Without boundaries, there is no clear way to communicate set expectations with your employees, or your clients. For your employees, setting boundaries at work entails them establishing personal limits that support good mental health while they are in the workplace – even if they work from home. Retaining an engaged and productive workforce makes it essential that your employees are encouraged to set boundaries with their colleagues, and even with management, to maintain healthy work-life integration.
Boundaries matter in the new world of work
Over the last three years, organisations and their employees have had no choice but to be flexible and agile—navigating unknown territory when it comes to hybrid and remote work, while keeping up with an accelerating rate of change. According to Deloitte’s 2023 Human Capital Trends report, which polled 10 000 business and HR leaders in 105 countries, many traditional boundaries have fallen away in the new world of work. This report states:
- “The boundaries that were once assumed to be the natural order of things—that work can be organized into clearly defined processes; jobs can be categorized and contained wholly within the organization; work occurs within the four walls of the workplace; and organizations can center their decision-making around shareholders and the bottom line—are falling away.”
- “Human instinct is to feel overwhelmed or hesitant as boundaries fall away; 10,000 respondents in this year’s Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey said their greatest barrier to achieving organizational outcomes is being overwhelmed by too many changes at once.”
As traditional organisational boundaries disappear, it becomes even more important for management and employees to set team and personal boundaries. In the face of wholesale change, these boundaries help establish a connection between colleagues. It allows them to focus on their roles while respecting those who are in more senior and more junior positions. And it lays a foundation of respect that empowers people to speak up, share ideas or suggest creative solutions to problems without embarrassment or fear of ridicule.
Here are six ways in which boundaries that are true to an organisation’s culture as well as being tailored to the unique needs of its workforce, matter:
- Boundaries build trust
An integral part of a company’s success is excellent communication, strong rapport and trust among its employees. Boundaries help to clarify responsibilities and expectations. And when people meet our expectations, they earn our trust. This is one of the major advantages of setting boundaries within the workplace – it can help to create an atmosphere of mutual trust between colleagues. Knowing what is acceptable for all parties allows those involved to feel more secure in their relationships.
- Boundaries maintain standards of behaviour
The world is changing, and values and behaviours within the workplace are changing with it. Setting personal boundaries helps to identify what behaviour is and is not acceptable for each employee. Over time, this informs organisational culture in that it creates a common definition of appropriate behaviour within the workplace. Clear codes of behaviour and boundaries around what is and what is not acceptable ensure that all employees feel psychologically safe at work.
- Boundaries cultivate good communication
Setting boundaries is an important aspect of healthy communication. Boundaries help to cultivate positive communication among all employees, helping to avoid disputes and misunderstandings, alleviating the need for difficult conversations. Every employee should have the right to communicate with management and fellow workers as to how they would like to be treated – or not – to protect the values that are important to them.
- Boundaries help to manage expectations
Setting boundaries helps each employee to set realistic goals and expectations. This is a two-way street, informing the organisation what to expect from employees, and what they can expect from the organisation. Performance discussions, coaching and mentoring can all help employees to set and manage their boundaries within the workplace.
- Boundaries can support leaders’ professional development
Leaders with clear boundaries tend to be better at managing their time, energy, and attention.
Boundary setting helps leaders in an organisation level-up their leadership capacity, by helping them to:
- gain a greater sense of identity – that will drive them closer to their professional goals,
- develop greater self-esteem – as the more they practice establishing well-defined boundaries, the more colleagues will treat them as a worthy, self-respecting individual,
- shed light on their values and belief system – helping them to make decisions that reflect their values and priorities.
- Healthy boundaries maintain employee wellbeing
Setting healthy boundaries is crucial for employees’ self-care. No workplace is perfect, and sometimes encroaching on an employee’s boundaries can be take place in the course of meeting company or departmental obligations, unless they speak up. Encouraging your employees to set personal bounding will pay dividends in preserving their job satisfaction in the following ways:
- Raising productivity: Setting boundaries at work allows employees to be more productive, as they can focus on their own tasks and avoid workplace distractions.
- Lowering work-related stress: Setting boundaries helps to lower work-related stress, particularly in the face of what may be unreasonable demands from team leaders or their colleagues. Boundaries are also a safeguard people from finding themselves in an uncomfortable situation.
- Maintaining a reasonable workload: A workplace boundary that should be encouraged is for employees to be open about only taking on a reasonable amount of work at any given time. This is helpful in successfully delivering on job responsibilities in the longer term – maintaining a fair number of work hours and delivering a high standard of work.
- Reducing the risk of burnout: Allied with the above point, a perpetually heavy workload and the long-term stress this brings can lead to burnout. Setting boundaries when it comes to workload can lessen the risk of employee burnout.
- Setting an example for others: When setting boundaries, employees are often able to set an example for their colleagues and make it easier for others to follow suit. The knock-on effect is a happier and healthier workforce.
Setting well-considered and effective boundaries can help to make you a better leader and give your employees support and direction. Ultimately, all employees want to feel that their contribution is valued and that their work has purpose as a part of something greater. To this end, boundaries should be used to create an environment in which people enjoy working and feel valued, and that supports the accomplishment of organisational goals.