Boundaries at Work

Boundaries At Work

Last week we wrote about the importance of personal boundaries in team development. If you agree that personal boundaries at work are important, you might find yourself wondering "but what do those boundaries look like?"

Your boundaries are a container.  Everything that is inside the container is what you are available for.  Everything that is outside of the container is what you are not available for. When people talk about boundaries, it's often in the context of boundaries in your personal life.

But what about at work?

Personal boundaries are not something that is commonly discussed in the workplace. For some people, the idea of upholding personal boundaries at work can also feel intimidating.  Whether it's "making sacrifices" to stay on track with a career path, not being seen as a team player, or being afraid of losing a job, there are lots of reasons why people can get caught up in giving up on their boundaries in favor of what they think they might gain.

In exploring boundaries at work, it is helpful to start by looking at what those boundaries might be and how they might differ from your boundaries in your personal life.

Types of Boundaries at Work

Your boundaries will be unique to you. To get you started in thinking about what those boundaries might be, here are some common categories to consider.

Job Description

The first place to look for boundaries at work is in your job description.  If a job description is well written (meaning that it actually describes the responsibilities and authority you have in your work), it will offer you boundaries about:

  • who you report to
  • who you work with and receive feedback from
  • what you are responsible to accomplish
  • what decisions are appropriate for you to make on your own and which require involvement from other members of the organization.

Clarity about these boundaries helps you to know when to say "yes" and "no" in your work.  It helps to avoid finding yourself as the "someone" in "someone should do it".

Interpersonal Boundaries

These boundaries are about the way you (and other members of the organization) expect to be treated in your day-to-day interactions.  They can include:

  • the tone of voice and language used (especially in times of conflict)
  • the closeness of the relationships you develop with your colleagues
  • what is essential for you in resolving conflict

Home/Work Balance

the boundaries that divide your home and work life

  • when you are willing to work outside of your normal working hours
  • whether you are willing to take home a laptop, be available on your mobile phone, etc. outside of normal working hours
  • how often you are willing to travel away from home overnight
  • when you take your vacation time each year (whether or not you take all of the days you are entitled to and whether you take them all at once or in different chunks throughout the year)

It is useful to spend some time writing down your boundaries as a way of strengthening your internal guidance system for discerning your boundaries.

Upholding Your Boundaries

While the easiest time to begin upholding boundaries at work is when you start a new job, it is also possible to start at any point. Even today. Look for those moments where your boundaries are being approached and talk about it with the other person. The more you speak up for your boundaries, the better other people will understand them.  And most of the time, the better they will respect them too.

Strengthening Boundaries In Your Team

As a leader of a team, department or organization, you might also be thinking about how this can all relate to the people who you are responsible for leading. In your reflections, here are some questions to consider?

  1. What do you notice about how boundaries are respected currently?
  2. How, how often, and when do we talk about personal boundaries within the workplace?
  3. What do you believe the benefits could be if your team worked with personal boundaries more explicitly?

Share your reflections in a comment.

Workshop: Personal Boundaries...at Work

Online Workshop: Friday, November 16, 2018

Being clear about your personal boundaries before they are crossed is an important life skill. Clear and upheld boundaries help to build relationships that are healthy, mutually respectful, supportive and caring. When you find yourself in uncertain or stressful situations, your boundaries can help to guide you in making the best decisions that will help keep you on your path.

Working with personal boundaries is also an important skill in your professional life. Whether you are a consultant supporting people in organizations to work more effectively together or a leader working to create a positive work environment and achieve your business goals, working with the people's personal boundaries is a critical ingredient for achieving success.  But it's an ingredient not often explored.

>> Learn More & Register

Rachel Bolton
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Senior Consultant and Coach

Rachel Bolton is a senior consultant and coach specializing in work with small business and start-ups at Dalar. She works internationally with small business leaders as a mentor and coach, with a focus on assisting small businesses to build a solid foundation for optimal growth from a clear and inspired purpose, strategic vision, and appropriate structure for the business’ development.
Rachel Bolton
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