How to Establish Healthy Boundaries With Your Boss

If you work long enough in the San Francisco Bay Area, chances are you will encounter a manager or supervisor who encroaches on your boundaries, makes unrealistic or unreasonable demands, and creates stressful situations through his or her management style. To better understand your relationship with your current boss, ask yourself the following questions:

Does your manager?

  • Intrude upon your personal time with frequent after-hours messages and requests?Establish Boundaries With Your Boss
  • Ask you to pay for expenses out of pocket, and then take a really long time to issue reimbursements?
  • Regularly fail to properly plan and prioritize assignments, leading to a pattern of management by crisis?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you may benefit greatly from establishing healthy boundaries with your boss. Here are some suggestions on how to do so.

Boundary #1: Personal Time

Problem: Your boss is a workaholic who lives on e-mail and sends messages late into the night and on the weekends.

Solution: Clearly define for yourself and your boss what are working and non-working hours.

If your work e-mail is accessible via your smartphone, you may indicate that you will do an initial check of e-mail before beginning your commute (say, 7:30 AM) and a final check when you arrive home (for example, 7:00 PM), responding to any urgent messages at those times. Any e-mails sent after 7:00 PM and before 7:30 AM will not be responded to until you are back at work. Text messages sent to your personal device are allowed only in the case of true emergencies, as agreed upon by you and your supervisor.

Boundary #2: Expense Reimbursement

Problem: You’ve charged $500 in expenses to your personal credit card and haven’t been reimbursed for three months.

Solution: Establish a formal reimbursement process.

It is unfair and unreasonable for a boss to expect you to pay regular expenses without a well-defined, timely reimbursement system. For example, you can agree to submit expenses every two weeks (or at a minimum, once per month) to coincide with payroll. When total outstanding expenses surpass a pre-determined amount ($200, or some other amount you decide) you may submit them for payment immediately. In a worst-case scenario, your boss can reimburse you from his or her personal funds and submit the official reimbursement request later.

You may also investigate alternatives to paying for expenses yourself. If your company frequently purchases from the same vendor, is it possible to establish an account with that company? Alternatively, is there a company/department charge card that can be used for key expenses? Lastly, can your company or department maintain a petty cash fund for small purchases?

Boundary #3: Achieving Clarity and Alignment in Prioritization

Problem: Your boss assigns tasks without clearly communicating deadlines and priorities. Chaos results.

Solution: Define your own deadlines and be proactive in your communication.

When a supervisor’s own behavior is characterized by poor planning and disorganization, the resulting environment is typically stressful, both for the supervisor and his or her team. Unfortunately, ineffective managers are often ineffective communicators and poor delegators. To gain clarity into your own workload, determine your own deadline immediately upon being given a task, and communicate this to your boss. (“I will have the first draft of this communication back to you by noon tomorrow.”) If you are unclear as to whether your new assignment takes priority over existing projects, ask right away. “Is this communication more important than the quarterly reports?” Don’t wait for clarification from your boss—ask for it yourself.

Final Thoughts on Defending Boundaries, Giving Help, and Making Sacrifices

Also, understand the distinction between giving help and making a sacrifice. Externally they are indistinguishable from each other, but there is a true difference. Giving help is an action that originates from abundance: “I have more than enough time, energy and attention right now, so I am happy to help you.” In contrast, sacrifice originates in the perception of lack: “There is not enough time/money/resources for you and I to both obtain what we want, so I will sacrifice my wants/needs for yours.” Giving help is empowering and uplifting, whereas sacrifice leads to resentment over time. Reflect on your actions and decisions to identify when you are giving help and when you are sacrificing.

Menlo Partners is Here to Help

Do you have additional questions regarding establishing healthy boundaries at work? Menlo Partners is happy to assist you with any concerns regarding working and job searching in the Silicon Valley.


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