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Boundaries Battle Burnout

05/03/2021 2:19 PM | Kaitlin Regan Quellhorst (Administrator)

Mardi Humphreys, Change Agent, Integration Edge

The World Health Organization recognizes burnout as an official medical diagnosis caused by an unrelenting workload and/or no work-life balance. It’s number two on this list of what employees said were their biggest challenges during the pandemic.

They feel

·         pressured to be available 24/7/365

·         lack of flexibility at work

·         worried about losing their jobs

·         overwhelmed dealing with shuttered daycare and online school

·         not at liberty to talk about outside-of-work issues affecting job performance

To begin battling burnout, define, set, and enforce your personal boundaries with your manager.


Your boundaries are based on your values and priorities. When defining them, think about what you need to feel empowered. The last time you felt undervalued, disrespected, or out of balance, what was the trigger? Did you have to work last weekend? Do you buy the office birthday cards and cupcakes for coworkers and it’s not in your job description? That’s where your boundary is. If you could live that situation over again, what action would you take to change it?


·         Does your manager randomly call you throughout the week? Schedule a recurring 1:1 catch up meeting with an agenda.

·         Feeling overwhelmed? Make a list of your priorities and ask your manager to do the same. In your next 1:1, compare lists. Are they different? Decide together what your top three responsibilities are and how much freedom you have to accomplish them.

·         If your manager’s expectations cross a boundary, how important is the boundary to you? Is a compromise possible? Is saying no a battle you want to fight?

·         Give updates on your projects’ statuses and request they prioritize them. Ask them to tell you more about why they need this assignment done in this timeframe, and why the task requires your unique skillset.

·         Personal goals count. If your manager wants you to stay late, but your trainer is meeting you at the gym at 6:00PM, offer to get started early tomorrow morning. Compromise so you aren’t saying no all the time.

·         Best practice is setting boundaries at the beginning of a project. For example: Make a rule to only answer texts after 7PM if it’s an emergency, and define what constitutes an emergency.

·         Use technology to help you communicate boundaries: change your status to busy in the business communication platform your company uses, calendar an hour a day and label it as busy. You don’t have to say what you’re using the time for. Get the kids started on their homework if that’s what it takes to enable you to finish your work.

Burnout doesn’t just affect you; it affects the work too. You need to be flexible and accommodate the occasional emergency requiring overtime. But, regular work hours and exceeding the expectations of the project are good boundaries to help you both do the work every day and juggle the other aspects of your life. Do not apologize for protecting the time it takes to do the work you are already assigned.


Practice for boundary crossers. Rehearsal takes the emotion out of holding your boundary. Visualize your manager asking you to work on a Sunday morning; what do you do? Instead of silently fuming over the infraction for hours, immediately reinforce your boundary by clearly and respectfully stating what it is and why it exists. Be consistent in holding healthy boundaries. You aren’t communicating clearly if you keep moving them. For example, if you said you won’t respond to emails after 7:00PM, don’t open your inbox.

Your boundaries will be challenged. That will reveal where they are and help you to refine and iterate them. Those who set and hold boundaries gain respect. A friend just gave up a committee chair position because she assessed her commitments and realized she needed to off-load some. Will I miss her leadership? Yes. Do I respect her for making choices that help her achieve her goals? Absolutely.


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