Setting Professional Boundaries to Stay Successful

by Pranav Ramesh
February 02, 2022
Person confidently setting boundaries in a professional environment.

Most of us have been there. You sit down to dinner or gather with friends on a Saturday night and your phone buzzes. Another time-sensitive work email or text comes through. As you move to grab your phone, perhaps the glare of an annoyed partner or your child’s plea causes you to pause.

If this sounds all too familiar to you, it might be time to start thinking about how to better establish professional boundaries with your employer. While the pandemic has brought seismic shifts in how and where work gets done, some of these new work arrangements cause the line between work time and personal time to become more difficult to distinguish. The irony is, research over the last few decades has shown that improving professional boundaries actually makes us better, more productive employees when we are working.


Value Your Time to Prevent Burn-Out

It’s easy to allow yourself to fall into a daily routine of work and forget that you are more than your position title. If you don’t take time to evaluate your professional boundaries, you can easily become susceptible to burnout. While burn-out isn’t a medical condition, it can still affect your physical and mental health and cause poor performance at work. It’s crucial to avoid burnout and its long-term effects. Those effects can lead to career stagnation which can further trap you in a job that isn’t allowing for appropriate professional boundaries.


Don’t Allow Yourself to Become Trapped

Putting in long hours or responding to emails on weekends can normalize working during off-hours and feed into the discouraging cycle of burn-out. But there are ways to avoid becoming trapped.

If you haven’t done so already, try to make sure some element of cross-training exists for your position. If something truly does need your attention during off-hours, having more than one person who can help solve the problem will take pressure off you.

It’s important not to let your career stagnate because of poor professional boundaries. When a solid work/life balance hasn’t been established, you’re more likely to let your own career goals suffer for your employer’s benefit.

The pandemic has made professional development with in-person conferences impossible to attend for the last few years. With that loss also went the ability of face-to-face networking. Try attending professional development opportunities on virtual platforms to reconnect with others in your field. Make sure your employer understands the importance of attending such events and supports you in doing so.


It’s Okay to Say No. 

Employees often become conditioned to believe that taking on every project and working long hours will equate to promotions and salary increases. But those same actions often lead right to burn-out and disillusionment. Becoming comfortable saying no to projects outside your scope, meetings before 8 am, and social work events after hours can help establish boundaries. Maybe it’s appropriate to consider taking on a new project if it advances a career goal you’ve been working toward. And while attending social events sponsored by your employer might have been enjoyable at first, you should feel comfortable protecting your time away and skip functions that conflict with family time or prior engagements. The same counsel can apply to social media. It’s okay to avoid sharing your personal social media handles with co-workers. When work comes up on social media during off-hours, it can become difficult to disconnect.


Preparing for Next Steps to Stay Successful

While setting appropriate professional boundaries may seem intimidating at first, it’s encouraging to know that many companies, often voted as the best to work for, are moving beyond just 9-5 working hours and flexible work arrangements to ensure employee wellness. These companies prove that a work/life balance isn’t asking for too much, it’s a sign of what’s to come.

For example, Capital One started taking employee feedback on health, wellness, and burn-out seriously. They developed a holistic approach to setting professional boundaries that incorporates the emotional, physical, and financial health of the employee. Capital One has dedicated health centers on their campuses that also provide employees with access to mental health care.

Another company using innovative means to take care of their employees is Asana, a company that produces a work management application of the same name. Asana sets a high bar when it comes to employee wellness. From flexible work hours to the daily practice of mindfulness to time for fun and creativity, Asana understands that professional boundaries create stronger relationships between employers and employees.

These examples can provide inspiration to think about ways to negotiate better professional boundaries for yourself. Asking colleagues or a mentor how they set better boundaries for themselves can encourage you to work on defining your own boundaries. And while it may seem obvious, don’t leave opportunities for paid time off on the table. It can be difficult to convince your employer that you’re trying to establish better boundaries when you routinely don’t take advantage of what is already offered. Taking those PTO days will reinforce your decision to better establish your professional boundaries to help ensure career success.


So, what will you do when it’s 9 pm on a Friday night and your phone buzzes from work? Hopefully, you can take the tips provided here and determine what types of boundaries will best suit you, your family, and your friends. After all, it’s not a sign of weakness to communicate that you need better, well-established professional boundaries. It’s a sign of strength. It will make you a stronger, more efficient employee in the long term.


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