Think it’s okay to blur the lines between work and play? Be careful. You could end up regretting it—for a very long time. Think of it like this: Homeowners would be lost without the meticulous skill of land surveyors who establish the “exact” boundaries of real property. Protecting the integrity of the investment is at stake; it’s a top priority for insurance companies, potential buyers, banks, and anyone vested in the transaction. Make sense? Well, protecting the integrity of your career investment is just as important. So, just how committed are you to establishing the “exact” boundaries of your occupational real estate? Do you think there are consequences for ignoring convention and simply “going with the flow?” Hold those thoughts. Your answers will influence your behavior and how you respond to others when they infringe on your professional space.
Consider how these five steps can help you safeguard your career:
1. Identify Established Boundaries. Before you can begin to set boundaries, you need to be aware of the ones that already exist. Why? Because knowing what to expect will help you to guide your behavior and navigate expectations. Professional boundaries may be spoken or unspoken and can be established by official rules and regulations, policy, hierarchy, workplace culture, or individual choice. But, no matter how they have been cultivated, knowing exactly what they are is your first line of defense.
2. Don’t Cross the Line. What’s the bottom line? Respect the lines of demarcation. Once you know what kind of behavior is expected and which won’t be tolerated, govern yourself accordingly. Rambo moves are generally unwelcome—so don’t be a “bull in a china shop.” Tread lightly and be respectful. The consequences for offending could be devastating to your career and professional reputation.
3. Establish Your Own. Sure, it’s one thing to follow rules that have already been established, but quite another to make your own way. How do you establish your own boundaries? Think about what’s sacred to you and elevate those themes amongst both your colleagues and superiors alike. Once you’ve established the kind of behavior you expect and which won’t be tolerated, everyone will be on notice. Then, refer them to No. 2 above and enforce your boundaries. Setting expectations is critical. It’s the best way teach others how to treat you.
4. Separate Work from Play. Establish clear guidelines for where works ends and your personal life begins. Individual situations will vary, but here are some examples to consider:
• Avoid being “on call” 24 hours a day or on the weekend
• Stay late only when absolutely necessary
• Advise that you are in a “work-free zone” while on vacation
• Discuss that although occasional OT may be required when workflow necessitates, it should not be the default position.
Additionally, keep your personal affairs “private” and separate them from the purview of the workspace. There’s nothing worse than having the sacred details of your personal life spill recklessly into everyone’s cubicle. It makes for a very messy socio-emotional atmosphere—an unwarranted distraction—with the potential to destroy your credibility. Avoid this scenario at all costs by simply exercising good judgment.
5. Call in the Big Guns. If you find it difficult to keep your line in the sand from becoming blurry, talk to someone with the authority to intervene. There’s no reason to suffer in silence. Be proactive and nip unwanted behavior in the bud early on. If people feel they can get away with infringing on your personal space, they will. By getting a bit of support on the ground, you send a strong message that stepping on your toes will not be tolerated.
Here’s the deal: Setting professional boundaries requires good judgment and proactive enforcement. Think about how you want to “show up” in your professional surroundings and begin with the end in mind.
To your success!
Karima Mariama-Arthur, Esq. is the founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport, an international consulting firm specializing in professional development. Follow her on Twitter: @wsrapport or visit her website, WordSmithRapport.com.