Even before COVID-19 forced many of us to work from home, barriers between home and work were collapsing. Digital technologies have blurred lines between work and personal time even for people who don’t work remotely. Yet, for many employees, the pandemic has completely erased these lines, potentially putting them at risk of disengagement, burnout, and other symptoms of mental and physical stress.
A survey from Linkedin and the Mental Health Foundation shows those working from home earlier in the pandemic were working on average 28 hours extra a month. This amounts to around 3.5 extra working days each month. During these times, it’s important to re-establish boundaries for employees’ mental and physical health as well as for the good of the business.
Here are some ways to reimpose boundaries at work and claim back some personal time and space:
- Conduct a boundary audit
Author Melody Wilding recommends a ‘boundary audit’ as a way to understand which tasks and people are overstepping your boundaries. “This involves paying attention to people, situations, and personal actions that cause [you] distress or discomfort. In particular, experiencing patterns of three key emotions—guilt, resentment, and anger—signal a boundary has been crossed, needs to be reset, or needs to be communicated more clearly.”
- Find a time management system that works for you
Many people find it hard to keep on top of multiple deadlines, especially outside the structure of the office or in environments where they have multiple stakeholders contending for their time. Time management tools and tactics can help you focus on what really matters. One popular system is to sort through each task and choose whether to ‘do it, defer it, delegate it or drop it.’ Another is to rank tasks using the urgent/important matrix to focus on the tasks that are both urgent and important, rather than getting swamped by work that is unimportant, yet seemingly urgent.
- Ensure members of your household also respect the boundaries
Not only do you want to avoid work bleeding into your family time, you also want to prevent household responsibilities from conflicting with your work responsibilities, wherever possible. It’s important to cordon off time and space where you may not be disturbed. A closed study door or wearing headsets could be your way to signal that you’re working and are not available to your family members for non-emergencies. You could also make a rule about which times you’re able to take a break and help.
- Learn how to (respectfully) say no
Once you’ve established your boundaries, it’s time to set them with your colleagues and boss. Approach each discussion empathising with their needs and goals, and seeking to negotiate a win-win outcome. When you’ve agreed to the boundaries, stick to your guns when someone tries to cross them, unless there is a genuine crisis.
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