How to Set Boundaries for Your Family at Work

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I worked at a corporation for nearly 20 years. I was expected to carry a pager (in the 90s), a cell phone, and a laptop and respond to work-related issues immediately. It didn’t matter if I was watching a movie, having dinner with my family, or riding Space Mountain at Disney. My bosses expected me to be available 24/7. Many men feel this same pressure and find it difficult to balance the demands of work with the responsibilities of home life.

As these work/home barriers continue to blur, we face another challenge – how to establish boundaries for our families during the workday.

During my tenure in corporate America, I witnessed several of my employees‘ spending a significant portion of their workday dealing with personal issues. As a husband and father, I understood their need to deal with these issues at work. However, as a manager, it was my responsibility to establish guidelines to maintain productivity for my team and for myself.

If you’re struggling with how to deal with this issue, here are 7 practical techniques that you can use to set boundaries for your family:

Make sure your family understands work rules

Most companies have policies on personal phone calls, social media, and e-mail. Share these policies with your family so they understand what is appropriate and what isn’t. If your company doesn’t have written policies, talk to your family in more general terms about your work requirements. Emphasize the point that companies have a right to monitor all communication that takes place on their networks.

Manage your mobile devices

To get around the rules regarding companies’ networks, family members will call and send messages to your cell phone all day long. I often observed my employees peeking at their devices or leaving meetings to take personal calls. Communicating with friends on social networks also consumed a large portion of my employees’ days. Taking a break to use your cell phone is fine if you don’t abuse the privilege. Try not to use your devices to take care of personal business during crucial times at work. Make sure that your family understands that sending you non-stop text messages and tweets isn’t a good practice.

Schedule times to chat

Connecting with your family during the workday is important and you should schedule a time to do it. When I worked outside of home, I scheduled time to talk to my wife in the morning and in the afternoon. Once you set a schedule, stick it to and keep calls short and to the point. If family members call to chat (non-emergency) at non-scheduled times, remind them of the agreement and set up an appointment to talk later.

Control e-mail communication

Each day at work, I’d receive at least 100 work-related e-mail messages. In addition, some of my family members and friends had a bad habit of sending me a constant stream of e-mail chain letters, jokes, and forwarded messages. I spent several hours deleting these messages. Inform your family that your work e-mail address is for work communications. Sending short messages about important items is okay, but personal communication should be limited to your personal e-mail accounts (which you should check infrequently during the workday).

Deal with major problems at home

When you work in a cubicle or other open office environment, it’s hard to have private conversations. If you have to take a sensitive call, leave your work area, and find a private location. The whole office doesn’t need to know the intimate details about your children’s behavior, marital struggles, medical issues, or financial problems. Try to keep the conversation brief and promise to deal with the issue when you get home. It’s easy to allow your emotions to take over and lure you into a heated debate, but you must maintain your composure and prevent your personal problems from interfering with your work responsibilities.

Take time off from work

To maintain the proper balance between work and home, you must schedule time off from work on a regular basis. If your office is the only place where your family can get in touch with you, they will have no recourse other than to bombard you with messages throughout the workday. Besides, what’s the point of earning vacation hours if you never use them? Let your family see that they are important to you by spending time with them.

Remain connected

Leave notes to say “I love you” in your children’s lunch boxes. Write a message for your wife on the bathroom mirror. Come home on time for dinner. Do whatever it takes to let your family know you’re thinking about them throughout the day. Your family needs this intimate connection with you. Make the most of the time you have together.

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