Written by Samantha Wall, LCSW
In the last blog, I discussed setting boundaries at work. I discussed defining the boundary, communicating it to others, and not over-explaining. This blog will discuss how to set consequences for when that boundary is broken. No matter how firm you are when setting boundaries, there will come a time when someone pushes them. Whether it is a coworker or a boss, it is important to set consequences for someone overstepping your boundary.
An important factor in following through with consequences is communicating them as soon as possible. Let’s say you’ve said you would answer phone calls from work as long as they only call you when there is an emergency. If they call you on your day off three times because of an emergency, communicating with your supervisor or boss that you will no longer be answering calls outside of work for the next couple of days to care for your mental health is a great way to reinforce that boundary. I also want to acknowledge that working in nursing, you will all see things that are classified as an emergency more often than in other jobs. That does not mean you cannot set a boundary. A way to communicate this boundary is, “I know that these past couple of weekends there have been emergencies and I have been helping support them. The next couple of weeks, to support my mental health and to make sure I am okay to work my scheduled times, I will not answer my phone on my time off.” Setting a boundary upfront, recognizing your limits, and setting an expectation/consequence can be done in just two sentences. Communicating this as soon as possible can also help others understand your level of discomfort, and make them feel less overwhelmed, overworked, and resentful in the future.
Setting consequences is so important because people and coworkers will possibly try to make you feel guilty or wrong for following through with your necessary boundaries. This says way more about them than you. You are working a job with specific duties–when you clock out, you clock out. If that task is not in your job description and you don’t have the time or capacity to complete it, it is not your job. Of course you will provide support, but to be able to excel at your job, you need to take care of yourself. When people try to challenge your boundaries or make you feel guilty for not taking on an extra task or shift, remind yourself that you are HUMAN and only have the capacity for so much in one day, week, or month.
There are many factors that go into struggles with boundary setting and I want to normalize the struggles to follow through with consequences at work. The relationship with your boss is different from a relationship with a friend; it can sometimes be harder to follow through because of the power difference. Another potential worry when setting boundaries in the workplace is the thought that you’ll look like you’re not a hard worker or are not dedicated to your job. However, these boundaries are helpful so you can continue to work at this job and not burn out. Extra tasks, extra shifts, and no breaks all lead to burnout, so saying no will help you and your work ethic in the long run! It is really hard to stick to your boundaries and consequences when talking to a coworker or boss, when there is more at stake than a relationship. Nonetheless, continue to do it! Setting boundaries does not make you lazy or not dedicated. It means you are a human and need to take time for yourself. You are not just your job. You are a nurse, a friend, a family member, and so many other things. Setting boundaries can help you keep those other parts of yourself!
As always, please let me know if you have any questions or want me to cover a certain topic. In the next blog I will talk about different types of boundaries to set at work to decrease burnout.