How to Set Boundaries in a New Job

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By Haley Goldberg. 6 minutes Lily

One of the most overlooked benefits of starting a new job is the ability to set new boundaries to protect yourself from burnout. Late-night emails, saying yes when your plate is already full, unused paid time off (PTOs) gathering dust — these burnout-promoting habits don’t have to follow you from job to job. the other.

And when it comes to changing your habits, that first day of work feeling can help. Studies show that having a new start can make it easier for us to set and meet new goals.

“We are more open to change when we feel we have a chance to start over,” Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffyco-authors of Big feelings: How to be okay when things aren’t going well, Explain. “It’s also much easier to set expectations at the start of a job than to try to change things later.”

All it takes is a bit of self-reflection on how burnout has manifested for you before and setting new boundaries with yourself and your colleagues.

Here, experts share the best ways to start protecting yourself from burnout from day one (and before) of your new job.

Reflect on your history with burnout

If you’ve changed jobs because of burnout, you’re not alone. In fact, a investigation conducted by software company Limeade among 1,000 full-time employees in the United States who started new jobs in 2021 found that burnout was the main reason they decided to change.

It’s easy to put your latest work in the rearview mirror after that last Zoom or IRL goodbye from your colleagues. But corporate psychologist Patricia Thompson recommends taking an honest look at how burnout manifested for you in your previous job before you start your new position.

“Starting a new job is a great time to reflect on your relationship with burnout because it gives you the opportunity to start fresh,” says Thompson.

Schedule time to have an “exit burnout interview” with yourself before you start your new role. Think about the things that may have contributed to you feeling burnt out, disconnected from your job, or less effective at your job – the three dimensions of burnout as defined by the World Health Organization.

To get started, here are some self-reflection questions recommended by Thompson:

  • Did I speak up, advocate, or ask for help prioritizing when my workload got overwhelming? Did my manager know what was happening to me?
  • How much control did I feel in my role? Did I ask what I expected from my manager?
  • Have people-pleasing tendencies led to burnout? In a desire to be agreeable, did I take more than was reasonable?
  • Did I delegate appropriately? Did I ask for help from others when I needed it, or was I too self-reliant?
  • Have I made enough space for my life outside of work? What kinds of things did I do to manage the stress?
  • What would I like to do differently in my new role? What areas do I need to evolve in to maintain a healthier balance (e.g. time management, assertiveness, delegation)?

Set your on and off times

Once you’re in your new job, start by setting limits around your working hours to combat that feeling of always being on time.

During your onboarding, discuss with your manager your hours of presence and align yourself on when you will be reachable. When asked directly, you’ll realize that most managers don’t expect you to be available evenings and weekends either.

“Instead of assuming your boss wants you to work all hours, you might be pleasantly surprised,” says Thompson. “And armed with the understanding that balance is valued, you might feel more comfortable taking much-needed time for yourself.”

Once you’ve set those opening and closing times, it’s time to stick to them, especially if you’re working from home. Try creating a ritual that signals you’re done with work for the day, like shutting down your laptop, putting away your work documents, or completely logging out of Slack or Teams. Tell co-workers and even friends and family about your off-duty hours to keep you accountable.

And if walking away makes you anxious: Thompson says you can always provide co-workers with a way to reach you in an emergency.

Block your non-negotiables on your calendar

Need more upside-down work time? Half an hour in the morning to set your priorities? Breaks to express your breast milk? PTO next month to spend some quality time with friends? Make your non-negotiables, both for your work and your well-being, part of your schedule so you can prioritize them as you begin this new chapter.

“Determine your non-negotiables in terms of self-care and plan for them,” says Thompson. “For example, I know that if I don’t train several times a week, I don’t feel good. So I put it on my calendar. Schedules may vary depending on my work schedule, but I make it a priority.

If guilt creeps in (or compares to that co-worker who’s available 24/7), Thompson says to remind yourself of the big picture. “While it’s important to make a good first impression, it’s also essential to keep a long-term view,” she says.

Remember: feeling connected to your colleagues can also help prevent burnout. Schedule time to get to know your new team outside of regular meetings, whether that’s with an IRL coffee break or one-on-one Zoom.

Set expectations for your turnaround time

When work requests start rolling in: Resist the urge to say yes immediately! “You may think you’re a ‘good employee’ by saying yes to everything, but you’re not a good employee if you’re burnt out,” Fosslien and West Duffy say.

Start by asking a colleague when he Actually need a task completed. Then think about your bandwidth and respond with what’s actually doable for you. By slowing down your response, you’ll have more control over your workload and build trust with your team members as you meet deadlines.

Raise a flag when your limits are crossed

Even the best set boundaries will be crossed, either by others or by ourselves. Be compassionate to yourself if you go back on that commitment to log off at 5 p.m. on a busy Tuesday — it happens and you can reset the next day.

If your growing workload is making your boundaries waver: Raise a flag early on and ask your manager for help. While it may seem scary to admit that you can’t do everything, you’re actually more productive by forcing yourself and your manager to identify what’s most important.

“Ask your manager to help you prioritize your work,” say Fosslien and West Duffy. “Your manager will appreciate this, since you’re proactive. You can say, ‘Here are all the things I have on my plate for this month. I have time to take care of three of them. How would you rank them in order of priority?”

And if a colleague ignores your boundary, such as your commitment not to respond to work messages after 5 p.m., schedule a follow-up meeting after the incident to reaffirm your boundary and find a way to work with them.

Thompson says it can help explain to them Why you have set certain limits. Maybe spending quality time with your kids after work is important, or your evening yoga routine helps you feel recharged. Sharing the “why” behind your boundary can keep you sticking to it — and who knows, you might inspire a colleague to prioritize themselves in the same way. We could all use this reminder.

“The most important step in dealing with burnout is giving yourself permission to keep busy. to your own needs recognizing that self-care is not forgiving,” says Thompson. “Remember, if you don’t take good care of yourself, you’re just not going to be your best at work.”

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