase in these diagnoses has risen from 3% to 4.4% among 18-34 year olds.

These alarming figures only suggest that stress and anxiety disorders need to be contained, and they need to be contained fast. Now, I might not be a mental health expert, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that literally everyone is in need of a healthy headspace right now. 

And, I believe we all deserve that healthy space. How can we create it, though? What do you think are some steps we can take to build up boundaries and welcome some “me-space” where things are likely to go our way?

Well, here are some ideas that I believe will help:

#1 Saying No – Defining your comfort zone 

Personally, I know numerous people among my friends and family who are suffering from workplace stress. They all seem to have one thing in common — They are overachievers who can never say no to an opportunity. No matter what task they have in hand, if their superiors think it’s a good idea for them to try something, they will pursue the opportunity and run with it.

Saying No - Defining your comfort zone

If you are one of the people who want to get out of this loop, start saying “no” to the simplest of things that you know won’t make much difference if you don’t do them. 

Here’s how you can adopt this practice yourself and empower your team so they can take a stand and say “no”:

  • Responding with a straight “no” might be received as insulting by more than most. Therefore, it is best to back it up with some suggestions as to how the other person will be able to attempt the task on their own.

> For example, 

Sheila comes up to me and tells me to review 4 files, pronto. 

Now I have my hands full but I know that those 4 files are important too. Instead of stressing out over when I would get to do this particular task, I’d try to find a solution for them. I’d suggest Sheila to have the stakeholders shift their deadline, or have someone else from my team review those particular files. 

  • If you are an employee trying to decline your manager’s request, you can always let them be privy to the list of high-priority tasks you have sitting in front of you. 

> Not only will this help you ask them for their advice to untangle the web of tasks that have got you down, but it will also help your boss understand that you have a lot on your plate and that you know how to prioritize them.

As a manager, here are all the things people like you and I can do to empower the team in a way that it becomes easier for them to say “no” to their coworkers and superiors:

  • Acknowledge your team’s views. 
  • Appreciate people for taking their time and space. 
  • Appreciate employees who understand the concept of work priority. 
  • Listen to your employees, acknowledge and pay heed to their grievances. 

All these things might look small but are actually integral to the foundation of a team that possesses strong self-respecting values. 

#2 Practicing Transparency On The Regular 

Expect as much as you give out, and not an ounce more. If I say yes to absolutely everything, I subject myself to losing my team’s respect. It would show them that I have no sense of what ideas and tasks carry weight and I cannot differentiate between what deserves more attention and what doesn’t. Additionally, if you think about it, the same will happen if I am scarcely available, not accessible at all, and if I keep them miles away to go and have a seat atop my ivory tower. 

Practicing Transparency On The Regular 

So where do I draw the line? What do I do to ensure that there are workplace boundaries that can protect me and my team?

Here are some suggestions following which you will be able to create a more professional work environment where everyone has a better idea of their work assignments, responsibilities, and limits.

  • Have a company directory to help your team keep up with the reference contacts. 
  • State project objectives from the get-go. 
  • Create a company wiki so that everyone is on the same page about the guidelines and policies that all employees need to follow. 
  • Set rules and make them known to your team through notes or memos. 
  • Use a project management tool to keep a track of what everyone is up to so you don’t have a reason to pester people for updates and can’t have the same done to you.
  • Record discussions with brainstorming tools that can help you document every idea and take every decision with better judgement.

There are, however, some more extensive ways of maintaining transparency within the team. Some of these are:

  1. Taking time to run agenda-driven meetings that are led by actionable purposes and end with productive outcomes. 
  2. Using Kanban boards to be on top of things like all the tasks and ideas that lie in the pipeline, every ongoing task, and every stage the said tasks are in. 
  3. Getting a project management tool to stay on top of your work, your teammates’ roles in the ongoing projects, and the progress they are making.

#3 Learning To Set Limiting Limits

Boundaries are, most often if not always, demolished due to requests. When people are backed into a corner and see no way out, they may breach your fences, and come to you for help. The butterflies you feel in your stomach when you see your coworkers coming to you for help can be amazing. It shows that they feel at ease with you and that they find it easy to be honest with you. However, taking help should not be encouraged beyond a limit because it can easily turn into a habit. 

Learning To Set Limiting Limits

Therefore, what you need to do is limit the reasons for them needing your help in the first place. Here’s how you can do that:

Set achievable goals: It is always wise to set goals that can be achieved within the given time and resources. This will also ensure job satisfaction and drive motivation within the team

> You can use a task management software platform to define short-term as well as long-term goals. This way these goals will be all that your team can see and hence every step they take would be so they can come closer to achieving them. 

Define attainable deadlines: A few years back, as a paper-pushing employee, the only complaint I had about my superiors was the fact that they did not give enough thought to coming up with an appropriate deadline for the tasks. I would either complete my assignment days prior to the deadline or days later. 

Both scenarios were unacceptable. After the deadline had passed and I still had work left, I’d lose my bearings and I would end up just looking at all my calculated efforts turning into an aimless struggle. 

> Therefore, be careful about deadlines. Review how much time it takes for employees to be done with their assignments when they give optimal results and then set a deadline for said task.

#4 Define An Easy-to-follow System

Another step a millennial manager should take to sort out the transparency problem, increase productivity, and promote setting boundaries is to create an easy-to-follow system. This system promotes the idea of setting boundaries within the team since it will help the manager define these for them.

Define An Easy-to-follow System

Making the processes of planning, executing, discussing, and reviewing a little bit more systematic is all you need if you want to define workplace boundaries. When everything is systemized, no one looks to the other for help or clarity or understanding; everyone can work individually with complete harmony.

Here are some steps you can take to create an easy-to-follow system:

The Scrum Method:

Here’s how scrum works: More clarification = Less disruption.

Create a project management technique that involves the inclusion of Scrum practices. There are certain things that Scrum gets right about workplace boundaries. Everything is so very scheduled and planned out. With proper planning, no one will have the faintest of intentions to breach anyone’s walls with questions or requests, or any other disruptive activity that comes to mind. So here it goes:

Sprint planning: Scrum works well because of the gruelling practices of planning that go into managing the project. Planning is what gives the team great results. Schedule your meetings for effective planning and make sure that these result in productive outcomes. Intentional planning practices will help you organize ideas and create a wholesome blueprint for your project. Therefore, put your pen to paper and create an actionable plan. And next, document what your team is creating by keeping a backlog.

Sprint review: The whole point of Sprint review is to go over everything that the team has accomplished over a fixed period of time. The first step in this course of action is to define that fixed time period. And the second step is to cross things off your product backlog once they are achieved.

Sprint retrospective: I know I might be getting too technical with the terms here, but all that a retrospective means is to look back. When you schedule a retrospective, all you have to do is look back at job performances. This is the part where you analyze everyone’s progress and give them suitable feedback.

Define An Easy-to-follow System

Every team needs to have a condensed tried and tested process that they can use to work for solutions in a repetitive manner. This is what this system should look like:

  • Receive new project requirements 
  • Define a workflow
  • Analyze client needs
  • Break down priorities and tasks 
  • Delegate effectively with transparency 
  • Track tasks through the various stages                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
  • Give actionable feedback to your team hoping they can work off it

#5 Use tools to communicate

Off the top of my head, I can state 4 very important reasons that our teams need varied channels for communication.

  • Sometimes we need to distribute official information within the team that needs to go through secure channels. For this, we usually prefer using emails. 
  • Another reason might be that sometimes a team needs a medium for quick back and forth. It could either be for clearing out certain doubts on the go, sharing files  or sending out important links. 
  • Thirdly, a communication tool would help the team prepare notes that can be recorded and discussion points that can be documented. 
  • And lastly, communication tools are needed to conduct the kind of feedback that can help generate positive results. This is an absolute necessity because the team needs to be able to course-correct as they progress.

Therefore, collaboration and communication being the part and parcel of a productive team, can only be effective with the presence of a tool that can help you facilitate the same.

To Conclude

There are a lot of things that give millennials anxiety. As a leader, it is your duty to ensure that they don’t have to tackle those things at work on their own. Keep everything sorted, keep all information out in the open, and minimize opportunities for the team to break open the boundaries you work so hard to maintain.

Get your team on the same page and encourage them to follow your footsteps in building some much needed boundaries so we can all stay on task for maximum productivity. Are you ready? Let’s build these boundaries, let’s promote better emotional and mental health, and most of all, let’s be open to making the changes we discussed in this class. Let’s go!

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