The restricted freedoms of the past 18-months have at least provided us with a new perspective on life; both at home and at work.
Workers are emerging from the pandemic with a clearer idea of what they want, what they’re not prepared to tolerate, and where we want to build new boundaries between work and play.
Employees have been granted a new hybrid flexibility to choose what works best for them at work. But this hybridity has the potential to blur the lines between work life and home life: virtual communications platforms make it easier than ever to be “always-on”. This is why setting boundaries is important.
In fact, implementing workplace boundaries can empower greater productivity during the day whilst maintaining a healthy work-life balance to switch off to avoid burnout.
Nonetheless, initiating the conversation with a manager or colleague to establish a boundary can be an intimidating task to undertake; one that requires a certain level of self-assured conviction.
This is where HR can provide support to ensure that employees have a healthy work/life balance and can successfully establish those boundaries.
But the challenge doesn’t end here: yes, establishing a new boundary and initiating that change is tough, but it’s often even tougher to maintain that stance with colleagues.
So, how can employees consciously set and continually reinforce work-life boundaries, crucially with the support of HR?
Notice the need to set a new boundary
Being aware of when a boundary needs to be set in the first place is often half the battle.
Throughout lockdown, when working remotely, the lines between work and home life were often easily blurred, making it easier to work longer hours and, equally, allowing the strains and stresses of our personal lives to affect our presence at work.
It very quickly became important to be able to shut the door on the home office (no matter how make-shift the set-up) and create a physical boundary between the two.
However, the flexibility of hybrid working presents a new challenge in itself.
If you’re suddenly able to work anywhere, from home, from the office or from the local coffee shop, where can you go to switch off?
As we emerge from our home offices, and begin to explore the mixed bag of hybrid working, it’s important to stay in touch with our feelings and general wellbeing.
We’ve spent the last 18 months with an all for one and one for all attitude as we battled the uncertainty of lockdown and remote working together, but the flexibility of hybrid working introduces a new wave of individualism.
Now everyone’s working environment is determined by their own preferences and the demands of their own lives: everyone is in their own boat.
It’s the responsibility of HR to monitor the wellbeing of their workforce and flag any behaviors which indicate an impending wave of employee burnout.
Utilizing the right technology can boost the self-awareness of the workforce so the warning signs are less likely to go amiss.
For example, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can complement the emotional intelligence of the human workforce and provide an uncensored picture of the difficult aspects of organizational change, gathering this raw grassroots data during coaching sessions.
Crucially, it can assess behavior and provide aggregated company-wide trends that can be monitored and acted on by HR before they manifest in endemic problems.
AI opens the potential of a more transparent understanding of the self, how you work best and where and when these boundaries may best be set. Self-awareness is the starting point in noticing the need to set a new boundary.
Set a new boundary
Clarity is crucial in setting boundaries: what is it and why is it important?
When it comes to HR, they have the power to set an example.
The highest levels of change fatigue are often located within the HR department itself; it’s the role that is most stretched by dealing with the impact of change and has the most responsibility in supporting the workforce.
However, despite this responsibility, HR professionals don’t always have the authority to make the changes.
Therefore, it’s vital that HR have their own support network: as an HR professional, setting your own boundary is often the best place to start.
Start small, for example making it clear that you won’t be checking emails after 6 pm, or that you will have an hour outside for lunch, away from your desk, each day.
These little changes are easy to implement and can have a notable impact. They needn’t be hugely disruptive to your team or the business as a whole, but can be game-changing within your unique way of working.
AI can be integrated into this process: since it has no agenda, no relationship and, to a certain extent, no bias, it allows unfiltered access to self-awareness.
It is HR’s job to communicate this, through a human lens, and to the workforce as a whole. A combination of a human and technological approach to boundaries allows for a more open and trusting two-way relationship between managers and employees, built on an understanding of the self and an inclusive access to support and self-awareness.
Communicating with colleagues and the business as a whole will make this transition smoother. Be transparent and let people who will be affected by this boundary know about it from the outset.
One of the most common barriers to change is the people around us. Building new work/life boundaries will unsurprisingly change the dynamic of some of your working relationships.
For example, if you’re no longer answering emails in the evening, some adjustments to existing routines may be necessary.
One of the great benefits of lockdown has been the openness about mental health and wellbeing – especially in the workplace.
Speaking about personal and professional challenges that you’re facing is the first step in solving them before we reach breaking point.
The pandemic has been a real-world example of how HR can learn from and support each other and colleagues as they encounter new situations. Establish and build on open and trusting relationships at work.
That way, instead of draining energy worrying about what might result from impending business change, HR can have a genuine conversation about what works best for all parties and relax knowing that boundary is doing its job for everyone.
As an HR leader, you should develop a shift in mindset to hover over complex situations and the needs of the workforce whilst looking at this bigger picture through a human lens to help individuals get stuck in with the small acts of agency that drive the change.
Reinforce the boundary
Once you’ve worked out how the boundary can be established, it doesn’t stop there: take responsibility for managing it on an ongoing basis.
When you implement your own rules, you may encounter a tussle in some of the conversations if you’re looking to change the status quo.
HR can support this by ensuring that they don’t get drawn into the dialogue around change fatigue, but instead highlight how building boundaries can develop more small acts of agency amongst the workforce which empower employees as individuals.
HR should encourage the self-awareness of others: simply noticing the effect of building boundaries can reinforce their impact and build confidence and resilience across the organization.
The key to reinforcing boundaries is remaining consistent and clear.
Establish the personal and explain why boundaries are necessary for employees. In a professional environment where everyone has their own individual routine and way of working, HR leaders will have to demonstrate an emotional intelligence to empathize with their workforce.
Explain, for example, how receiving emails in the middle of the night reinforces the idea that work is inescapable. Instead, employees could email during working hours to maintain a boundary between the personal and the professional.
Always talk about the self and the effect work has on the individual. Speaking from the perspective of individual behaviors reinforces the human rather than the theoretical.
And, if it gets hard to maintain your boundaries, remind employees of the benefits and why they’re doing it – this will fuel the assertiveness to say no.
HR can bring emotional intelligence to technology and combine human relationships with the power of AI feedback. This can reinforce to individuals exactly what small adjustments they need to incorporate in order to help make a difference and transform their work/life balance in a hybrid working world.
It may be challenging, involve some daunting confrontation and a period of change, but more often than not establishing these clear boundaries at work will benefit the business and employees alike.
It’s all about spotting behavioral trends before they become endemic, and uncensored AI can empower the human workforce to increase its agency through acute self-awareness – sometimes you just need to make it about you.
This way, boundaries can be set before it’s too late, organizational change can be driven from the bottom up for a more trusting and transparent working environment for all. With time to distance yourself, rest, and recuperate, the risk of burnout is minimized, teams become more productive and the business more profitable.
It’s win, win, win!
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