Setting Boundaries at Work

Kelsey Creehan Featured News

By The CDA Wellness Committee
From the Fall 2019 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

There is nothing wrong with being passionate, committed and loyal to your business. In fact, it’s beyond respectable that you’ve created your dream opportunity, thanks to hard work and some blood, sweat, and tears. Keeping a business thriving is a constant effort and sometimes working nights and weekends is just necessary. In fact, working a little extra here and there may help you reduce future stress by checking a few more “to do” items off the list. It’s a slippery slope though—one late night can turn into four nights and four nights can turn into one day each weekend. Before you know it, you’re burning the candle at both ends, you can’t sleep, you’re shortchanging every human in your life and you’re familiar with the number of espresso shots in a trenta.

Stop multitasking for just a minute to reflect on your current “normal.” Do you do any of these things regularly?

  • Respond to a work-related email during a party or dinner
  • Have business emails connected to your personal cell phone with notifications
  • Sit down at the computer on a Sunday to work on personal matters and find yourself checking work email
  • Text an employee with random tasks or work thoughts after hours (and expect a response)
  • Consistently work late several days per week
  • Stop by the office on weekends
  • “Brag-complain” about working 60-hour weeks to friends, family and coworkers
  • Check messages the moment you wake up
  • Never take time off beyond a three-day weekend
  • Passive aggressively judge staff members or colleagues when they take time off or leave the office for lunch
  • Harbor jealousy when you see photos of other’s vacations
  • Take phone calls during the rare vacation
  • Agree to every request and meeting so people like and respect you
  • Purposely send emails off hours to prove to others how hard you work
  • Make yourself available anytime to demonstrate your reliability and loyalty

Chances are that you found yourself guilty of many things on that list—and then you proceeded to justify them. It’s time to decide if you’re ready to build some boundaries. Boundaries can initially make you feel guilty, lazy, nervous, worried and jittery—but those feelings are breaking down bad habits so you can reallocate energy to being rested, at peace, more focused and simply happy. After you have given yourself permission to set boundaries, here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Set Your Working Hours
    Humans are creatures of habit and they adapt quickly. If you have made yourself available at any hour and any day, people will expect you to be available; they will expect an immediate email or voicemail response and they will expect you to be in the office on a non-patient day. BUT if you create a boundary where you absolutely do not work on Fridays or you leave the office for an entire hour at lunch every day, people will adapt and accept your new schedule norms. 

  2. Lead by Example
    You are the leader of your practice, which means that you set the office culture simply leading by example. Don’t contact employees during their off-hours unless it is an absolute necessity. They want quality of life too and that should be respected. At the same time, be aware of those who are putting in extra hours—are they without boundaries or is their necessary workload overbearing? If they have crept into the same bad habits as you, work together to set boundaries and adhere to them. If they are justly burning the candle at both ends, verbally appreciate what they’re doing and then work together to delegate tasks to others or improve systems. The one thing you don’t want to do is embrace your new-found normal at the expense of others. You are in charge of taking care of yourself in addition to taking care of your employees. That means knowing exactly what they do every day, appreciating their efforts in the way they would like to be appreciated and providing them with the quality of life that you’re striving to also achieve.

  3. Take a Break!
    Accruing vacation time as a dentist, especially an owner dentist, is much different than a standard employee. In fact, you probably just silently asked yourself, “what vacation time?” Everyone needs a break. That break can be a beach vacation, a trip to see family, budget camping or a staycation. The point is to give yourself ideally 5-10 consecutive days to unwind, unplug and recalibrate. Sure, the bills are still coming, the emails are multiplying, and the patient files aren’t taking care of themselves—AND THAT’S OK. You will have to dig out when you return to reality; vacations come with strings attached. But ask yourself this: Will your life be richer if you stay in the office working tirelessly every day, or if you take some time to give your body a break, reconnect with family and friends, or enjoy a bucket list trip? Which type of “rich” would you rather be?

Setting boundaries will take time and practice but will help you balance your life and refresh your perspective. And who wouldn’t appreciate a little time to reflect on life under a palm tree on a beach?