The struggle to create a healthy work-life balance can be difficult, especially if you’re a Millennial. There’s a widespread belief that Millennials are lazy, entitled and self-serving. In order to dispel these misconceptions we take our work home with us, volunteer for extra projects, and put in overtime hours, sometimes unpaid, to complete projects on time. Our eagerness to stand out over the negative Millennial stereotype certainly draws attention, but on occasion it’s not the type of attention we benefit from.
Many of us have probably had run-ins with that senior coworker who acknowledges our commitment to doing a good job; they see the twinkle in our eye and the hope that our hard work will be recognized, and they might try to use it for their own benefit. There’s always that coworker who, no matter what age they are, will try to pawn their responsibilities off on someone else. We don’t want to say no because we’ve been programmed to believe that saying no means we’re reluctant to help or inflexible. As a result, we may sacrifice our social lives, our happiness, or even our health to demonstrate how accommodating we can be.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way–if you’re willing to establish boundaries. Setting boundaries doesn’t mean that you should stop caring about your career, that you shouldn’t strive to do a good job, or that you shouldn’t form relationships with your coworkers. In fact, it’s the total opposite. Boundaries allow you to separate yourself from your job in a healthy way, establish positive and mutually beneficial relationships, and keep the “I’m so stressed, I hate my job, I want to quit!” voices at bay.
It’s okay to say no
We’ve all said yes to something when we should have said no. Sadly, all of those yeses can pile up faster than you think. Eventually you may realize that you have overcommitted yourself, and feel anxious or stressed because you don’t know where to begin. Remember that it’s better to say no if you have a lot on your plate than risk delivering less than your best. Let the person know you don’t have the time or the ability to take on the project; express your disappointment in being unable to help and convey that you would be doing them a disservice if you took on that task right now. Your sincerity and honesty will be appreciated.
Don’t feel guilty for telling someone no and don’t feel like you have to take on everything. There may come a time when you’re stuck working on things you’re not interested in and a dream project, task or presentation comes up that you can’t commit to. Wouldn’t you prefer to take on that dream project instead of turning it down because you’re already overcommitted? Obviously, there will be some times when you can’t say no (like when your manager asks for something). But on the optional requests, pick and choose wisely. Make sure it will work for you, and try to take on extra tasks that help develop a new skill set.
Ask for help
There is no harm in asking a coworker for assistance or delegating a task to someone else. Be courteous in your approach and ask politely if they’re available to take on the task or help you with it. Some people have already established their work boundaries and may not be willing to help; don’t be frustrated if they tell you no, and don’t take it personally. If you’re unable to complete the task on your own, or get help from a coworker, you may want to reach out to your manager for assistance. Be honest with them about your workload and try to work with them to find a solution. That way it doesn’t look like you’re shirking your responsibilities.
Remember, there is a difference between delegating and dumping work on someone else because you don’t feel like doing it. We want others to respect our time and workload, so it’s only right to do the same for them. Your coworkers will appreciate that you adhere to their boundaries and will be more willing to help you in the future.
Don’t let your paid time off go to waste
Some companies offer their employees paid time off (PTO) as a benefit; however, there may be a, “use it or lose it,” policy that goes along with it. Companies build paid time off into their employee benefit packages to show they value a work-life balance. If your employer gives you paid time off then you should use it judiciously for a mental health break.
Schedule time off to do something fun or take a personal day when you need it. You owe it to yourself to make that time about you. If you have a work-issued device you may want to turn it off while you’re out of the office. You don’t want to be tempted to check your work email or take calls from co-workers.
Leave your work at work
This is likely easier to accomplish if you’re an hourly employee than a salaried employee, but it’s possible. Once your workday has ended you must stop working. Don’t read any more emails. Don’t take any more phone calls. Don’t continue working on your report; save your progress and shut your computer down. Dedicate the rest of the day to you—exercise, read a book, walk the dog, run errands as long as they’re not work related.
Don’t take your work home with you unless you absolutely need to. It is important whether you’re hourly or salaried, primarily for legal reasons, to know your hours and log them accurately. Some companies don’t offer or require pre-approval for overtime. Even interns don’t really want to work for free, so if you have to bring work home with you be sure to keep track of what you did and when.
Overall, it’s important to be up front and on the same page with your manager. Scheduling regular check-ins with them will allow both of you to keep tabs on your workload, and will demonstrate your dedication and work ethic to your manager. Having them on your side when it comes to setting boundaries, taking on extra projects, and scheduling time off will make all of these processes that much simpler. Not to mention that a positive relationship with your manager can totally make or break your work life happiness!
How do you set boundaries at work? Share your tips with us!
Summer Jackson is a digital media editor in Seattle. She tries to balance her love for video games and all things cheese with ultimate frisbee. Her dream is to go on Wheel of Fortune, but in the meantime she'll settle for shouting at the TV from her couch. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr and WordPress.