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How to Set Boundaries with the Boss

How to deal with a boss who doesn't respect your boundaries.

By
Stever Robbins,
August 4, 2009
Episode #094

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How to Set Boundaries with Your Boss

Listener Rusty wrote in:

How do I get my boss to stop ringing/texting me outside work hours?

Some bosses don’t respect employees. They take one look at you and the first thing they think is, “there’s yet another tool to use for my own ends.” The second thing they think is, “I will use my telepathic powers to take over his brain, steal his body, and live forever.” For that second part, I recommend a stake through the heart at midnight. And garlic. Garlic makes steak taste wonderful. But when it comes to bosses who text you outside of work hours, you can try many things.

Ask Nicely, Explain Calmly, Set Boundaries

First, set your boundaries. You have to set boundaries calmly. State your boundaries in terms of your needs, and spell out the action you want your boss to take. “Boss, I need to keep my home and work lives separate, so I can do a better job at both. Going forward, could you save your calls and texts for work hours?”

If you want to be more assertive, don't ask your boss to change, just say what you will do. “From now on, I'll save your phone messages and texts and respond to them the first thing when I get into the office.”

Is this risky? Yes! There are plenty of bosses in the world whose own work habits are so unbalanced that they want their employees available every waking hour. If you set boundaries with that type of boss, you could get fired, or when review time comes along, you could get a bad review.

In my fantasy word, however, bosses are reasonable people who will respect your boundaries if you bring them up in a clear, non-threatening way.

Compromise

You can also offer a compromise. “Boss, I need to keep my lives separate. And I want to be responsive to you at the same time. How can we meet both our goals?” You might agree to check voicemail and text messages three nights a week or something similar. I’d try for a compromise only if my boss wouldn’t respect my boundaries to begin with. We work 40-hour weeks. Your boss stops being your boss when you leave for the day. It isn’t reasonable for bossy-boss to expect more unless that you agree up front and you get paid for it. We already work more days than any other country in the world, we don’t need to work the longest days, as well. The threat of being fired if you don’t overwork yourself is nothing but extortion.

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