“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” ― Brené Brown
As a communications consultant, trainer and an experienced Social worker, I consider setting boundaries in the workplace as an essential skill for people to have. It is also a necessary skill for leaders and managers to master. At the same time I see, far too often, poor boundaries lead to overwork, poor communication, misunderstanding, and ultimately resentment towards work and colleagues.
Setting good boundaries is a skill that we can all learn. Having good boundaries at work is not only good for productivity, but importantly, it is a form of self-care. More specifically, setting up effective boundaries in the workplace allows you to have better mental health, which in turn helps improve your performance and build better working relationships with co-workers. We have all heard the airline safety message, “please fit your own oxygen mask first, then proceed to assist children and others”. Setting good boundaries at work is merely taking care of yourself, putting your own oxygen mask on, so you can better serve your clients, colleagues and your workplace.
The Benefits of Setting Boundaries in the Workplace
An integral part of a company’s success is excellent communication, strong rapport and trust among its employees. Each employee has his/her own duties, responsibilities and relationships that contribute to a company’s success. Boundaries in the workplace help maintain a safe, supportive and conducive working environment for all employees. Here are several ways that having good boundaries can help improve the workplace:
Boundaries help establish connection among employees, allowing them to focus on their roles and respect those who are in a higher and lower position. A boundary of respect will enable people to speak up, share ideas, suggest creative solutions to problems without fear of ridicule or embarrassment.
If there is not a boundary of respect, then people will fear speaking up and ideas and creativity will be supressed.
- Standards of Behaviour
Boundaries help identify what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable for each employee, which helps create a common definition of acceptable behaviour within the workplace. The world is changing, and our language, values and behaviours within the workplace are also changing. By having clear codes of behaviour and boundaries around what is and what is not appropriate, everyone can feel safe at work.
Obscure boundaries around standards of behaviour see people feeling unsafe and unable to focus on their work.
- Good Communication
Boundaries foster positive communication among all employees, which helps avoid disputes, misunderstanding and difficult conversations. Boundaries teach employees to engage in positive communication, both as a sender of a message and receiver of a message.
Poor communication can cost companies a lot of money. The Project Management Institute estimated that for every $1 billion of project funds, $135 million is lost as a result of poor communication
- Manage Expectations
Boundaries help each employee set realistic goals and expectations, which tells the company what to expect from them and what they can expect from the company. Performance discussions, coaching and mentoring all help workers to set and manage their expectations within the workplace. With clear expectations, both employee and employer know what is expected.
Many leaders avoid having tough discussions about poor performance or skills deficiencies. Instead, they move to skills coaching or a performance review and avoid the difficult conversation, hoping it will go away. Having clear boundaries around expectations makes these conversations so much easier.
The absence of boundaries in the workplace can lead to anxiety, dispute, miscommunication, and, eventually, disengagement. These can all have a negative impact on staff, the workplace and the organisation as an entity. By taking care of yourself through clear and effective boundaries, you can help foster a positive workplace and culture and you can contribute to your organisation being successful. Ensure that you and your workplace have set clear and effective boundaries and that they are observed. It is worth the effort.