Laura Berlinsky-Schine
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Drawing boundaries at work shouldn’t be a privilege — it’s a right. If you feel like your manager and colleagues are testing your limits, it’s time to speak up. Never feel like you can’t draw boundaries that protect these aspects of your work and life.

1. Your personal time and space.

Your time outside of work is your own. Sure, there may be emergencies that require you to be available by email from time to time, but if this is happening frequently — or your boss expects you to be available around the clock without pay — then that’s unacceptable. Given the ever-blurring lines between work and your personal life, while many people perform their responsibilities from home, it’s especially important to underscore this boundary.

If you feel like your boss or colleagues are violating your personal time and space, have a conversation about you and your employer’s expectations for when you’re off the clock.

2. Your relationships with your friends and family.

This goes hand in hand with your personal time and space. If you’re working long and hard hours without breaks and time for the other people in your life, then you’re not at your best — mentally, physically and otherwise. You need people outside of work to keep your life balanced. If you feel like your compromising your relationships with your friends and family, then this is a boundary you need to reaffirm. 

3. Your PTO.

You are entitled to your paid time off (PTO) — vacation days, holidays, personal days and so on. If you’re performing your work at a satisfactory level and managing your responsibilities without complaints, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to take this time off (assuming you’ve followed the proper protocol for requesting it).

Your manager shouldn’t be making you feel guilty or incompetent for using your PTO, and you shouldn’t have to justify using what you’re entitled to.

4. Your well-being.

Your health and safety must be a priority. As with vacation days, no employer should require or “strongly encourage” you to come into the workplace or continue working your regular hours at home when you’re not feeling well.

In fact, it’s actually in your employer’s best interest to encourage you to take sick days (when you’re actually sick). If you’re sick and feel like you have to go into the office anyway, you could very well succumb to presenteeism, the condition of being “there” physically but not actually performing your responsibilities at the level you should. This is extremely costly to companies, and they would do better to give you your sick days.

5. Your loyalties.

Let’s get one thing straight: you are in charge of your own loyalties and relationships. You don’t owe your boss anything beyond completing your responsibilities and maintaining professionalism. You certainly shouldn’t be made to feel bad if you leave when work is over or if you ask someone other than them for help. You’re not required to like them (although you should do your best to get along with them as much as possible). You don’t have to support their questionable or controversial decisions, and you don’t have to back them up when they attempt to bring you in to justify them. You also don’t have to stay with an employer forever — and they shouldn’t make you feel guilty if and when you choose to move on.

Boundaries can be difficult to establish and maintain. But these are clear occasions when you shouldn’t compromise to please others. If you’re unable to keep these important boundaries at work, then, at the very least, it’s time to have a conversation. In cases where you’re unable to resolve the problem, it could be a sign that it’s time to move on.

About the Career Expert:

 Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.


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