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Boundaries in the Workplace

In our previous blog The What's and Why's of Boundaries we introduced the topic of boundaries. And I took a moment to share a personal relationship boundary. Today I want to shift gears and focus on the topic of work boundaries.

So, what are work boundaries? They are physical, emotional, and mental limits you create to protect yourself from overcommitting, being used, feeling undervalued, suffering burnout, behaving unethically, or finding yourself in uncomfortable situations. Boundaries give others clear parameters of what you allow said or done to you. They also are separators between your feelings and thoughts and those of others.

Boundaries in the workplace are critical for creating a healthy work-life balance. (Just a side note, there is no such thing as true equal work-life balance, but whether your work or personal life are the drivers, a healthy balance is still paramount to feeling fulfilled and able to perform at your best).

There are three key types of boundaries: physical, emotional, and mental.

Physical boundaries are the rules that you have that define and are regarding touch and personal touch. These can include things like your personal bubble or handshaking vs hugs. Physical boundaries can also include boundaries for your time and schedule. This can include things like not working past a certain time, or not coming in on weekends. Or they can be signals or signs you provide that tell your co-workers that you are busy/cannot be disturbed and need to focus. This could include shutting your office door, putting up a sign, or even just wearing headphones.

Mental boundaries are intangible boundaries and have to do with your thoughts, values, and opinions on workplace situations and topics. This can be things like you valuing weekly or morning team meetings and not letting other people's opinions to influence your choices. Now, this isn’t an excuse to lack empathy or block out open dialog, but a means to avoid becoming a doormat. Really it is about sticking to your guns about ideas you may have at work.

Emotional boundaries are another form of intangible boundaries. Emotional boundaries are about your personal emotions and distinguishing your feeling and emotions from other people. These help you have and hold on to your sense of identity within the workplace. An example might be not allowing your boss's grumpy attitude to make you grumpy as well. I once heard this referred to as being a thermostat, not a thermometer. Thermometers change based on the environment (temp) they are put in, whereas a thermostat sets its own environment and temp. Another example would be to communicate with others about how you like to receive feedback, or even create a schedule that prioritizes a work-life balance of your choosing.

There are endless places and forms of boundaries that you can utilize, these could include time boundaries, intellectual boundaries, responsibility boundaries, material, or monetary boundaries, or even language boundaries.

Next week we will wrap up our boundary series with discussions on the solidarity of boundaries and practical tips for how to set up your own boundaries!

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