Photo by Izabelle Acheson on Unsplash

Can we talk about boundaries?

I often write about work/life balance, vacation travel, self care, and related rants, but I feel like I need to address something more basic, maybe because so many more people—entire organizations, even—now live at work work from home.

I keep a list of topics to write about, and there are several versions of setting and respecting boundaries—when it comes to your time—in my notebook. Some examples:

  • Tips for managing stress at work: boundaries
  • An important note about working from home: people can still take sick days
  • Permission to take time off

Last week, I had a great conversation with a person who works at a start-up. While many start-ups are responsible for creating and perpetuating “hustle culture” (where working to the point of burnout is considered noble, glamorous, and a key to success), this one seemed to be different. The employee was saying that her boss makes sure her team takes time off every month, and her boss also takes time off regularly. “It’s not one of those places where you’re told to take time off but your boss never takes time off, which makes you feel like you shouldn’t,” she said.

I’m in a Facebook group of nonprofit executive directors (and recovering executive directors such as myself), and you would not believe the number of posts that are essentially asking the group for permission to take time off. I have seen people asking if it’s okay to take time off because it’s the holidays/they’re sick/someone in their family died/they’re HAVING A BABY. It’s become a game of Mad Libs: “Is it okay if I take some time off because [really good reason to take time off]?”*

And sure, I think there’s an argument that can be made about certain personality types being drawn to nonprofits and leadership positions within them, but this aversion to taking time off is part of something larger; and I don’t think it’s all internal. Yes, technology has made it possible to work from home, but people are responsible for setting expectations and boundaries when it comes to work and rest.

Now that more and more people are working from home, we’ve had to make a ton of shifts in how our days, our teams, and our workflows are structured. Something that maybe shouldn’t shift so much? That work is work and home is home. Just because someone’s work now happens in their home does not mean that they live at work. Just because a worker’s office is next door to (or in a corner of) their bedroom does not mean that they should clock in if they’re sick. Just because we have the technology to work whenever/forever does not mean that we should.

So what can we do about it?

If you’re in a position of power, it’s time to manage—and possibly adjust—your expectations of your employees’ availability. For example, are you sending emails after hours? Even if you don’t expect a response until they’re back on the clock, your team may be interpreting your emails as urgent and feeling obligated to respond. (Also: why are they checking their work email after hours?! It’s on you to adjust that expectation.) Consider scheduling your emails for during work hours so that you don’t send the wrong message about your expectations. (And hey, maybe you should clock out, too!)

If you’re not in a position of power but feel like your boss isn’t respecting your work/life boundaries, you may need to have a conversation about expectations. WARNING: You might not like what you learn. But at least you’ll know, and you can start looking for something new that doesn’t affect your quality of life so much.

*Not that anyone needs a really good reason to take time off. But that’s another rant entirely.

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