4 Ways to Set Boundaries at Work When Everyone Else Works Long Hours

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
June 12, 2024 at 7:8PM UTC

It’s that time of year, when everyone seems to be working overtime to tie up all loose ends before they head on break until next year. As someone who prioritizes a work-life balance, you’re left to wonder: Should I be working long hours, too?

Here’s a secret: just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to, too. Despite the pressure you’re facing — whether it’s coming from others or from yourself — you can (and should) set limits.

4 ways to set boundaries when everyone’s working long hours

1. Make time to do what you love.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Marcello Russo and Ioana Lupu encourage hard workers to leave work on time — or even early — at least two days a week to do something they really love.

Perhaps there’s a cocktail bar that’s your favorite haunt, or you enjoy heading to the gym to let off some steam. Whatever activity is a true pleasure for you, make time for it. That way, you’ll have something to look forward to and will be able to give yourself a reward for all the hard work you’re doing.

2. Look inward.

Consider your motivation for staying at the office (even if it's your home one). Is it because you really need to get one last thing done, or is it because you feel like you need to prove that you’re a hard worker to others? If it’s the latter, it’s time to reassess.

You don’t have to follow the rest of the pack just for show — if that’s all it would be. If you’re not gaining anything from staying late (perhaps you’re not really even doing work!), then you simply shouldn’t do it.

3. Sign off at certain hours each day.

By that, we mean sign-off from your work devices and communication platforms. Make it clear to your manager and coworkers that you won’t be able to respond to emails or texts after a certain time every day (a time at or after the official end of work). Sure, there might be the occasional emergency, but barring a crisis, you should be able to stick to your designated sign-off time, such that you maintain your “me” time.

4. Communicate your value.

No one is going to judge you for leaving work on time if they know how hard you work and the value you bring to the organization. But they may not be aware of your efforts and how those efforts translate to results. 

Does that mean you should go around bragging about your achievements? Of course not. Still, you should find a way to communicate your own value, particularly to your manager and department head. Keep track of your work-related accomplishments, and make sure your managers are aware of what you’ve done. 

At the end of the day…

It’s not about what the people around you are doing. Remember when your parents and teachers asked you, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you, too?” The same logic applies here. In and of itself, it’s not a bad thing to work hard. But if you don’t need to be pounding the pavement until 9 pm, why stay at the office, just because your colleagues are? 

It’s critical to prioritize you and your mental health — especially when things are chaotic around you.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for setting boundaries when everyone else works long hours? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

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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