Boundary violations at work are linked to burnout, lost productivity, poor performance, and voluntary attrition. By contrast, when employees believe their voices are heard and their boundaries respected, they become more engaged with their organization. This is how workplace boundaries can benefit both the employee and the organization. Helping employees identify, set, and maintain healthy boundaries at work enables them to build trust, improve resilience and well-being, and contribute to a higher-performing environment for everyone.
The most effective boundaries are those set and maintained collaboratively between employees and employers with open, upfront communication about expectations and needs. It is important to note that it is not solely the responsibility of employees to set boundaries. Collaboration is essential for workplace boundaries to benefit both the employee and the organization. This means that authentic connections are paramount in fostering the trust and open communication needed for successful workplace boundaries. Understanding healthy boundaries in the workplace are critical for professionals, such as consulting psychologists, to support their clients in achieving both transformational outcomes and sustainable, fulfilling employment.
Psychologists consider healthy boundaries to be the mental, emotional, and physical thresholds individuals identify and enforce in relation to others and their environment. Boundaries serve several key functions which help ensure an individual’s well-being and performance. They protect us, enable us to better manage expectations (of ourselves and of others), and help preserve our physical, mental, and emotional energy. Healthy boundaries also keep us focused on our purpose, goals, and values and not get sidetracked by trying to live up to others’ expectations of us.
RECOGNIZING BOUNDARY ISSUES
There are several important workplace boundary issues that I and my consulting psychology colleagues have increasingly witnessed. We can help our coaching clients foster healthy boundaries by providing them with the tools (E.g. Boundary Signal Scale) and developing their skillset to courageously address these issues – including role overload contributing to burnout, role uncertainty, work/life permeability, patterns of unhealthy communication, and conflicting personal/organizational values.
As consulting psychologists and coaches, we can also educate and work with organizational leaders to model healthy boundaries and act as collaborative partners with their employees to create a workplace culture that supports employee and systems boundaries. An example of an employee boundary would be respecting an employee’s choice not to participate in after-work happy hours or weekend company events. An organization systems boundary would be having an enforced policy that there is no work communication after office hours or on weekends, with any exceptions clearly outlined. This policy would be co-created with employees to intentionally include their needs and preferences. These workplace boundaries will have long-term positive benefits for both the employees and the organization, and contribute to increased employee well-being, retention, and performance overall.
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