How HR Leaders Can Bring Boundaries to the Workplace

Establishing boundaries is a helpful solution when leaders’ time and energy are spread thin. Here are four “ingredients” that need to exist in order for boundaries to work.

Kristin Baker, PCC
CHRO at LUMO
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Aug 27, 2022
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Last updated on Aug 27, 2022

Boundaries are a hot topic these days, especially as employers continue to experiment with hybrid work models and discover what works for their employees. At the same time, HR leaders are being asked to do more than ever before - wear more hats, be experts in more arenas, and maintain relationships with more people. It can be exhausting and often overwhelming, and regularly leads to burnout.

Establishing boundaries is a helpful solution when leaders’ time and energy are spread thin, because boundaries make people’s ability to care for others sustainable.

No one has an infinite amount of energy. It’s important to remember that. What commonly happens when people become stressed is that they try to work harder and do all of the things. Self-care goes out the window and is replaced by all the stuff that feels incredibly urgent. This does not work.

No one can squeeze double the tasks into the same amount of time, no matter how hard they try. When things ramp up, establishing boundaries creates time, space and mental real estate when it feels like there is none available. 

There are four “ingredients” that need to exist in order for boundaries to work.  

1.  Prioritize Yourself 

This one is the most important. If leaders don’t respect themselves - their needs, their energy, their time - then no one else will, either. HR leaders may find this particularly tricky, often finding themselves trying to please both bosses and clients alike. But when everyone else’s needs trump your own, all you get are the leftovers. (Unfortunate truth - there are never any leftovers.)

Start making yourself a priority in small ways. Change hour long meetings to 50 minutes, so you have time to prepare for your next call. Carve out a lunch break and stick to it. Set alarms that remind you to stand up and stretch. These things add up, and not only will they drastically improve your ability to focus - but you’ll feel better, too.

2.  Communicate (Early & Often) 

When you’re establishing new boundaries, the last thing you want to do is wait for someone to cross them before you have a conversation. At the same time, abrupt changes in behavior can catch people off guard. You want to think about teaching people how to be with you, before the boundary breach occurs. 

An easy way to communicate new boundaries to someone who is used to you acting differently is to use the prompts, “in the past” and “going forward” to craft the conversation.

For example, “In the past I’ve allowed people to book meetings on my calendar whenever there was a free spot. Going forward I’m using a meeting request process in order to manage my time and projects more effectively.”

By communicating in this way, you are acknowledging the change in behavior and providing some context for why you’re doing things differently. People are more likely to adjust to new boundaries when they understand the why behind them.

3.  Trust Yourself, and Others

If you’re new to setting boundaries, trusting yourself through this process may be tough, and that’s okay. However, trusting yourself is a key piece of the puzzle. Practice trusting yourself to know what is best for you, and trusting others to show up for you as you set new limits with them.

Trusting yourself may look like noticing your body’s reaction when a situation makes you feel strange. It may be noticing when you feel angry, or taken advantage of. That may indicate that someone crossed a boundary you didn’t know you had.

Trusting others means communicating your limits despite any fears you may have about their reaction. So often people are afraid to set boundaries for fear of upsetting others, but that can leave them feeling taken advantage of and resentful. Ultimately these feelings can harm your relationship. Choosing to trust another person to listen and respect your boundaries will strengthen your relationship with them.

4. Taking Ownership

Taking ownership starts by taking an honest look at your side of the street. You might ask yourself, “What have I done or not done that directly or inadvertently communicated to my boss that it’s ok to call me on the weekends?”, or “What have I said (or not said) to my client that made her think treating me this way is okay?” 

Taking responsibility for how we’ve created a relationship is tough. It’s so much easier to blame others for our situation, but blaming others leaves us stuck. Victimized. That’s why we look at our part in things - so we can take our power back instead of giving it away.

Establishing boundaries is a simple way to create more time in an already busy schedule. These conversations are a great opportunity to level set expectations, deepen work relationships, and improve leaders’ ability to show up for others. When HR professionals demonstrate leadership in this area, they positively impact the overall culture of their organization. 

Visit us for more information about LUMO’s leadership development offerings.

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