Why healthy work life boundaries are essential for career success

career Jan 17, 2023
A foot in a white converse style runner standing on a cream floor faced towards a blue line. The contrast between the blue  and cream represents a boundary line.

 Work life boundaries 

Work life boundaries are essential for maintaining a healthy relationship between work and life, yet many of us struggle to create and maintain them. In this article, we explore the importance of healthy work life boundaries, why we often feel guilty for having (and maintaining them) ,and discuss some practical tips to help you. We will also address the challenges of maintain your boundaries when faced with push back form a boss, colleague or family member. By understanding the importance of healthy work life boundaries  and how to establish them, it makes possible the building of a sustainable career, one in which you can thrive, flourish and progress across your life.

What are work life boundaries?

Healthy work life boundaries are the invisible lines that we use to separate our personal and professional selves. These boundaries can be physical, emotional, psychological and digital in nature. The aim of healthy boundaries is to find and maintain a meaningful relationship between your professional and personal responsibilities. Your boundaries help to create a sense of control over our time and energy, and can reduce stress and improve overall wellbeing.

Healthy digital boundaries include setting specific times to check and times that you choose not to check your work email, respond to text messages or answer work related phone calls. Physical boundaries include taking regular micro breaks (small 5 minute movement breaks) during the work day to ensure that you physically move enough.

Recent research published in the Journal of Occupational Health and Psychology found that individuals who experience work-life conflict due to lack of boundaries, are more likely to experience burnout, job dissatisfaction and poor mental health outcomes. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that individuals who set clear boundaries between their work and personal lives have higher levels of job satisfaction and a greater sense of agency in their lives and careers.

Despite these benefits, why then is it so hard to put healthy boundaries in place and why do we feel guilty when we do?

Typically, the issue is not creating healthy boundaries, rather it is the guilt associated with maintaining those boundaries. This sense of guilt stems from a belief that we are not doing enough to support colleagues or the business. This sense of guilt is driven by a set of cultural and societal expectations that idealise the ‘ideal worker’ – someone who is always available, always wiling to go above and beyond, and never sets boundaries on their willingness to work, even when it comes at the expense of their health and relationships . Closely linked to this feeling of guilt is the mistaken belief that if we are in fact ambitious professionals who want to scale the career ladder, then we should conform to the notion of the ideal worker.  

It is important to remember that setting healthy work life boundaries is not about being lazy or not working hard enough. On the contrary , it is an act of self-compassion and show of self-respect. An act that ensures your maintain your ability to engage in a sustainable career, one that supports your well-being.  

Creating and maintain healthy work life boundaries.

As you know at A Career to Love HQ we talk a lot about your non-negotiables – the foundation stones upon which your build your work life boundaries. Understanding your non-negotiables is essential for creating and maintain work life boundaries.   If however,  you want some basic advice, start with these four tips

Identify your boundaries.

A very important but often overlooked point about boundaries is the simple observation that if you don’t know what your boundaries are it is very hard to maintain them. So first, thing first, identify exactly what your work life boundaries are. For example, you may want to work from your personal life by disconnecting from work related emails, texts, and calls after hours. You can do this by turning off notifications, or leaving your work devices in a different room. Yes, it is easier said than done, but think big and start small. One small step at a time identify your boundaries, create an action plan made up of incremental steps that you work towards over the course of 6 weeks. Check in with your progress each Thursday and course correct if and when you need to.

Communicate your boundaries.

Once you have identified your work life boundaries, it is time to start communicating them to others. This does not have to be a soap box moment in which you loudly declare your intentions to others. Rather it is over time making it clear to your family, friends and colleagues when you are and are not available, and setting expectations around your availability. This can feel really hard, especially if there is push back but preserve it will be beneficial to you in career and life in the long term.  

Be consistent in enforcing your boundaries.

To maintain healthy boundaries it is important to be consistent over time. This requires dedication and resilience, especially if important people in your life or career are pushing back. If this happens remind yourself how important these boundaries are if you are to thrive, flourish and progress in life and in your career, not one or the other.  

Remember, healthy work life boundaries are crucial in maintaining our ability to have a sustainable career both now and in the future.  Boundaries help us to establish control over our time and energy, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. As you start to set healthy work life boundaries, or if you want to improve the ones you already have remember your focus is on working well, you are not lazy or failing if you take time off. As the quote from Sheryl Sandberg, the previous COO of Facebook goes, ‘I cannot change the fact that my work is all consuming, but I can change the fact that I am consumed by it.’ By identifying your non-negotiables and consistently implementing your boundaries, you put yourself in a position to thrive, flourish and progress in life and in your career…

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