According to HuffPost, the average person spends 13 years and two months at their place of work. After you let that sink in for a minute, you may be thinking what we’re thinking…that’s a LOT of time. Fortunately, when you have a career you love, it’s time well spent—but it’s common that even the happiest of workers can fall victim to allowing their work life to bleed into their personal life. Given that the work of a nurse is already mentally and emotionally exhausting, it’s important that nurses make a conscious effort to establish healthy boundaries at work with their colleagues, so that they can find both their work and personal lives more fulfilling.  

    Managing boundaries stops conflict before it begins

    Though we’ve written blogs centered around managing and sorting through conflict in the workplace, doing the work to establish healthy boundaries will position you to stop the conflict before it begins. Think about it this way, when you establish healthy boundaries with your colleagues, you’re letting them know how you want to be treated in a way that’s honest and upfront, versus passive aggressive. Now, we understand establishing these boundaries with your (oftentimes new) colleagues can be a tad daunting, given you want to showcase your expertise, professionalism and ability to rise to any occasion, but we can assure you that with clear communication and preparation, it can be done.

    Unsure how to go about establishing these healthy boundaries at work? Here are 4 ways to help you navigate the waters:

    1. Establish these boundaries right when you start your new assignment

    Because every person has different boundaries, it’s unproductive to assume that your colleagues will inherently know what yours are. They won’t unless you tell them. When you’re upfront about your boundaries from the get-go, you’ll open the dialogue for your colleagues to ask questions to avoid any confusion later. For example, if it’s important to you to be specific around how much overtime you’ll work, it will be helpful for your colleagues to know that outright so that they don’t put you in a bind.

    If you’re nervous about how communicating your boundaries to your new colleagues may come across, try making it into a positive on both sides, which will help build the trust between you. Starting the dialogue may also inspire your coworkers to share their own boundaries, helping create a productive and drama-free relationship.

    Example: “As my new colleague, I want you to know that our working relationship together is a priority for me. Therefore, I wanted to share with you some boundaries I have to ensure there’s no miscommunication as we move forward.”

    2. Communicate clearly

    When we communicate utilizing concrete language, we leave little to the imagination, which will ensure you and your colleagues are on the same page. When you’re communicating around your boundaries, be as specific as possible and avoid vague expressions whenever possible.

    Example #1: If a superior makes a request of you and you’re already feeling overwhelmed with your task load, venting your frustration with phrases like, “I have too much stuff on my plate” may be difficult for them to translate. Instead, try communicating with explanations that are a bit more concrete, like “I’m happy to add your task to my list, but I also want to let you know that if I do, a few other tasks on my list may have to wait. I can keep you updated on my timeline in the meantime to let you know how I’m doing.”

    Example #2: If you’ve scheduled time to be off-work and have requested that colleagues only call you “in times of emergencies”, that can be fairly subjective. Specifically stating what you constitute as an emergency helps your colleagues avoid violating a boundary they didn’t intend to.

    3. Acknowledge when a boundary is violated—but only when you’re in the right frame of mind

    Though we’re inclined to encourage you to address boundary violations when they happen to avoid frustration building up and exploding, it’s also important you’re not addressing the topic when the situation is a bit too raw for comfort. If you react emotionally, you will likely put others on the defensive, practically guaranteeing conflict. Whether you decide to address boundary violations as they happen, or incorporate a consistent grace period to cool off—ask yourself this question before you start talking:

    “Am I in the position to respond to this boundary violation with this person clearly, calmly and rationally?” 

    If there’s any hesitation to the above question, it’s best to sit with your response to ensure you’re in the right frame of mind. However, don’t let too much time pass by before you address the violation, as then you will find it hard to bring it up. We would encourage this is done within the first 24 hours.

    4. Be mindful of your boundaries even when you’re not at work

    As we mentioned earlier, it can be a challenge for nurses to not allow their work to bleed into their personal lives. But if you’re consistent with the boundaries you have at work and mindful of them when you’re at home, this will help instill accountability on your end so that you’re not putting yourself on the path of burnout.

    For example, if you’ve told your colleagues that you want to be unplugged at least one day per week, hold yourself accountable when you’re at home and refrain from checking email or completing work-related tasks during what’s supposed to be your down-time. If you’re finding it challenging to restrain yourself, remember that being able to effectively recharge is critical to ensure you’re able to be the best nurse to your patients and teammate to your colleagues.

    If you are struggling with establishing healthy boundaries at your new assignment and would like some guidance, your Freedom team is always accessible for the support you need. Contact us whenever you need to!



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