Whether you’re working from home or going into an office, serving customers or managing a job site, have a boss or are your own boss, the biggest lesson I learned when I first entered the workforce is that people will take as much as you are willing to give. That’s not a judgment; it’s just human nature.
I first discovered this in the earliest days of Whole30, when we were trying to grow the program, and I was the only one manning email and our Facebook page. If a question came in at 9 p.m., I felt like I had to answer it. If a workshop request came in on a Sunday morning, I’d stop my workout, brunch, or errands to reply. If someone sent in a question for the blog, I’d stay up until midnight writing the answer. I was running myself ragged trying to be in 10 places at once, feeling reactive instead of proactive, and fast approaching burnout…until a friend and fellow entrepreneur said to me, “Melissa, people will take as much as you are willing to give. You have to set some limits.” This brings us to one of my principal tenets of boundaries:
It’s not your job to guess my boundaries. It’s up to me to set and hold them.
This applies to every relationship category, but it’s often overlooked at work, especially if you work for someone else. We tend to assume our boss’s expectations, workplace culture, or job demands all supersede our personal need for (and right to) healthy boundaries—but those assumptions are wrong. Yes, you accepted the job. Yes, they pay you for your work. But you have every right to demand a healthy, safe, respectful work environment, and that almost always involves setting boundaries.
The thing is, your company is not likely to proactively establish healthy boundaries for you. It’s rare that a manager says to an employee, “I notice you haven’t taken a vacation in a year—make sure you use the time off you’ve earned, and I promise we won’t bother you at all while you’re out.” The truth is, if left unchecked, your company, managers, co-workers, and clients will hungrily absorb all of your time, energy, space, and attention. This doesn’t make them evil; it’s just the way the world works. Everyone is under pressure to do more, produce more, and make more money. (It’s called capitalism, sweetie.) Which is why you need to create strong, healthy boundaries in the workplace.