What are Some Tips for Setting Personal and Professional Boundaries at Work?

ACS Career Consultant Marciano Bagnoli stresses the importance of setting clear expectations with your supervisors and colleagues
Industry Matters Newsletter
Marciano Bagnoli, Quality Manager, Georgia-Pacific LLC
Marciano Bagnoli, Quality Manager, Georgia-Pacific LLC

Keeping personal boundaries at work is similar to maintaining a healthy sense of life all around. Generally, work should not be the main focus of your waking life. Having hobbies and activities outside of work can help keep your priorities in frame, as well as ward off mental stressors and burnout. It's fine to have work friends, and seeing them occasionally outside of work is great too.

However, a culture that suggests if you don’t join the group after-hours you will not advance is hardly inclusive. Unless you genuinely want to spend more time with your co-workers, there is absolutely no reason to push yourself to do so. Otherwise, stressors from work will follow you home, which can make it feel like you can never unplug. Such a feeling is an indication that you may need to reevaluate how large a role work plays in your day-to-day life.

Professional boundaries can be summed up as: What is tolerated becomes what is accepted. Little things about how a company operates can drop hints about the culture as a whole. Things like: do people routinely show up late to meetings, do teams follow through on tasks, is overtime a common expectation?

Be mindful of how the company compensates and rewards individuals. Are those that go above and beyond fairly compensated (in terms of money, career advancement, better access to opportunities etc.), or do they simply inherit greater responsibility to cover for short performers, for example.

Know that your hard work and extra effort may be rewarded at a later date, or perhaps not at all. Some bosses push you to be your best, while others will just try to see what all they can push off onto you. Keep tabs on your mental health, and don’t run the risk of burnout for a payoff that may never come. Have discussions with your boss to ensure you are clear on expectations, both so that your performance can be fairly framed, and you give yourself the best chance to succeed. Afterall, the success of a company is tied to the successes of its employees.

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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