I was teaching a class two weeks ago from the Star Achievement Series®. Our theme for that day was the attitude component of Star Achievement. Under that umbrella, we addressed topics such as self-management vs. stress management, learning specific difficult people types and how to handle each of them, the benefits of conflict and much more. Of course, we had plenty to talk about and one tip an attendee mentioned was, “Set healthy boundaries.” She definitely got a big star for that one.
So, what kind of boundaries are we talking about and with whom? After all, as administrative assistants and executive assistants, you sometimes feel like you can’t set boundaries or you might get fired or your leader will think you are not a team player. Some people think when I’m talking about setting boundaries, they have to do with sexual harassment in the workplace.
Boundaries can be set any time, any place, on anything, and with any person. I’ll give you a perfect example that just happened to me this morning as I was traveling. I was at the Las Vegas airport in the security line and was in line to pass my carry on through the screening process. (Keep in mind; I’ve been traveling for 20 years about 75% of the time, each year so I know what to do.) I was quickly placing my laptop in the bin, folding my raincoat up, taking off my shoes, and putting my purse on the conveyor when all of a sudden, this young woman who had been in line behind me, stepped right in front of me with 2 suitcases and placed them on the conveyor. She still needed to take off her shoes – and she didn’t know she was supposed to take off her sweat jacket.
You are probably thinking, “So what?” So what? It was rude that she thought she could just jump in front of me especially when she was not ready herself. It was not as if she said, “May I go ahead of you?” or I looked behind me and said to her, “You can go ahead of me.” I nicely told her that she couldn’t cut in front of me. Of course, she looked at me in shock and made a few comments. (I will spare the details of our back and forth dialogue.) She finally took her items and moved behind me and told me to have a nice day.
A boundary in the office for an administrative assistant can be as simple as addressing a coworker or manager who constantly steps into your work space and takes your pens or pads and does not ask or return them. If that bothers you, you need to say something.
Another boundary you might need to set is your accessibility after hours to your leader as far as emails go. This is becoming a huge problem. As I travel the country and talk to hundreds of administrative office professionals ranging from administrators to executive assistants, I’m hearing them say they are spending too much of their personal time (evenings or weekends) managing and/or responding to emails from their leader. One administrative assistant, who’ll I’ll call Sue for anonymity reasons, said that originally her manager did not expect her to check business emails and take action on non-work hours. But she wanted to get a jump on things or was curious as to what was going on, or wanted to read emails on Sunday night to be prepared for Monday morning. The problem is… she started responding to her leader’s emails and taking action steps if required. Now, she is frustrated because she spends 50% of her weekend working. I told her, “She created the monster.” It wasn’t required of her and while she thought nothing of it at first, it snowballed and now she will have to say something to her leader.
First, do not create situations that you will later regret.
Second, people will act as we allow them to. If you don’t say something when something isn’t right, then the person assumes it is okay.
Third, professionally communicate when setting boundaries yet be firm.
Healthy boundaries are good for you and the other person. It teaches them how to work with you in a way that stimulates win-win situations. You feel good for reasons that are too many to even mention in this blog. A few are that you feel confident, peaceful, in control (not walked over), respected, like a peer or business partner and viewed as a leader.
Good luck in setting healthy boundaries!
- Set Healthy Boundaries Webinar for Administrative Professionals
- Setting Boundaries in the Workplace (Article)
- How Successful People Set Boundaries At Work (Article)