Setting Boundaries at Work – What You Do and Don’t Owe Your Boss

Setting Boundaries at Work

I have some surprising advice for Type A’s clamoring for executive coaching wisdom: It’s not always in your best interest to please the boss. “Huh?” you say. A happy boss is a good thing, no? Well, actually it turns out that sometimes your attempts at making managers happy aren’t only infringing on your personal life, but destroying your executive brand.

Like all facets of life, establishing healthy boundaries is good for you – and your career

I can’t stress enough how critical it is to make the distinction between time that belongs to you and time that belongs to your employer. This boundary not only protects your health and personal life, but keeps your work performance and executive brand from suffering.

Wait a minute… Working too much can diminish my on-the-job performance?

You bet. Constantly leaving your business hat on saps energy and boosts stress, robbing performance. So how do you know where to draw the line – when to trade in your starched company hat for that floppy fishing or parent-of-the-year cap? Here are some key distinctions of what you do and don’t owe your boss.

What you don’t owe your boss – identify where work has overstepped its bounds:

  • Doctor’s hours, on call 24/7
    For your own sanity, just say no … and if you eventually find yourself in this situation, get out fast. You may think it’s worth it, especially if you think you found the perfect job, or the opportunity of a lifetime. In the long-term (even the short-term), you pay a heavy price in stress, alienation, poor health, and missed life events. It’s never worth it, and there are plenty of other opportunities out there.
  • Constantly putting out “fires”
    Do you dread every day knowing that whatever you have planned to complete will get hijacked because of the latest emergency of the day? If every day has an “emergency du jour,” you’re likely plagued with poor management. There’s no easy way to deal with this one, but there is a way to ease the burden and that’s to find a partner in crime who will work with you to solve these emergency problems. Collaborating with a colleague takes some of the burden off your plate. It’s best to position this type of partnership as a win-win. Find someone who needs something from you (or even exposure to this boss) and make a deal.
  • Overwhelming workloads and overzealous timetables
    Interruptions happen, unless it’s a relentless barrage of quick questions, requests, explanations, and details. This is one of the easier problems that can be addressed by establishing boundaries, especially by positioning it as, “If you want me to tackle this new project now, I’m going to need to defer these other projects. Which one do you suggest I table?” Every once in a while you might get a “do it all” answer, but most times you’ll get recommendations for what can go on the back burner, even if it’s for a limited amount of time.
  • Busy work
    You have a position and a title, make sure you understand what that includes and doesn’t include. If your boss gives you busy work due to a lack of understanding of your role, it’s time for a sit-down. This one may require a difficult conversation but stick with your convictions. If you have evidence that the work is an ineffective use of your time, then position your argument as a waste of the company’s money.
  • Expectations of perfection
    If your boss’s idea of getting work done means it has to be perfect every single time or you get a bad review, then there’s a problem. Ask a lot of questions so you get a clear understanding of which tasks are a hardline deliverable and which tasks will require long-term development. Document everything.

What you do owe your boss – remain committed during your “on-the-clock” hours:

  • Complete projects on time
    For any given assignment, you have an obligation to manage your time effectively to either complete the project on time, or make an allowance for delays through regular updates and touch points.
  • Effectively manage those projects
    Own your role: Should you be delegating those tasks or completing them yourself? The ability to complete tasks, delegate, and understand your role on any given project is critical to managing your time effectively and establishing yourself as a professional.
  • Be a team player
    Sometimes you’re not going to be named the head of a new exciting project. Make sure you can take direction from team leaders and cooperate with team members, while contributing in a meaningful way. No riding coattails!
  • Communicate with timely responses
    Ensure no signals are crossed. Let managers and coworkers know in advance what to expect in terms of response time on and off the worksite, as well as what constitutes – and how you’d like to handle – those inevitable emergencies.
  • Stick to your assigned budget
    Work within the confines of budget restrictions, acquire cost-effective vendors and make the most of available resources. Be able to explain any budget overruns and consider new ways to keep the company within budget. Your ability to manage other people’s money successfully is a true sign of leadership potential.

In the end, making the most of your time at the office is a valuable tool for establishing your executive brand:

    • Focus on work over wagging your tongue at the water cooler.
    • Take advantage of interruption-free time – sans family obligations.
    • Make the most of available time-saving apps and software.

Ready to build your executive brand with the powerful insight of executive coaching? Build a more balanced business persona and own your power. Contact me today about executive coaching services.

Christina Holloway