Two Steps to Establish Boundaries and Preserve Your Mental Health

Yesterday, October 10th 2023, was world mental health day. I spent my day thinking about one area of mental health that has been impacting many of my ombuds visitors lately; boundaries at work. 

Whether one person is fulfilling the work of two or three people because staff are on leave, or positions haven’t been filled, or they are concerned about layoffs and feel they must work extra hard and extra long hours, or their manager emails and messages them at all hours of the day and they feel they must be ready to respond at any moment, people are feeling a lack of boundaries. This leads to feeling stressed, overwhelmed, stuck, exhausted, and more. 

So… what can you do? Well, I think there are two steps you can take to get started: 

  1. Spend time identifying what you want your boundaries to be.
  2. Have an open discussion about these boundaries/requests with your manager or whoever you need to establish boundaries with. 

Let’s explore each:

Identify your desired boundaries. Many times we realize a boundary was crossed after the fact. Perhaps we didn’t even realize it was a boundary! And even then, we may not know exactly where the boundary was. Take time to reflect and assess where and what the boundary was. Then, think ahead to what that boundary could look like in the future. Maybe you don’t want to respond to emails between 5pm-9am. Maybe you feel you can only manage four projects at one time because when you juggle five or six, things get sloppy and mistakes are made. 

Have an open discussion with your manager or whoever you need to establish boundaries with. Intentionally set aside time to discuss your boundaries. 

  • Describe the situation.
  • Describe how the situation impacts your life. 
  • Ask your supervisor, or wherever you are talking to, if you can talk about ways to get the work done while creating structure to stay healthy and productive.
    • This is where you can provide your ideas for what those boundaries could be.
    • Ask them if they have other ideas.

Frame this as an open conversation rather than an ultimatum. This will encourage dialogue and help ideas flow. The other person will also feel like it’s the two of you navigating concerns together rather than a them versus you dynamic.

Before you close the conversation, be sure to discuss and document what you agree to and how you will each follow up with each other to see how it is going. 

The good news: you are not alone! Reach out to your ombuds! They can help you think through what your boundaries and needs are. They can also help you prepare for a conversation with your manager. 

For more insight and advice on boundaries, check out this blog post.

By Teresa Ralicki, Ombuds Lead at Pinterest, found of Ombuds Institute, and Co-Editor of Ombuzz

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