Boundaries in the Workplace

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I was having great difficulty finishing my work. My mind should have focused on finishing the charts due by 5:00 p.m., not on my teen son's misbehavior at school or how I would carve out some time to deal with a broken sprinkler pipe in the backyard. After hearing my coworker lament about his failing marriage, I realized we all suffered from a similar malady, namely how to keep the home fires from burning up the workplace.

Although many brag about the ability to multitask (I saw a gal the other day drinking a frappachino, talking on the cell phone, and applying makeup, all while driving a sport-utility vehicle), I’m positive that eventually something has to give. When my home life trickles into my workplace or I bring my work life home for dinner, there is a natural resentment that begins to build. Work that is usually rewarding becomes an intruder interfering with my family, churning up my protective instincts. Likewise, the family I love so much is now reduced to a nuisance, undermining my attempts at professionalism. Unless I exercise a form of compartmentalization, both equally rewarding parts of my life become more like a burden, ceasing to bring fulfillment and glory to our creator. I decided I’d have to make some changes.

Change #1— Set Some Boundaries

I see many clients in my counseling profession that likewise struggle to build proper boundaries, so I ask them to apply some helpful habits that provide a kind of “buffer zone” before entering home or work. For instance, stopping at the park or a coffee shop for a time of reflection before going home or to work allows you an opportunity to transition from one environment to the other. Many times I visit the gym on the way home to sweat out my stress. This allows me to arrive for dinner charged with endorphins and ready to enjoy my family to the fullest.

I’m a fan of list making. Before heading out to work, leave a home life to-do list on the refrigerator, to be dealt with upon return. When home issues come up at work, designate a proper time to deal with them by programming them into the memo or calendar in your cellphone. Equally helpful is typing out work obligations at the office for the next day, leaving them on the desktop to be finished tomorrow.

Regardless of the tools you choose to use, there need to be clear boundaries set for home and work. Spouses and children need to be informed ahead of time what designates an emergency call. If you do have time for family calls during the day, communicate appropriate times.

These boundaries need to be established for coworkers as well. Chatting with your cube buddy about the big game needs to be scheduled during lunch or break. The same holds true for compassion talks. Debbie might need some marriage advice, so make time for discussion during nonoffice hours. Let her know that you don’t want there to be any distractions and you wish to protect her privacy.

Change #2—Hand Out a Little Respect

Although boundaries play a big part in developing healthy work and home relationships, they quickly fall by the wayside if respect is absent. If a spouse continues to encroach upon the home by designating large amounts of time toward work, the family system begins to falter and resentment builds, or worse . . . sabotage. The thinking goes like this, "Since you bring so much of your work home and don't give our family the time we deserve, I'll just contact you at work and steal back our time." Or "Since you keep me from my work, I'll stay at the office and avoid you entirely."

In Ephesians 5:21 we read, "Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another." Is it out of respect for our Lord, who is patient and kind with us, that we pour out courtesy and reverence toward each other? This means working with, instead of against, each other to fulfill our roles. That might mean a boss who required a great deal of his employee's personal time for a project, reciprocate by buying lunch and theater tickets for the family to be used during company time. Or an employee thanking a boss for time off to meet family obligations by putting in a weekend at the office to catch up on paperwork.

Change #3—Communicate

The reality is, our technological world has made work and home way too portable. Cellphones, laptops, and satellite hookups make clocking out at the end of the day completely old school. Some jobs require you to be on the hook 24/7, making it more difficult to devote uninterrupted attention to family life. Likewise, our family can reach us anywhere at anytime, which is both helpful and challenging. This calls for open communication between work and home. Your family needs to know that time robbed by a crisis situation at work will be made up for in the near future. Your work needs to be made aware of your family’s priorities and how those can be met, while remaining attentive to the company’s needs.

Today’s work and home environments will continue to change as technology progresses, but what won’t change is the human need for significant relationships both personally and professionally. I believe both venues can be fulfilled when we practice healthy boundaries, respect, and communication, to the glory of our God.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • What helpful habit can you introduce that will help you transition from work to home or home to work?
  • Read Ed Cyzewski’s article on "How to Recognize When Work Takes Control." When does work begin to become a person’s drug?
  • How are you demonstrating courtesy and reverence toward your family and coworkers because of your respect for Christ and his work in your life?·
  • Pray for the wonderful balance between work and home that only happens when we place Christ in his proper place, as Lord.

Photograph "no trespassing" by High Calling blogger Nancy Rosback, used with permission.