Wellbeing depends on having strong boundaries but so often we are not clear on what they should be and why they're important. We look at the six key boundaries to put in place to improve your wellbeing and productivity – and how to do it effectively at work.
1. Say no without guilt
A small word with big implications for wellbeing, ‘no’ is the barrier that can make the difference between balance and overload. If a request makes you feel stressed or pressured check in with yourself, and if the answer is no inside, then no should be the answer you give. For many of us, guilt is the emotion that keeps us from establishing this healthy boundary for ourselves – but although saying no may create disappointment and a little extra work for the person you’re declining it is not wrong for you to protect yourself and your wellbeing. To soften the blow while maintaining the boundary makes it clear you have heard the other person’s request, turn it into a compliment (“I am flattered you thought of me…”) or possibly offer an alternative. Finally, if they won’t take no for an answer, use the ‘broken record’ technique, repeating your no as many times are you need to maintain the integrity of your boundary – rather than be broken down to a ‘maybe’.
2. Ask for what you want
Don’t let the outside world dictate what you are offered. Parents the world over tell their children, “if you don’t ask, you won’t get” - but somehow we can forget this as we grow older. Taking back responsibility for defining yourself and creating your own opportunities can be one of the most effective boundaries you can instil. While putting yourself forward doesn’t guarantee you’ll get what you want, it will return the agency to you - and certainly, raise the chances of that promotion or salary increase. The everywoman workbook Powerful Workplace Communication is a great place for tips and exercises to get you in the zone. Ultimately, being direct and clear are the keys to asking for what you want – don’t hint and don't assume the person you are asking is a mind reader – and be specific about when you want it. And if you get a no…then find out what needs to happen in order to get a yes.
3. Put your wellbeing first
You cannot do your best work if you are not looking after – and out for - your own wellbeing and this should be non-negotiable. A recent Mental Health Foundation survey found that a third of us get stressed by thinking about work in our personal time and 23 per cent of us compromise our health to get work done. Maintaining your everyday resilience is crucial – make eating well, doing some daily physical exercise and getting enough sleep a foundation. Disconnect digitally in the evening and take time off if you are sick to allow yourself to recuperate. Make sure your desk and chair are ergonomically supportive and have an oxygenating plant on your desk. Little things at all levels will make a big overall difference. And if you are finding things increasingly difficult to manage then don’t plough on regardless, waiting until things get serious before you take action. Learn to recognise the signs of stress, including irritability, anxiety, depression or ‘numbing’ with alcohol, overeating or compulsive spending. The earlier you can step back, breathe and assess your work situation (perhaps together with your line manager, and see how you can take some pressure off, the better for your wellbeing – and your productivity.
4. Allow yourself to switch off
Technology means we’re all now able to be connected to work 24-7, and as such, you can feel you should be available 24-7 too – but erosion of personal time can lead to depression, a lack of wellbeing and even burnout. In 2017 France brought in a ‘right to disconnect’ around digital communication and workplaces - but for those not lucky enough to have this enshrined in law, turning off ‘work mode’ is a crucial boundary. You may worry about missing an important call or communication, but in truth, there is little that can’t wait until the next day and if you’re clear about communicating your office hours on email and voicemail then you’ll generally find that people will respect them. Expectation management is key – both with clients - especially if you work across time zones which may require you to be clear on when you will get back to people – and your organisation. Working out an effective working space in agreement with your line manager can also help to allay any fears you might have.
5. Avoid negative people
We’ve all met ‘that person’ at in our career, the one who continually complains exudes pessimism or creates unnecessary drama at work. If you’re unlucky enough to work with one and you’re not careful, such negativity can disrupt your focus and sap your energy. Avoiding negative people is easier said than done though, especially if they work in close proximity to you. According to Gary S. Topchik, author of Managing Workplace Negativity, ‘negativity is often the result of a loss of confidence, control, or community’ and the negative co-worker will most likely try and gain a sympathetic audience for grievances around one of these. If you have to interact regularly with them, then set limits. Don’t allow yourself to become drawn into negative discussions or you will only reinforce that negativity and make any suggestions practical – such as seeking assistance from HR, their manager or even a counsellor - and have a limit. Remember negativity is a choice; so don’t waste time and energy repeating yourself or finding ways to ‘solve’ their problems for them.
6. Behave according to your values
Your values describe what is important to you, provide the foundation for your beliefs and influence your actions and behaviour. In an ideal world, you’ll work in an organisation that mirrors your own values. This is the highest level of this boundary and has been shown to increase general wellbeing, reduce stress and increase motivation in employees. Within your workplace though, there may be times when individual interactions test this boundary and it is vital to respond in alignment to avoid undermining your own integrity. Practice saying no – possibly offering a compromise in line with your value set. If you are constantly asked to do things that go against your grain it may be a sign you either need to speak to HR or to look for a different job. A good way to get clarity around your values is to do a personal audit - the everywoman workbook An Introduction to Personal Brand is a great place to start.