Boundaries have become a hot topic - and something that we have spoken about very widely here at Orbis. Over the last few years, society’s understanding of the need for boundaries has expanded hugely - especially at work.
We believe that this was largely propelled into the spotlight during the pandemic. As much as people are (probably) tired of talking about the pandemic, it was a pivotal moment for all of us - and a time when our boundaries were most definitely tested.
So, why are some of us still uncomfortable with setting boundaries, and how can we get better at doing them, unapologetically?
Setting boundaries isn’t a cultural norm
Work-life balance and how different countries approach work is very different - and cultural norms don’t necessarily welcome boundary setting with open arms.
For example, let’s take a look at UK work culture - a lot of us are still in the depths of hustle culture, being polite (which is very British of us) and not having a concept of switching off. Particularly in an industry like recruitment, where at times you feel always “on” - setting boundaries just doesn't feel part of your DNA.
If culturally in your organisation (or culturally in your place of residence) there is a taboo around boundary setting, chances are you’re going to struggle with it at some point.
Boundaries = healthy
But, the reality is that boundaries are healthy. To live a balanced life you need to be able to know yourself and your limits, and if you're constantly compromising what you’re comfortable with, then it will create problems down the line.
Sure, there can be instances where boundary setting goes the complete opposite way and someone can become too closed off, but the chances of the latter happening are slim - especially if you’re in the early stages of boundary setting.
Start small if you don’t feel comfortable straight away
If setting boundaries doesn’t come naturally to you - start small and work your way to creating bigger boundaries as time progresses. No one is expecting you to go from zero to a hundred straight away. For example, if you know that you tend to work late (and you do this out of feeling obliged or putting pressure on yourself to “do” more) then give yourself set days when you specifically finish on time.
This can then evolve into setting more precise working times with yourself and establishing healthier boundaries with your work! The same can go for socialising - if going for drinks every Friday or a team lunch feels too much, get comfortable saying “no” a few times (without needing to explain yourself).
If this still feels difficult, who is a good role model for boundary setting in your life? Who do you look up to and wish you could be more like? Seek advice from them and know that a problem shared - is a problem halved! Perhaps they can help you to improve your outlook on boundary setting and ultimately get more comfortable with it.
Ask yourself why you feel uncomfortable
HBR summarised this incredibly well, stating:
“The practice of defining healthy boundaries can be triggering. Though boundaries represent different things to different people, they universally force us to examine toxic behaviours with roots in our past and can surface negative internal dialogues that are painful to address.
For instance, a person with tendencies to be a people pleaser — an insecurity they likely developed in childhood — might have a hard time setting boundaries because they feel the need to continuously “give” to be worthy of others. Highly driven people, on the other hand, may see a boundary as a personal failure or an attack on their ego. Whereas someone who hasn’t yet achieved much in their life may use a boundary to reinforce negative self-talk.”
Although this analysis won’t apply to everybody - it’s important to look inward and understand why you’re struggling with boundary setting (and work on it).
And finally, be mindful of a workplace (or people in your life) who question your boundary setting - this isn’t healthy or good for you, and recognising who is potentially suffocating you at work or in your personal life is important for you to be comfortable with yourself, and also revoke you needing to explain the boundaries that you set.