Unhealthy work boundaries can have an incredibly negative effect on our lifestyles, both when at work and at home. Signs of unhealthy boundaries can be hard to recognise at first – for many of us, they simply become part of our working life – but can lead to burnout, exhaustion and feelings of being overwhelmed. That’s why it’s key to prioritise setting healthy boundaries. The image above is example of why setting boundaries is so important: I missed my son, George’s first Easter concert in 2019 because I was working on an important project and had unhealthy boundaries: now I have healthy boundaries in place and attended his Christmas show (and was so happy to be there).
Examples of unhealthy boundaries
Take a look at the three examples of unhealthy work boundaries below and ask yourself, do you do any of the following?
You work every evening after your child goes to bed
Your child is asleep, but rather than taking a moment to relax, you log back into your emails and catch up on Slack/Teams messages, or perhaps finish off that report or catch up on some admin. Yes, you might feel more ‘on top’ of your work, but it’s unlikely you’ve had any time to unwind or connect with your family.
Unhealthy boundary: Work infringing on your home life and (often very limited) personal time.
You join work meetings on your day off
You worry that your project will veer off course, or the wrong decision will be made if you’re not there – so you tell yourself that you have to attend. But this means you’re not really present at your child’s swimming lessons (or in the playground, or wherever the activity might be), which leaves you feeling mum guilt.
Unhealthy boundary: Creating an expectation that you will be available to work on your day off (when you’re not being paid and are trying to spend valuable time with your family).
You always say ‘yes’ to taking on more work so that you look competent.
Even though you’re exhausted, burnt out and think you just need to ‘just get through’ this busy period and then things will ‘quieten down’ (the reality is they never do), you take on additional work to ensure you appear to be able to handle it all.
Unhealthy work boundary: Compromising your own wellbeing for fear of appearing difficult if you say no to projects or tasks (even when you know you don’t have the capacity to complete it within working hours).
Setting healthy boundaries: what to do
Let’s start with some small steps – making big changes can feel daunting, and yet you’ll be amazed at the difference that setting healthy boundaries will make once you start doing the work. I’m not saying it will be easy, so start by trying some simple changes:
Take one evening off
If you’ve got into a routine of working every evening, try taking one off. The next day, you will feel so much more productive. Take a chance to rest, recharge and reconnect.
Don’t agree to meetings on your day off
Instead, send any agenda items/ discussion points that you might have raised to a colleague and ask them to update you (either on email, or once you’re back in the office).
Assess your workload
If you’ve been doing lots of overtime, request a meeting with your manager to discuss your capacity and priorities. You may be concerned that having such conversations will have ramifications that might damage your career, but speaking up for yourself is a strength that shows confidence and self-worth – remember that!
Live Boundary Setting Masterclass
I know how challenging it can be to set healthy boundaries – whether it be at work or with family – which is why I am hosting a live Boundary Setting Masterclass on 24 January at 12.30pm on Zoom (60 minutes including Q&A). Those that sign up will receive a recording – available 24hrs after the live class – and materials to keep (including the proven 7 Steps to Setting Boundaries checklist and scripts/guides for tricky conversations).
This Masterclass will provide a safe space for you to feel less alone, inspired and empowered with lots of tips, tools and Q&A. Save your seat now – there are limited spots!
You can stay in a cycle of burnout, exhaustion and feeling resentful at others and situations. Setting healthy boundaries will enable you to be happier and more confident, because you’re clear on your priorities and values. If you want to have another year of discomfort and frustration, then this Masterclass isn’t right for you. But if there’s a tiny part of you that thinks this would be helpful, but you’re not sure, feel free to email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org