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5 Ways to Create Boundaries (to Avoid Workplace Burnout)

Colette Carlson

05/08/22 | Motivation


5 Ways to Create Boundaries (to Avoid Workplace Burnout)

Feeling burned-out? Fried? Crispy? Well-done and over it? Already planning your next weekend on Monday morning at 8:02 a.m.? Oh, that’s right…I forgot. Someone already scheduled their mandatory Monday team meeting for 6:45 a.m. before the 8:00 a.m. staff meeting so your plans will have to wait.

Am I being flippant? According to recent employee data, I’m a lot more serious than comical. Turns out that COVID-19 infected many of our workplaces with more than “just” a virus. It appears many have caughtThe Lack of Boundary Disease.”

The mental and physical energy used to rally, serve and support the greater good of all when the pandemic first hit never stopped, depleting worker’s surge capacity. Remote workers traded in commuting time for computer time. Reduced staffing meant work increased for those who remained. Leaders immediately became responsible for emotional check-ins and outlining resources.

Yet, too many hold on to the fantasy that investing just a few more hours at night or over the weekend will help them catch up. No wonder people are burnt out, checked out, and ornerier. Being a conscious, empathetic communicator demands emotional openness, not emotional exhaustion. It’s tough to give someone grace or hold space when you’re running on empty.

In 2021, a Ranstad Workmonitor COVID-19 survey was conducted in organizations around the world. The results are eye-opening, but not unexpected. Some of the topline data points include:

  1. 61 percent of employers said that they expect their staff to be available outside of regular working hours. This represents about a 4 percent increase from 2020.
  2. According to internal company data from other research sources, about 25 percent of employees are working through lunch, up from 20 percent at the beginning of the pandemic.
  3. By the end of June 2021, 69 percent of workers were
  4. Monster.com polls find that more than half of us said they planned on taking less time away from work and more than 40 percent of us were not planning on taking vacations at all.

As a professional speaker, every one of my clients in every industry voices genuine concern over finding and retaining talent. A Monster.com survey recently, “found that as many as 95% of workers would consider a job change, and 92% are even willing to switch industries to find the right position.”

The myth is that those walking away are somehow all hourly or contract workers, mainly in the hospitality or food service industries. This just isn’t so. New business filings in almost every imaginable field are sharply up as people are not just leaving to sit on the sidelines. Marketing managers are becoming personal trainers, mechanics are becoming farmers and nurses are becoming chefs.

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The job market is so rapidly changing because the trends we looked at above are not new. Year by year, drop-by-drop, inch-by-inch, employees are expected to be more, do more, and indeed – depersonalize more. COVID-19 made it worse, and it is not only insufficient salaries, long hours and poor benefits, but the thought that employees have ceased to become people but are more like moving parts.

The stress has been unrelenting. Boundaries have become obliterated. Expectations of “availability” have become absurd. And – worst of all – everything seems to have become “urgent.”

The urgent stress includes more than virtual meeting overload but also IMs (answer now, please), lunch meetings, early meetings, late meetings, unnecessary meetings, and calendar over-filling (including weekends). Employers have demanded more, and employees are finally saying enough! Do you have leaders who seem to have forgotten “work-life boundaries?”. Obviously, I am not talking about inappropriate or abusive boundaries, but the lack of boundaries that turn us into depersonalized non-valued humans. Perhaps they feel pressure from their own supervisor, yet we all need a drastic reset to reality which is why I suggest you implement the following strategies.

5 Ways to Create Boundaries (to Avoid Workplace Burnout)

Before describing 5 things employees can do to create better boundaries, let me gently stress that none of these ideas involve screaming, yelling, offensive language or stomping out of a meeting. Civility is always a good thing. Good manners and showing respect are always welcomed.

  1. Can we assign a priority number? If something is declared “urgent,” ask if it is truly urgent as in “Is this the highest priority?” This is where a logical system needs to be put into place. Obviously, not everything is the highest priority. Even emergency rooms in hospitals have a triage system. If you are a leader, support your team in prioritizing.
  2. Strength in numbers. There is power in numbers. If a group or team feels it can’t comply with an unreasonable deadline, come up with a plan and be united in why re-scheduling is important. Use your voice upfront to set realistic expectations on deliverables.
  3. Peak times. Our days are logically divided into projects we MUST accomplish during peak times and lesser projects that can be accomplished in those other time zones. Don’t allow others to artificially re-set those zones. For example, if your time zone demands you make important sales calls in an 8 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. time range, don’t allow a low priority meeting/project to get scheduled at 9:30 a.m. If working in a global environment, make sure schedules rotate for fairness.
  4. That won’t work for me. What’s another option? Can we schedule a meeting for Saturday? That won’t work for me. What’s another option? Can I call you at 8:00 p.m. tonight? That won’t work for me. What’s another option? Can you cancel your doctor’s appointment for a company meeting? That won’t work for me. Your time after working hours is yours. While occasionally, you might agree, never let it become a habit.
  5. Say No to others — Yes to you. To put this into action, you must be crystal clear on what you value and then honor those values. If your career goals include a desired promotion, then you will need to say yes to growing your skill set and network and perhaps say no to entertaining or attending every child’s game. If you desire family only time after dinner, then you may have to scale back on housework or negotiate your contribution at work. Your desire to serve and succeed may be limitless but time is finite. Your life has value. Yes, it does. Respect it. You have rights and you have the right to set boundaries. Clearly, family, vacation plans, religious observance, medical procedures, unexpected emergencies all have priority.

Finally, don’t be afraid to set boundaries. In most cases, people are reasonable and respectful. They will understand. If a boss is unreasonable, disrespectful or doesn’t “see you,” always remember this is a dynamic employment market. Good people are hoping to find you.