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Tip of the Day

How to create Healthy work boundaries

By March 19, 2022September 25th, 2022No Comments

60% of the world population spend 60% of their waking hours at work (Mykeltun, 2012).

Since the pandemic we have seen a significant spike in hours spent on work, even thought we might not be at work.

More recent research has shown that 70% of professionals who started working from home when lockdowns started, say they worked longer days, and also started working weekends (Maurer, 2020).

However, before and at the beginning of the pandemic, flexible working arrangements such as working from home had positive outcomes on performance and mental health (van Zoonen, 2021).

Some Leaders I spoke with, allowed them to create healthier boundaries where they would often ‘down tools’ throughout the day to spend time with family, exercise or something else they wouldn’t have been able to do it in an office environment. Van Zoonen (2021) concluded that further research would need to be conducted to explore the longer-term impacts of remote work. With many organisations encouraging employees to return to the office, this begs the question are we all returning to more ‘normal’ working hours and how is that impacting setting healthy boundaries at work?

What is a Healthy Work Boundary?

How I would describe it, as where you feel you are able set physical, emotional and mental limits that protect you from feeling physical or psychological harm, while these limits also allow room for you to reach your potential. Having some flexibility around work boundaries that do not lead to physical and psychological harm is also important, as there are times, like a crisis where many people are willing to work longer hours, or take on extra work for the good of their team, community, even humanity.

How Leaders can help set healthy work boundaries

As trite as this may sound “Do as I do” applies here.

  • If you are a Leader who sends emails outside core hours or on the weekends, this puts pressure on your team members to break their work/home boundary to respond. This also means you may not be setting some healthy boundaries for yourself. I do emails over the weekend as this when I get some time out, so I understand completely why this happens. What I have seen, is some Leaders cueing their emails for the next working day. A bit like how you would do on a plane flight (when we used to fly and without wifi!). Some employees figure out what you are doing, but at least you are not putting pressure on them to respond immediately.
  • Have lunch a break at least once a week, and with or where your employees may have lunch. Let them see it is okay to take a break. Maybe take them with you on a 10-minute walking meeting if that is the only way you can get yourself and a team member away from their desk. I have a CEO client who does this often and their people love it.
  • Leave the office at least once a week at the official finishing time. And if at all possible commit to yourself that on this day, you will not be doing emails after dinner! And an even more outrageous suggestion is, finish early once a week!
  • And if none of these work for you, consider a value that is far more important than not having a work boundary. For example, do you want someone to say at your funeral that you were known for always working late, or would you rather say you were someone who also found time for your friends, family, community and how to play at electric guitar at 50 years of age!

Why is this important?

The Adecco Group, who have 14,800 offices worldwide, with 1000 in Australia conducted research in 2021 to find that Australians are the most burnout in the world. They also found that 52% of employees had taken time off for mental health reasons. LinkedIn also did research to find the same, that 52% of employees admitted to taking time off for mental health. This probably means you have had people take time off, or extended sick leave. You may have been on of them! This is not just bad for wellbeing, it is also bad for business.

In summary, Leaders need to ask themselves if they have an expectation that their team continue to work outside core hours, regardless of whether they have returned to the office or continue to work remotely. Leaders may also need to set their own healthy work boundaries, which then gives permission to their team members to do the same. Healthy work boundaries can equate to a happier and healthier workplace which has to be good for business.

Margie Ireland is the author of The Happy Healthy Leader – how to achieve your potential even during a crisis. Margie is a registered Psychologist, Leadership Coach and Workshop Facilitator, highly sought after to help Leaders and their teams navigate stress and change with healthier coping strategies, leading to happier, healthier and high-performing teams. Available in all leading outlets and HERE