I stumbled across an article on Psychology Today about boundaries recently. At first, it caught my eye because boundaries are something I talk about often in the child abuse survivor and mental health space, so it might be something to share over on that site. But, as I read it further, I realized that Allison is talking about the workplace, especially in regards to being in an office again.
That got me thinking. Have we talked enough about boundaries when it comes to working? Allison has some good thoughts on interacting again, and I do want to highlight those as well. On the one hand, she talks about the importance of setting your own boundaries when it comes to work-life balance, and I am 100% in agreement with her. It is on us to make the decisions about where work fits into our lives, and what kind of work will allow us to have the life that we want to live. We, of course, must also acknowledge that when we work for someone else, we don’t get to just do what we want regardless of the expectations of the rest of our peers. Similarly, though, if we do try to set boundaries to allow ourselves to have some balance, or to feel safe interacting in person again, this paragraph highlights an equally important point:
At the same time, we all can and must do a better job of upholding and respecting one another’s boundaries. Especially as we look towards returning to the office and being in community with one another again, and knowing that we are facing a crisis of employee burnout. Because, no matter how many boundaries I may set for myself, if you don’t respect them, if you bully or shame me for holding them, it doesn’t matter. Organizational culture is created by the people who exist within those organizations, by their words and their behaviors. Cultures aren’t created in a vacuum. And boundaries can only exist if everyone sees them and helps to maintain them. And that starts with the very top of the organization.
There’s that culture word again. I recently shared some thoughts around culture, and how it’s really defined by the worst behavior that is tolerated. I think this is a similar example. When the very top of the organizations says they care about things like burnout and overwork, or that they take employee safety very seriously, that is important, but it does not a culture make. The culture is made much lower in the organization. It’s made when a mid-level manager demands employees are always on, literally. Or she demands everyone go back to the open office seating with no space, regardless of how safe that may or may not actually be. If that is tolerated, or even, rewarded? That IS your culture. So I leave you with these two questions:
- If you are in management, what are you doing to respect your employee’s boundaries?
- For everyone, have you considered what your boundaries are, and what you’ll do if your current workplace is unwilling to respect them?
My feeling is that too many of us have not spent nearly enough time thinking about what our “dealbreakers” are. We’ve been raised to “just be thankful to have a job” and haven’t spent nearly enough time viewing work as a constant negotiation, even though that’s exactly what it is. Normally we only think that way about salary, I agree to do work for you, and you pay me an agreed-upon salary. it’s much more than that, and I suspect this pandemic has caused a great number of people to see that, and to start thinking about work as much more than just “I work, you pay me”. Personally, my own boundaries have changed. There was a time when traveling around the world was just a part of my life, due to work. Now? I’m not even sure I want to travel and meet with clients at all. I’ve definitely been much more protective of nights and weekends, and there is hardly anything I would trade working remotely for. I no longer believe that anything I do for work is so important that I need to constantly ignore my own life to accomplish it. Because working for anyone is not about doing whatever they say, whenever they say it just because they say so.
It’s also about being respected enough to allow our work to actually fit into the rest of our lives, as opposed to having it interfere with the rest of our lives. Human beings have boundaries between their work and the rest of their lives. Numbers on a financial sheet are generally not provided that level of respect and concern. Which one would best describe the people who work for you in the culture you have created?
You might be very surprised to learn that it’s not what you thought it was from your view in the C-Suite.
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