Any time your boundaries are crossed in a way that disrupts your ability to have your needs met and your preferences honored, you are experiencing a boundary violation. People violate boundaries without even knowing it. In the workplace, boundary violations happen all of the time. For example, an employee has her daughter’s recital to go to on Wednesday at 7 pm. She’s explained to her boss that she needs to leave at 6:30 pm sharp in order to make it to the recital. At 6:29 pm, her boss rushes into her office and tells her that she absolutely needs her to stay a little bit longer to help make a last-minute fix to a project that has to be submitted tonight. That boss may not understand what she just did but the employee certainly feels it. Her boundaries have been violated.
Boundary violation occurs intentionally or unintentionally. The key is to notice when your boundaries are being violated and address the issue promptly. The issue of boundary violation takes on added meaning when you compound the violation with a boss who consistently behaves in this way. Any time you have a manager who does not respect or value your off-hour time, your work/life/family balance needs, and does not understand where your job role begins and ends (and thus has you doing the job of three people), you have a manager who is also a boundary violator. The problem with this is that, at some point, you’ll get so fed up that one of three things will occur: 1) your performance goes down, 2) you quit the job or 3) you change departments or positions in an attempt to get away from your boundary violating boss. While all of these options are viable, none of them teach you how to successfully manage a boundary violator. Rest assured: you’re going to come across these kinds of people in all areas of your life. Use this workplace experience as an opportunity to learn how to navigate these rocky waters.
If you’re confused about whether your boss is a boundary violator (or if he/she just expects a lot of you), here are 7 signs that your boss is, in fact, a boundary violator:
1) You’ve made it clear what you can and cannot do in terms of your work role but consistently get asked to do the tasks and take on the responsibilities that you’ve clearly stated you cannot do (i.e. extra projects, weekend work, extensive travel, longer hours, taking on additional projects when you’re already overwhelmed with the ones you have). In this situation, it’s almost as if you’re talking but your boss doesn’t really hear you… or he/she doesn’t care.
2) Your boss consistently reminds you of past mistakes that you’ve made as a way of guilting you into doing more work than is required of you (i.e. playing the blame/shame/guilt game as a way of making you feel like you ‘owe’ your boss).
3) On the one hand, your boss praises your work but, on the other hand, he/she refuses to help you move up in the company. At every performance appraisal, he/she has at least 10 reasons why you’re “not ready” to move up in the ranks.
4) Your boss inappropriately confides in you as a “friend” about his or her personal life, marital troubles, and work issues and asks you for advice, thus putting you in an awkward position.
5) Your boss consistently waits until the very last minute to ask you to “help out” on projects, tasks and committees that he/she could’ve easily asked you to participate in earlier.
6) Your boss delegates a lot of tasks to you but takes all of the credit.
7) Your boss is disorganized when it comes to delegating responsibility when on vacation, leaving early, or going on business trips and expects that you will pick up the slack for his or her lack of follow through.
Those are just seven of the signs that your boss is a boundary violator. If even two are present, know that it is up to you to have that boundary conversation. When setting work boundaries, many employees fear that if they firmly set boundaries, they’ll put themselves at risk for losing their jobs. At the end of the day, here’s the truth: your boss will continue to violate your boundaries as long as you let him or her do that. It is up to you to decide if your best bet is to:
1) find another job,
2) find another position within the company,
3) have a boundary conversation or
4) simply start saying no.
Only you know the exact dynamics of your department and your relationship with your boss. Trust your intuition on this one.
If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, get your resume and cover letter together and begin to pursue opportunities elsewhere. If you feel that your talent and gifts are being taken advantage of, you have the power to stop that today. At any moment, you can request a meeting where you ask your boss to modify your hours, your job role, negotiate your salary, or simply seek employment elsewhere and deal with the boundary violation until you move on to another firm. But you’ve got to do something. Whenever boundary violations go on for an extended period of time, one of two things happens: 1) the person being violated loses self-esteem, hope, and performance suffers to the point of turnover (voluntary or involuntary) or 2) the person violating never learns the powerful lesson that people will give you 200% if they know that you truly care for them and take their needs into consideration. To allow boundary violations to continue to occur is a lose-lose situation. Don’t put up with it. There is a way to create and keep healthy boundaries in ALL areas of your life, especially at work.