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Setting Reasonable Boundaries at Work Without Getting Fired…Probably



New legislation has been proposed in New York City that would make it illegal for employers to demand employees respond to work-related communications outside of regularly scheduled work hours.

To be clear, it’s more ‘pay a fine’ illegal than ‘go to jail’ illegal, but the implications are still massive. The bill was pitched as a way to provide employees with the “Right to Disconnect.” (The fact that there are massive loopholes built into the language of the bill is a conversation for a different time.)

As you can imagine, this proposal was met with a broad spectrum of reactions. It does, however, raise a very interesting question. Technology has made staying connected easier than ever, in a way that simply didn’t exist when the 9-5 schedule was popularized. But, does that mean that employees are no longer entailed to that uninterrupted respite?

The economy is rough. Just finding a good job is hard enough, let alone getting a position in your field. If you’ve finally gotten that opportunity you’ve been waiting for or if you’ve been unemployed for an extended period, you’re likely in the “whatever it takes” mindset.

It’s great for your boss, most of whom will be more than happy to take advantage of your gumption. However, as you settle into your position the standards you set at the start will be what’s expected of you from that point on. It’s an easy way to burn yourself out. What do you do?

Setting Boundaries

Employers are not psychic. They only know what you produce. They have no way of knowing how you are feeling unless you tell them. So, tell them; professionally and with tact. Again, don’t throw caution to the wind. Remember, you did agree to terms when you took the job. Renegotiating terms you just agreed to can be tricky.

That said, if you’re being asked to do things outside of what you agreed to or beyond what you were led to believe would be expected of you, then it’s time to speak up.



Start Early

This is where that early obsequiousness can really come back to bite you. If you come in early and stay late every day for the first couple months, it will become expected behavior. Set your boundaries early so you and your boss can work out what is and isn’t expected of you. Yes, this can make the uncomfortable prospect of starting something new all the more uncomfortable. But, it’s better to do it while everyone is still feeling each other out.

Don’t Be Afraid to Push Back (Respectfully)

This is where things get a little touchy. On every job opening or employment agreement that you see or sign, you are likely to see the words “and other tasks as needed.” This is a catchall that companies use so that you can never say “That’s not my job.” Also, you probably shouldn’t ever say “That’s not my job.” At the same time, employers are going to get what they can from you. If you weren’t expecting to be on call 24/7, vocalize that concern in a professional manner. Someone’s expectations are misaligned. Regardless of whether it is you or your boss, you are likely to suffer because of it.

Be Prepared to Walk Away

DISCLAIMER: I am not telling you to quit your job!

What I am telling you is that there may come a point when you reach an impasse with your employer regarding what they want you to do and what you’re prepared to do. At this point, you have two choices – Grin and bear it or move on. That’s a decision you’ll have to make after evaluating your circumstances and figuring out whether you feel it’s worth it. Keep in mind, being fired for cause is a much worse look than quitting. Neither is a choice that should be made lightly.

How do you feel about the “Right to Disconnect” proposal? Should employees’ rights be protected or is this a case of government overreach? Let us know your take!

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