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How Can I Set Boundaries With My Boss?

  • By Christine Tardio
  • November 16, 2015

My boss has trouble understanding appropriate levels of contact — for example, she often texts or calls me late at night, even when the information could easily wait until the next day. When I don't pick up her calls or texts (on my personal cell phone, no less), she gets irate. I want to make it clear that I'm dedicated to my job, but while I would understand the occasional emergency, it's not fair to be on call constantly for her every whim. How can I set boundaries with her?

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Yours is a timely and important question in this age when boundaries between work and personal time are being blurred beyond recognition.

The fact that it’s now possible to work any time and virtually from anywhere means that people can choose to work when they are at their most productive, or when it best suits their schedule.  Maybe they power through answering emails in the evening after they put their children to bed — or do their best thinking and work in the early morning before the sun rises.

It’s critical to understand how your boss works, and it’s also important to understand what her expectations are. Many managers who are most productive when they’re home in the evening have no expectation that their emails or texts will be answered in the middle of the night. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that if you didn’t ask. (Though, unfortunately, in your situation this does not seem to be the case.)

Without doubt, there are certain professions that demand pretty close to 24/7 accessibility, and within them are bosses who believe that to prove your dedication, you have to be constantly at their beck and call. If you’re in such a profession and you don’t want to play by those rules, there are probably many other people who do, in which case you’ll have a decision to make.

If your industry is not one of those that demand relentless availability, you may be dealing with an inexperienced manager or one who is really more interested in exercising power and control.

It’s best to determine where on the spectrum your boss falls. Have a conversation with her about how she likes to work and get clarity from her about what she expects from you. Such a conversation may lead to a number of different outcomes: You may find that honest, professional communication will help set reasonable boundaries all around; you may learn more about the expectations of your particular job or career that will make you rethink your career choice; you may find that when you gently and professionally push back, your boss backs down to a more reasonable position; or you may discover that your boss has no interest in setting realistic boundaries and will never believe you are truly dedicated unless you are perpetually on call.

The knowledge you’ll have coming out of that conversation will give you the power to make more informed decisions moving forward — decisions that satisfy both your personal and professional needs.

Christine Tardio is a trusted advisor and business coach to a dynamic range of women business leaders. She can be reached at thelookinglass.com.

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