Why Setting Boundaries is Important in the Workplace

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By Kacie Teague

Recruiting Manager

An organization’s employees are its most important asset. In today’s candidate-controlled job market, they are a priceless commodity that companies do not want or can afford to lose. In today’s market, companies are faced with talent acquisition challenges that have contributed to a blurring of workplace boundaries and increased employee burnout. When a manager consistently expects an employee to work extended hours and/or weekends, or a customer frequently contacts an employee outside of business hours, it can create a lack of work-life balance.

Work-life balance is achieved when employees can equally prioritize the demands of the job with the demands of their personal life. A healthy work-life balance can make the difference between professional fulfillment and the dreaded burnout. Imbalance often results in increased levels of stress, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity, and increased health risks. All these factors combine to contribute to unhappy and disengaged workers and higher turnover rates.

Employees, employers, and customers can work together to foster physical, emotional, and mental boundaries across an organization to create a safe, supportive, and conducive work environment for everyone. Here are some ideas to help:

Employees

Gartner found that among U.S. employees, work-life balance is valued more than health benefits. An unhealthy work-life balance can cause employee burnout, a deterioration in health, strain on relationships, and reduced work productivity.

To foster work-life balance, employees should work to create boundaries in the following ways:  

  • Establish priorities: It’s difficult to prioritize work when everything is said to be a “911 urgency.” Use prioritization techniques to make the most of your time.
  • Learn to say no: Commit to not checking emails after hours. Communicate with your manager, coworkers, and customers to let them know that you will be offline outside of work hours. Let them know that it’s okay to text if something important comes up that needs to be addressed urgently.
  • Take your time off: More than half of employees (53 percent) leave available vacation days unused each year and a third report leaving at least half of their days unused. Try to take the time off that’s given to you for both your physical and mental health.
  • Share priorities and COMMUNICATE: Communication, like in most cases, is key! Be open, honest, and clear with coworkers, managers, and customers regarding your boundaries. It will take time and consistency to identify, ask for, and keep a boundary. Be patient with yourself and others as you are establishing them.

Employers

Employers need to model and encourage their team members to set boundaries. Remember that employees mimic management, so modeling work-life balance will have a much bigger impact than the dubious phrase, “do as I say not as I do.”  A lack of boundaries can contribute to workplace issues such as miscommunication, conflict, and less loyalty from your employees.

Turnover is costly. Employees suffering from burnout are nearly three times as likely to leave their current employer. Email fatigue could lead 38 percent of workers to quit their job. A study by SHRM found that employers will need to spend the equivalent of 6 to 9 months of an employee’s salary to find and train their replacement.

To cultivate work-life balance and decrease turnover, employers should consider implementing the following processes and policies:  

  • Justify your reasoning: When you create a longer day or workweek for your employees, it’s important to explain why it’s necessary and important. Increasing incentives and rewards can help keep employees engaged during long hours.
  • Contact employees after hours and on weekends only when necessary: Employees should be contacted outside of work hours only in the case of an emergency or special situation.
  • Encourage employees to use their vacation time: Consider implementing a policy that encourages employees to use their time off. Employees need the time away from work to destress and recharge.
  • Offer flexible work options: Workers value employers that empower them to manage their own time and give them the flexibility to utilize their time most efficiently. Nearly 40 percent of workers say that they would consider quitting if they were required to return to the office full time. This is paired with the influx of employees and candidates that are solely looking or willing to leave their current employer for remote opportunities.

Customers

Customers are the lifeblood of a business. Managing customer experiences and expectations should be a top priority of any business. A lack of boundaries can contribute to unrealistic customer expectations, poor customer service, and employee frustration.

Unhappy and disengaged employees contribute to a poor customer experience. Sixty-four percent of U.S. workers surveyed by consulting firm Eagle Hill said that their employee experience impacts their ability to serve customers. Eagle Hill also found that dissatisfied employees were 2.5 times more likely to say they do not provide excellent customer service and two times as likely to say they do not deliver quality outcomes.

It’s important to create customer boundaries in the following ways:  

  • Set expectations early: Communicate your hours of operation and the typical timeframe and manner in which the customer should expect a response. Consider sharing this information in written form so the customer has it to refer back to at a future date. In return, demonstrate the value of the customer’s time by asking when and how they prefer to be contacted —text, phone calls, or email.
  • Maintain a professional relationship: Avoid oversharing personal information with customers. The more personal details that are shared, the greater the chances of boundaries being blurred and crossed.
  • Provide regular updates: To minimize the frequency of customers contacting you outside of business hours, provide regular status updates. By doing this, you are removing the customer’s need to contact you.

Summary

The establishment of workplace boundaries—to create a healthy employee work-life balance—benefits companies, workers, and customers. Employers that successfully provide a healthy work-life balance, benefit from employees that are more loyal, engaged, and happy. In turn, customers benefit from a positive experience and better customer service.

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