Bright-eyed, and armed with a degree, my friends and I graduated college with a determination to find a job in our field of interest and a zeal that could rival that of Chatur Ramalingam’s. Some took up jobs in advertising, some in film-making, some in financial auditing, and others in tech. As distinct and diverse as our work was, a common thread linking us all together was the automatic, unspoken acceptance of the fact that a life outside work is something we would have to forego for the near future. “Work-life balance” or “work boundaries” was not something we could desire, let alone expect.
“I’m in advertising bro – on a good day I get home at 11 PM.”
“It doesn’t look good to leave before 9. They’ll think I’m not dedicated enough.”
“If they ask me why I want to leave at a reasonable time, what reason can I give that sounds valid enough?”
These are some of the most common justifications we hear from people when this issue is brought up.
The idea of young people with no “familial responsibilities” as such, having to go above and beyond for their work, or risk their performance being perceived negatively, has been propagated and internalised through the years.
The manner in which we’ve internalised patriarchal insecurities of inferiority, and the desire to break out of them, has led to the yardstick for measuring a woman’s empowerment largely being her career.
The belief is that in order to break away from the shackles of years of discrimination and sexism, we must not only pursue careers, but work tirelessly and relentlessly in them, to prove our worth.
While justifying setting up boundaries between your work and your life outside of it, is a tough terrain to scale for everyone – it’s viewed as slightly more acceptable, and less as a transgression on the employee’s part, when the employee is married or is a parent.
It’s harder to justify working only for the hours your job description requires you to, when your superiors don’t perceive you as having a life that’s important enough, outside of work, to want to get home to. If you don’t have parental, household, or familial duties to get to after work, you don’t have have a justified reason to not spend those long hours at work.
You’re expected to devote all your time, mental space, energy (and even your weekends!) to your work, because you can.
This only escalated during the lockdown, when active work hours stretched on well into the night, and weekends of rest have become a rare phenomenon, because “what else do you have to do? Go clubbing?(*insert loud laugh*)”
Set Up Realistic And Healthy Work Boundaries For Yourself
If you feel like your schedule is unmanageable, and you’re overworked, but also feel like these grievances will be perceived as a lack of dedication to the job and lead to a negative bias towards your performance, you need to start setting up clear boundaries at work.
Here are 5 tips to setting realistic boundaries that will help you work smarter, increase your productivity, and create a healthy relationship with your work – while also maintaining a level of respect for yourself at the office.
Question How Good Work Is Measured And Understand That Your Time Is As Valuable As Anyone Else’s
Understand that staying late at the office and working to the point of burnout should not be measures of success, or signs that you’re doing a good job at work.
Just because you’re not married does not mean your life outside work does not have value, or that you must necessarily invest it in your work.
Take Into Account Your Personal Priorities
Despite not being a wife or a mother, remind yourself that it is okay, if not extremely necessary – to want to be present and grow yourself in your life outside of it. This could include your home life, passions, relationships, taking care of your physical and mental health, or learning new skills. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to sustain and grow an identity that isn’t just attached to your career.
Communicate Upfront And Communicate Firmly
Once you understand your priorities, communicate them early, in a professional manner. Communicate that you have a class at 6 PM that you need to get to on certain days of the week. Be upfront about your time limits and the degree to which they are flexible. Let your team know that you won’t be available to answer work calls or emails beyond 7 PM. Communicate clearly what constitutes a “work emergency” that you are willing to be flexible for.
Say No, And Delegate Work When It’s Appropriate
Sometimes you will be asked to do work outside your job description – and that’s okay. However, if you’re already over-burdened with work, see if it’s possible to delegate the work.
Ask yourself if accepting the tasks outside your scope of responsibility will compromise you performing your main functions well, or require you to work for unreasonably long hours. Ask yourself if there’s anyone else on the team who would be better suited to the task, and has the band-width to take it on.
In some cases where delegation or flexibility is not possible, practice saying no – a hard task for most of us.
Say no in a way that doesn’t come off as stubborn or accusatory, but instead explain how you do not want your primary responsibilities or productivity to suffer by taking on more work.
Use Technology To Communicate Structure
Technology can be a great tool to communicate personal boundaries, especially when working from home. You can use technological tools that set your working hours and notify your co-workers about them. You can block off your hours on Google calendar when you are engaged in a specific task and do not want to be disturbed. You can put up statuses on your organisation’s Slack account that make it clear when you’re unavailable, busy with work, or have logged off for the day.
Expect Your Boundaries To Be Questioned , But Don’t Let That Make You Question The Value Of Your Time And Choices
This is bound to be a difficult process. Your peers will probably continue to occasionally push back on your boundaries, and your boss is likely to not understand, and not like the fact that you insist on having them.
However, don’t let this question your belief in what is best for you, your health, your productivity, and your long-term growth.
Don’t let others’ lack of value for your lifestyle choices and time, affect the way you value them.
Being a single working woman does not mean you must necessarily invest all your time and effort into your work, in order to succeed – it means you have the liberty to invest them in yourself, in order to grow.
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