The Lack of Boundaries Invites a Lack of Respect
Did you know that workplace STRESS was responsible for up to 120K deaths a year and 8% of healthcare spending -- BEFORE COVID? Research from February 2021 showed that approximately 9 of 10 employees reported that their workplace wellbeing has declined since COVID. How much do you think exhaustion, stress, and burnout have impacted medical deaths and spending now? Obviously, we've seen unprecedented numbers with burnout in the past year.
One simple-to-say but difficult-to-do method for preventing burnout is to CREATE HEALTHY BOUNDARIES -- both organizationally and personally. The lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect.
BUT HOW DO YOU CREATE BOUNDARIES IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC?
Pre-COVID, I used to work late at night - partly because I'm a natural night owl, but also because it was my quiet time once my son was in bed. I later discovered that this would create unnecessary stress for my team as they felt they needed to respond right away (even though it wasn't critical - it was just my best time to work). Fortunately, we had a great team culture, so one of my most junior associates approached me and shared that this made her feel stressed out, and other employees felt the same. As the executive leader - I had no clue I was adding to their stress load. I have worked hard to not email things late at night (often using the "Delay Delivery" method for it to send the next morning). Responding to emails allowed me to "get them off my plate," and completing what was needed without hitting the send button or simply delaying send, gave me that same sense of accomplishment.
Post-COVID, boundaries have become even more difficult - whether you're a bed-side clinician or a non-clinical staff member now working remotely. Yet boundaries are still feasible and needed more than ever. So how can you create boundaries? Here are a few tips:
As an Organizational Leader:
Ask your team what behaviors you (or other team members) do that create stress. Then STOP DOING THEM. If you can't completely stop them for some reason, create a team agreement on how to interpret these behaviors. When are they essential and when are they not?
Don't schedule Friday meetings after 3 pm. Your team works hard all week, often putting in many more than 40 hours. If they want to head out early on Friday afternoon, trust that they have gotten their essential work done, and let them enjoy the weekend. Same thing goes for personal appointments or commitments. Don't punish them for needing to go to the dentist or pick up their child. Irresponsible patterns of behaviors can be dealt with individually; don't punish the team.
Extend trust. One of Stephen M.R. Covey's essential behaviors to build trust. Covey summarizes this best: "Extend trust abundantly to those who have earned your trust. Extend trust conditionally to those who are earning your trust. Learn how to appropriately extend trust to others based on the situation, risk, and credibility of the people involved...Don't withhold trust because there is risk involved."
Create security. Don't make your employees question if they will lose their job by not responding to an email or open task. A recent conversation with an organizational Director talked about the very real "Sunday Syndrome" in which one cannot sleep Sunday night anticipating the stress of Monday morning and worrying if an email or request was missed between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. This is a high-performing individual, yet the fear of missing something still overshadows sleep and time off.
Results mask dysfunction. As leader, recognize that the end does not always justify the means. Often, especially in high performing teams, our end results and good outcomes mask all of the stress, dysfunction, work-arounds, and chaos encountered along the way. Sometimes good outcomes hinder leaders and organizations from seeing the pain that it took to get there. Even when (especially when) you achieve your goals, step back and reflect on how things can be improved with your team.
As a Frontline Clinician or Team Member:
Turn off email notifications on your cell phone and desktop. Not only is this a distraction to your thought process when you're working, it restricts focus on yourself and family when you're not working, making it difficult to re-center and reenergize.
Define your personal "off" time. What do you need to restore your energy? Time with family, nature, faith, exercise? We don't all have jobs we can completely step away from, but we do have times we can unplug. If it's an emergency, establish an alternative means to contact you (e.g., a call or text). Don't respond to that non-critical email at midnight. Don't skip your run for the fear of missing a call. Keep your "me" time - however that looks. It will make you a better employee, mother/father, spouse, etc.
Set boundaries for text messages. Speaking of texts, they can very quickly cross the line between professional and personal time. While phones can be a blessing, that passive text from your colleague, boss, or employee can completely shift your mindset, attitude, and attention from the task or effort at hand. If you receive texts for work, be clear with your "off" time. When can people send you a text? When will you respond to texts and when will you not? What should be sent as an email instead of a text (e.g., non-urgent vs. urgent, especially after hours)?
Leave early for your personal commitments. Have a child's baseball game or school play that you need to leave early for? Do it. You don't get those moments back, and your work will still be there the next day or later that night if need-be. Yes, you may need to work late one evening if you know you have a critical deadline, but plan ahead; don't feel guilty because you need to step away from work.
Learn to compartmentalize. It's one thing to set a boundary, but it's another to be able to turn your mind off when you know there's an email looming in your inbox and waiting for a response. Imagine that "thing" that is keeping you from disconnecting from work (whether it's an email, a to-do, a metric, whatever). Visually open a safe, tuck the "thing" inside, close the door, and lock it up with a key. This can help your mind acknowledge what needs to be done, but mentally distance yourself from the distraction. When the time is right, unlock it. The mentality of "Let me just do this real quick." becomes a slippery slope with boundaries. Instead, define what is essential for both (1) critical work and (2) peace of mind, and have a plan to respond to both.
Commit to transparency. Burnout leads to bitterness. It is very difficult to sweeten a bitter spirit. Know your personal warning signs for burnout and stress. Be honest with yourself. Talk to your boss, colleagues, employees, spouse, and family members when you're starting to see signs of unnecessary stress. Talk about the behaviors or causes of the unnecessary stress rather than blaming a specific person. Our jobs will never be stress-free, but you can limit the stress. Otherwise, your journey back to peace will be far more difficult.
Like many things in life, not all of the answers are black and white - there is a lot of gray. Boundaries are hard, but they are essential. Remember, the lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect. Start with these simple techniques. Discover what works for you.
Author: Jennifer Strahan, DSc, MS, FACHE, LSSMBB
If you're looking to create more balance in your organization, we can help! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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