Theme: Setting boundaries so your work life doesn’t become your whole life.
One day in April 2007, author and businesswoman Ariana Huffington had a sudden reality check when she collapsed to the floor, breaking her cheekbone in the process.
After being brought to the hospital and having undergone many tests, she asked her doctors what the problem was; she was diagnosed with ‘civilization’s disease’: burnout. And the doctors told her: “there’s nothing the medical profession can do for you. You have to change your life.”
Nancy Rothbard has been studying how people manage the boundary between work and life for many years.
She has found there are 2 types of workaholics: ‘unhappy workaholics’ and ‘engaged workaholics’. Unhappy workaholics don’t enjoy their job, whereas engaged workaholics are passionate about it.
Understandably, unhappy workaholics have a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But interestingly, engaged workaholics are buffered from the negative risk of unhappy workaholics.
However, that doesn’t mean engaged workaholics don’t need to disengage from their work from time to time.
In her research, Nancy has found that many people have different ideas about whether work should spill over into life. There are 2 types of people:
Integrators: those who like to integrate work and life
Segmentors: those who like to establish clear boundaries between work and life
Segmentors report higher levels of well-being than integrators.
Boundaries come naturally to segmentors. But integrators need them, too.
The reality is: everyone needs boundaries
However, today we live in an environment that makes it really hard to be a segmentor: the constant noise, interruptions and distractions caused by smartphones, email and other gadgets force us to be ‘on’ 24/7.
The effects of smartphones
“If you use an electronic device during a class or meeting you learn and contribute less. And so do the people sitting near you. And according to one experiment, just having your smartphone on your desk reduces you own working memory by 10 percent. Even if the phone is just in airplane mode. It also makes you perform five percent worse on an intelligence test. Just seeing your phone there is enough to send your mind wandering. And it makes you dumber. So we look for ways to avoid these distractions.”
Jason Fried is the CEO of Basecamp, a software company that makes project management and team communication easier. They work on software that helps teams communicate, but not in the ways that we’re so used to: fast, immediate, in your face.
Jason says that interruptions should be avoided if possible. In his experience, interruptions cause drops in productivity by breaking up employees’ days into small minute chunks of time, where no meaningful work can be done. Because of this, employees are forced to either work late nights or finish their work on weekends instead, stealing their precious time away from work.
At Basecamp they want people to have space for deep work. To get into the zone that psychologists call flow — that state of total immersion where you’re so absorbed in a task that you lose track of time, place, even yourself. Work requires uninterrupted stretches of time to get into the zone and get work done.
When it comes to work-life balance, Jason knows it’s not enough for individuals or teams to manage their own boundaries. Leaders need to model the behavior they want to see exhibited by their employees; as we discussed previously, company leaders establish work norms.
So, we know that establishing boundaries is important for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
But what do you do when others will not respect your boundaries?
Chris Voss, ex-FBI hostage negotiator of 24 years, has mastered the art of setting limits with people who make extreme demands; in his line of work, setting boundaries is a matter of life and death.
Here are his 3 keys to setting boundaries (Voss, 2018):
- Ask a question, like “How am I supposed to do that?
“It engages in a process that we call forced empathy. And it forces the other side to take a look at you and your situation fairly. To see the problem from your perspective.
Restating what you think you heard to get the other person to either own it or reject it.
A really effective label is just like, “It seems like X.” It seems like, it sounds like, it looks like, it feels like.
- Instead of trying to get a ‘Yes’, start off by asking a question that elicits a ‘No’
“We always feel safe, secure and centered after we’ve said no. So, consequently, after somebody has said no, they’re more persuadable. Trying to get anybody to say ‘yes’ to anything, they instantly go into anxiety mode, like, “What am I not seeing, what’s the trap, what’s the trick here?” Switching away from “Do you agree with this?” to “Do you disagree?” makes all the difference in the world. So, most of your yes questions can be flipped just changing the first part of it, “Are you against, is this a bad idea, is this ridiculous, do you disagree?”.”
(If you’re interested, I recommend checking out his very interesting book “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It”.)
In his own life, Adam has realized that the only way to make progress is to say no more often. So het set priorities:
“Who to help? Family first, students second, colleagues third, everyone else fourth. When to help? At designated times that didn’t interfere with my goals. And how to help? In areas where I had a unique contribution to make. Now, when people reach out with requests that stretch beyond my wheelhouse or my calendar, I refer them to relevant resources: an article or an expert. But one guy just would not take no for an answer. So finally I wrote him an email. It said, “I’m so sorry to disappoint. One of my goals for this year is to improve my ability to say no. And you’re a tough audience. Thanks for the practice.” I think that’s what improving our work and our lives is all about: practicing. Trying out new ways to work and setting boundaries for everything we hold dear beyond work.”
Questions to think about
- Do you ever feel like your work makes too many demands on your life?
- What boundaries, if any, do you have to ensure that your work and your life outside of work stay balanced?
Applications for business
- If you feel like your work is spilling over into your life, don’t be afraid to bring the issue to your superior or manager.
- Try Chris Voss’ 3 keys to setting boundaries:
1) Ask a question like, “How am I supposed to do that?”
3) Start off by asking a question that elicits a ‘No’.
- Be aware of the demands you make on your employees in the workplace.
- Create a culture of healthy work-life balance in your workplace, by first modelling it yourself.
- Show that you care about your employees’ lives outside of the work environment; once in a while, allow your employees to invite their family members to work for a special event (spouse and/or kids), allow your employees to leave work early or take time off work for special life events (e.g. graduation, kids’ recital, soccer game, etc.).
- Be aware of the signs of unhealthy work-life balance in your workplace
- Next time you want to ask a colleague to handle your email while you’re on vacation, rather than asking “Would you be open to it?” you can gently ask, “Are you totally opposed to the idea?”
- Try CEO of Vynamic Dan Calista’s new initiative: ‘Z-Z-Z mail’. The rules are: No emails on weekends and no emails between 10pm and 6am on weeknights.
Grant, Adam. “When work takes over your life.”. Audio blog post. WorkLife with Adam Grant. TED, April 18th 2018. Itunes App.