Remote work which became the norm during the pandemic is continuing in many companies around the world even as the pandemic abates. While many employees celebrate the idea of working from home, or for that matter, anywhere, for the foreseeable future, others are still grappling with work-life boundaries.
High achievers, in particular, fear that setting boundaries will make them appear difficult, weak and incapable.
However, a growing body of research shows that employers are beginning to see the merits of healthier work-life balance and are promising it to top candidates as part of their employer branding strategy.
We suggest candidates be prepared to define and set boundaries from the get-go.
However, before employees can do so with confidence, both they and their employers must reframe their perceptions of what such actions signal.
REFRAME PERCEPTIONS OF BOUNDARIES
Author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work, Melody Wilding said in a recent Harvard Business Review article that “in actuality, self-management — an emotional intelligence skill associated with regulating your time and energy — is an essential leadership skill that accounts for up to 90% of career success.”
She says that setting boundaries proves you are self-aware, have “strong time management, prioritisation, and communication skills.”
In other words, it is an important indication of leadership capabilities.
It also powerfully “signals to others what is acceptable or unacceptable” in their treatment of you.
For instance, if your people-pleasing tendencies make your colleagues see you as a pushover, setting clear boundaries would correct that perception and their treatment of you.
Through a case study, Wilding illustrates how one can do this. Marketing executive, Anna, after having reframed what setting boundaries signalled, would diplomatically speak up and suggest better alternatives whenever she was asked to cross her boundaries.
ASK EMPLOYERS TO CLARIFY POLICIES AND BE PREPARED TO COMMUNICATE
As more employers begin defining guidelines on such issues, employee feedback has become especially crucial. Wilding suggests employees think about the physical, mental, and emotional boundaries they need to be at their best. This may include defining:
- What time you will start and end work
- Response times for emails and messages
- Calendar blocks for focused work or “no meeting” time
- The frequency and duration of breaks during the day
- Resource or training requirements needed to do your job
- The type of work you enjoy doing the most and what you have bandwidth for
However, defining these is just the first step. You’ll have to be prepared to articulate them and ask your prospective employer/employer how their policies align with your needs. As you do this, you’ll be able to decide whether you want to work for them. If the majority of their policies and practices don’t align with yours, the job may not be worth your time.
You’ll also have to be prepared to assert your boundaries throughout your career. Just as Anna in Wilding’s article would suggest better alternatives whenever she was asked to cross her boundaries, you’ll have to decide when to speak up and what alternative solutions to provide. For instance, whenever certain meetings might have to take place during your defined “no meeting” time, would you be able to ask someone else from the team to stand in for you without crossing their boundaries. If the meeting concerns non-urgent issues, would you be able to request postponing it?
FOCUS ON HIGH-IMPACT WORK
While you define your boundaries, you wouldn’t want to be seen as uncompromising. Going above and beyond is still par for the course when it comes to career success.
However, experts recommend doing so selectively.
Study your supervisor’s KPIs, priorities and expectations, and go the extra mile where it will count the most for him or her. For example, if this means helping a teammate execute a vital project after-hours, do it while making sure your boss is aware of your efforts.
This will demonstrate your value effectively while allowing you to maintain your boundaries.