Let’s talk about boundaries. I’ve heard and seen the topic of setting work boundaries come up a lot in the past few years. It’s funny to think about when I entered the workforce, how the thought of “setting boundaries” was almost unheard of. Was it because fewer people were glued to their phones and taking work home with them? Was it because we know better now? Maybe it is a combination of these factors. What I do know is that somewhere in between getting married, going through a pandemic and having a child, setting work boundaries became not just something to strive for, but a necessity. I brought up a real example of my coworker’s work boundary (see the email signature below) on Instagram recently, and it sparked A LOT of comments from you all. So, today I am sharing those and more about my journey with work boundaries.
My Journey with Boundaries
For me, the idea of setting work boundaries first came up when Will and I got engaged and moved in together. Once living with him, my attention to work and Will began to compete in a new way. Do I finish that work presentation I didn’t get to this afternoon? Or, do I go on a walk with him after dinner and cuddle up on the couch to watch Succession? Ultimately, I had to choose. It often didn’t matter which I chose. Either way, I felt guilty for not doing the other. It was like I couldn’t win. Of course, Will faced similar situations when he had to choose. At that point, I tried to only choose work when it felt necessary .. when I knew if I didn’t do some work I would feel more stressed about it and then next day would be more than I could handle.
During our first year of marriage, I started working from home, doing contract work. My ability to set boundaries became more challenging during this time. I didn’t have a set schedule, which was a double-edged sword. I loved the flexibility, but it also created some hard days when it felt like I was not capable of balancing all the things I felt like I needed to do in one day. It didn’t help that the organization I worked for had a lot of people working at odd (super early or late) hours and responding to emails on the weekend.
As time went on and I knew we wanted to grow our family, I had a gut feeling that my setup would not be sustainable with a child. I made the conscious decision to look for a job with more traditional hours and paid time off (something I did not really have with contract work). I would have been more willing to stay in that position if I was not feeling so burnt out and stressed. In hindsight, maybe if I set boundaries and realistic expectations of my performance from the beginning, then it would have been better and I would have been able to stay. But, I did not do that. Instead, I learned the importance of setting boundaries from the get go. And I felt I would be better off in a new position where I could do just that and hopefully be around more people who have work boundaries in place.
Thankfully, I found a job that gave me just what I was looking and hoping for. I was able to set boundaries from the beginning. This was a big win for me. But, as I was starting this job, I found out I was pregnant and the pandemic began. Suddenly, I was back to working from home, and that made setting boundaries more difficult. This time around though, the stress of being pregnant in a new pandemic made me feel like boundaries were more necessary than ever. I needed time at the end of the day to decompress and process and reflect on all the uncertainty in the world.
A New Perspective
Fast forward, Liam arrived last fall, and becoming a mom gave me a new perspective on just how precious time is (and how there never seems to be enough of it). With him being in daycare while I work, I try to maximize our evenings together. I have a hard time cut off for work, and only when something time-sensitive and major is happening do I work after Liam is asleep. This time of the day always goes so quickly and it’s important to me to make the most of it.
When I think back to one, two years ago, I can see how I’ve grown with setting work boundaries. I know I would be struggling more as a new mom if I had stayed in my old job.
I am also thankful that my current boss and coworkers respect the work boundaries I set nine times out of ten. Case in point — my coworkers boundary-setting email signature has been adopted by several other coworkers. The message (pasted below) is what inspired me to bring up this topic with you all and ask for your thoughts on boundaries. I love this email signature because it takes boundary setting to the next step. It implies my coworker has set work boundaries and it respectfully empowers others to set boundaries too.
**Note: My working hours may not be the same as your working hours. Please do not feel obligated to reply outside of your current work schedule.**– an anonymous email signature
Your Thoughts on Work Boundaries
Below are a few of your thoughts on the email signature, work boundaries or setting boundaries in general, after I talked about the message in my coworker’s signature.
- Not sure how my boss would feel about me having that in my signature but maybe I shouldnt care!?!
- That [email signature] is amazing. I need to start using it!
- Work boundaries are 10000% necessary these days!!!
- Work boundaries are so necessary with technology and emails but sometimes it’s so hard when you work with people who don’t have any!
- I work with some people who act like everyone should be glued to their phones allll the time. It’s hard to set boundaries with them. They don’t get it.
- Love that you are talking about this. My mental health greatly benefited when I started imposing some boundaries with my work schedule.
- For so long I operated like I have to respond RIGHT AWAY to all work emails… but just recently I realized this isn’t healthy for me. It’s hard to change this habit but I’m slowly giving more attention to my work priorities and changing the way I respond to emails.
- My work can’t come home with me and I am grateful for that. I dno how I’d handle emails at 10pm.
- It’s so much easier to have boundaries when you work with ppl who respect them
- Once I set no-work hours I noticed an immediate difference in the quality of my time outside of work.
- Yes!! Imposing work boundaries led me to creating some for other aspects of my life too. So important.
- Took me a while to realize how other people react to my boundaries is NOT my problem.
- They have to come from leadership too. It’s so hard otherwise.
- I started setting boundaries with my email where I only check it at the top of the hour. So helpful for me to focus on my work!
Whether we set boundaries through our actions or our words, doing so is something that I have come to realize is an important act of self love and respect, as the quotes above state. We owe it to ourselves to set them, and we are better off in doing so. And as a couple of you mentioned – the immediacy of emails and work-related apps makes it hard to impose boundaries, but also more necessary now than ever. Sometimes it takes living without them to realize how important they are. Without them I was a slave to others needs and schedules. And sometimes it take trial and error to figure out what boundaries to set, given our personality and work situations.
For me, my boundaries are more ingrained in me than they have ever been, and it feels good. Liam gives me reason to hold to them, because if I don’t I miss out on time with him. It’s not always easy. Some days/weeks are very hard to juggle it all.
The next step for me is thinking about the boundaries I set outside of work – for relationships, technology and social media. I want to continue to be more intentional about my time, my schedule and how present I am with the people I love.
I would love to hear about your journey with work boundaries or any tips, encouragement for setting them in the comments.
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