Boundaries in the workplace have become such an elusive thing.
Every now and then, I imagine a parallel universe, one way in the future, when we as a society can come to a general consensus that we don’t have to be physically in the office to do the work we need to do. Remote work is a booming industry, but that career philosophy is having a difficult time spreading across all industries. Until then, we still have to deal with that co-worker who comes over to our desks to ramble on about whatever irrelevant TV show they saw last night, or the boss who wants to have an impromptu chat that you were in no way prepared for.
While a fun and creative office life may come with its advantages, people not understanding boundaries has to be one of it’s biggest drawbacks.
The clash of personalities and the openness of it all can drive an introvert crazy. With my 10+ years working in an office environment, I’ve had to develop a system to help me survive the ickiness of 9-5 life. Boundaries, to me, are non-negotiable and here’s how I’m able to maintain that standard.
Rely on your calendar
There’s no telling when I’ll ever get that CEO position in the corner office with my own assistant, so I let my calendar handle all the dirty work. The key to setting boundaries for project planning, interviews, or a strategizing brainstorm, is to put it on your calendar. If it’s not there at least 2-3 days out, then said meeting does not exist. I don’t know how we became a culture requiring 52 meetings about nothing every week, but it’s beyond ridiculous. Meetings about nothing are usually ill-prepared and eat into good quality productivity time. Also, let’s be real here, some meetings can be a detailed email but most people are too lazy to do that work beforehand. Let your colleagues know in a polite fashion that you would appreciate the courteous gesture of a calendar invite for all meetings. Let them know that the premise of this will be to keep everyone on task and present with the agenda. Consider your calendar to be your own VIP bouncer. No one is getting over that velvet rope without doing their due diligence first.
Take your lunch hour
Lunch is such a touchy subject at work. I especially feel for those who have to deal with nosy co-workers or micro-managers. That mid-day break has run many unwarranted guilt trips and that is truly a shame. If you rise for the day at 5 a.m., eat breakfast at 8 or 9, then you absolutely owe it to your body to refuel by at least 1 p.m. Notice in the header I added the word ‘hour.’ If you are allocated a 60-minute break, then I think you should take that time to be away from your desk fully and regroup. Take that time away even if you aren’t hungry. Working through your breaks sets an unfair standard for your physical and mental health. Experts suggest getting up and walking around at least every 30 minutes for better health. You are doing your body a disservice by refusing to get up and step away. The work will get done. Promise.
Stay one step ahead of your boss
The hierarchy of work should have no bearing on doing what is in the scope of the job you applied for. Sometimes our superiors and even our co-workers can take advantage and we have to make it clear that we are not here for any of that. The best approach is to stay ahead of the game. Your supervisor may be a creature of habit with the same routine every day and this should make it easy for you to manage your schedule. Overtime requests happen, but in no way should this be an everyday thing because you are picking up someone else’s slack. I suggest taking several breaks throughout the day to assess your current workload and ask your boss or team members if there is anything they need help with before 5 p.m. comes rolling around. Should something turn up suddenly at 4:45, remind them that you offered help earlier and now you have an important obligation to get to on time. As long as you are fulfilling your duties, then this should be no problem.
Take control of unwanted conversations
Listen, when I’m on the clock, I am fully focused on getting my work done to be able to leave on time. Chit-chat is cute, but if we are 30-minutes deep into a conversation about your upcoming vacation that I am not invited on, then I have to respectfully check out. I think it’s important to learn your co-workers and understand their quirks and habits. You can ask the co-worker who wants to chat to hold those thoughts until lunchtime or suggest a date to go out for drinks. They may feel offended, but hey—time is money and we have neither to waste. The only person that you should carve out unexpected time for is your boss or a client and even then let them know that you have 20 minutes before an important call or meeting.
Handling inappropriate encounters
Though we are living in a post-#MeToo culture, some folks still haven’t gotten the memo. It is in these times when you really have to flex your boundary-setting muscles. I typically take a no-tolerance approach for anyone who makes me feel threatened or uncomfortable. Voice your concerns with the person if it’s an inappropriate comment and let them know that you will happily report the situation to HR if it happens again. If a more extreme scenario were to happen, then you have every right to go straight to the higherups to let them know about what is going on. Your happiness, safety, and peace of mind always comes first.
Be nice to your work family
On a final note, as you’re busy avoiding people so you can get your work done, make sure you’re still making those around you a priority when it counts. Go to all the birthday and promotion celebrations, the team-building events, the charitable functions — all of them. Try to retain a positive report with your co-workers. It will help you in the long run.