This post was updated on October 12, 2023
In order to support your team’s productivity, it’s essential to help them set boundaries at work. Employee burnout is a real threat to companies. Failure to empower your team to have boundaries and honor them can lead busy professionals to disengage and burn out, leaving you with the costly problems of absenteeism, “presenteeism,” and turnover.
Whether your employees work in an office setting, remotely, or use a hybrid model, you can help your team members set the boundaries that will keep them motivated and productive.
Here are 15 ways to help your employees set boundaries at work and avoid burnout along the way.
1. Acknowledge your work culture.
Does your team operate in a culture of urgency? Do you communicate with them 24/7/365 because that’s the way it’s always been? Recognize for your team that this “always on” mentality is not healthy for work-life balance. Acknowledging the problem can be the first step in dealing with it.
2. Designate official communication channels.
Using various communication channels may be necessary at your company, but using too many channels can be detrimental. By setting the boundaries for which communications channels are approved, you can streamline work time and response time.
3. Create a plan for emergency communication.
Have a policy for emergencies. For example, let employees know that in an emergency, they will not be contacted by email, but by a more immediate method, such as a phone call or text. This way, your team members will be able to maintain boundaries between work and their personal lives without feeling the need to constantly check work email just in case there’s an emergency
4. Proactively define an emergency.
Work with your team to agree on exactly what constitutes a true emergency and merits disrupting colleagues after communication hours. Clearly defining an emergency prevents team members from thinking every little problem is worthy of contacting others during their personal time.
5. Shift from “business hours” to “communication hours.”
With people working remotely and on global teams, the term “business hours” is no longer relevant. Instead, set your corporate communication hours. During these hours, everyone will be able to communicate using regular channels. Use your above emergency channel like a “bat signal.”
By defining communication hours, you give special protection to non-work hours. This allows your employees to feel comfortable unplugging, so they can get the rest and restoration they need to be their most productive selves.
6. Enforce your communications policy.
Creating a clear communication policy and implementing it successfully is one of the most powerful ways to help your team members set boundaries with other people and technology.
7. Specifically define “work-life balance” for your team.
The definition I suggest to my clients is “don’t work too much.” Research shows that for optimal productivity, physical well-being, and mental health, somewhere between 38-45 hours is optimal on average. “Crunch times” are sometimes necessary, but they need to be followed by lighter work schedules. Working with your team to set expectations around how many hours they work per week can be a life preserver for you all.
8. Take all of your vacation and unplug completely.
Too often, knowledge workers are afraid to take all of their vacation days. But they need to refresh, relax, and re-energize to promote creativity and fresh perspectives. Your brain needs time fully away from work to recharge itself. Model the importance of taking vacation by using all your time and truly disconnecting from the office.
9. Help your team preserve deep focus time.
Devise a process where information is “self-serve.” Items such as project details, timelines, and status updates can be centralized in a place that all team members can access at the time that suits them. By making information self-serve, you’ll reduce the volume of communication in your organization, giving them more time to get more important work done, and reducing their distractions while they do it.
10. Set office hours to create a boundary around your time.
Be explicit about when you can communicate with your team by letting them know precisely when you’re available to answer questions. As a leader, you need to set boundaries for your time so you may reflect and focus on your own important tasks. Doing so also communicates to your team that you expect to operate in a culture of intention rather than a culture of urgency.
11. Create boundaries around roles.
Clearly define the roles of individuals on your team and empower them with decision-making authority. This way, team members will know who is expected to have the final word on which types of decisions. Try using the phrase “I trust your judgment” more often.
12. Use the “Send Later” feature on your email client.
Use the “send later” feature on your computer or iPhone if you need to send a message before you forget, but it’s outside of your company’s designated communications hours. (On your iPhone, just tap and hold the blue “send” arrow.)
13. Encourage your team to filter email.
Help workers set boundaries on unnecessary emails that sap their time and energy. Make sure to utilize your email client’s filters and junk mail functions.
You might consider using SpamDrain, Throttle, and Unroll.me to help employees filter email and cut down on unwanted solicitations. Simply put, less email means fewer distractions. And fewer distractions mean more productivity.
14. Give your employees permission to set their own boundaries.
Employees need to know that management supports them in setting their own boundaries. Allow workers to use strategies like closing their office doors, or placing a funny “Do Not Disturb” sign on their desks to let others know that they cannot be interrupted.
When working remotely, team members can block out time on their calendars for focused work.
15. Keep strictly to the arranged meeting time.
Start all meetings on time, and end on time. Keeping to the planned meeting time communicates that you respect everyone’s time and boundaries. Also, use a timed agenda to empower everyone in the room to keep the meeting on track.
How will you set boundaries for your team?
By practicing some of the strategies above to set boundaries, leaders can help to make communications between themselves and their staff flow more easily and more clearly. In addition, by following the suggestions above, leaders can help their team members focus their attention to more easily achieve their most significant results.