We Know What’s Hard At Work…But, Have We Figured Out Why?
Within the last 24 hours, I’ve coached three very different clients, in three very different situations, on three seemingly very different challenges. In each one, we came out with the same underlying core issue.
- Why do people seem to treat one another badly in our office?
- Morale is so low… people are constantly using words like frustrated, overwhelmed. Am I wrong to think that “cheerleading” them out of this won't work?
- People all around the office seem so stressed, so deadline driven, so “overwhelmed.” How can we get back to feeling like we’re productive?
Answers: The pace of work has escalated, we’re staffed more thinly now, the Internet is compounding workplace complexity. All true. Instead of being literal about each presenting issue, I dug a little deeper and found one word that addressed them all. BOUNDARIES.
Boundaries are the invisible lines that help define roles, interactions and responsibilities in relationships. They create an understanding of what each of us is expected to work on, guide and/or produce. They define our interactions with co-workers and managers/supervisors, and, they help everyone see that drawing lines where none exist can often solve problems. The boundaries we set for ourselves are perhaps the most important of all.
These days, I see a lack of at least some clear boundaries in virtually every workplace. Come along with me as I go back to my clients’ initial questions with a boundary lens on. Then, test my boundary questions around your world at work.
1. Why do people seem to treat one another badly in our office? How strong are your organization’s interpersonal boundaries? Does everyone at work know:
- What’s taboo language--- swear words? All of them, or is a slipped “Oh, Shxx” okay?
- Would this be considered a degrading comment: Are you late again? How many times do we need to put up with this?
- What topics are “off limits,” always--- discussions about sex, salaries? What else?
- Is it clear that door slamming, walking out of meetings, talking behind people’s backs is not tolerated?
- Have people been coached into honest conversations, that are still respectful--- example from a supervisor to a staff member: I would prefer if you not continue to be late for every meeting. It’s important to the organization’s productivity if we learn to be civil to one another.
2. Morale is so low… people are constantly using words like frustrated, overwhelmed. Am I wrong to think that trying to “cheerlead” them out of this won’t work? How would the organization/division/group answer these questions about their own roles, responsibilities and expected results:
- Do I know, clearly, and have in writing, what is expected from me, who will evaluate its success and the criteria they will use to do so?
- Do I know how to handle it when people (other than my “boss”) also give me responsibilities, who I should communicate with and how?
- Do I know how--- and when--- to communicate when I can’t do something?
- Have I been given a green light (and, if so, by the person with the authority) to ask for help from others?
3. People all around the office seem so stressed, so deadline driven, so “overwhelmed." How can we get back to feeling like we’re productive? Personal boundaries may be the trickiest --- and the most critical of all. How would you, and virtually every person on your team, answer these questions about how you’ve set your personal boundaries?
- Have I personally, set and shared my communication preferences? (examples: email #1, will always answer within 24 hours; phone calls, unless urgent, never before 9:30--- use early hours to set the tone for the day/week, complete tasks I’d love to procrastinate on, etc.).
- Have I shared with others when I’m “available,” and when not? Does everyone involved with me professionally know that?
- Have I developed ways to refresh myself?
- Do I have “helpers” inside the organization who help me stay accountable to my commitments?
- Do I give myself permission to take time away from work? During a high stress day? On regular vacations/mini-vacations?
- Do I have a series of successful ways to communicate when I’m feeling overstressed, overburdened, overwhelmed? And, do I act on positive suggestions from others?
It is hard at work today. We can make it far easier on ourselves, our colleagues and our organization by understanding the power of boundaries and working hard to make those invisible lines more visible. Three clients have already enrolled in the process. What about you?