Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Flexible work hours, new technology, and ever-changing workplaces has made it more difficult when it comes to setting healthy boundaries at work.

 

Factor in ongoing labour shortages and retention issues in many sectors, it’s now more important than ever for employers to create an environment where employees feel comfortable and productive.

 

“As people continue to move back into the workplace, you want to do it in stages. You don’t want to do it all at once,” recommends Carrie Thomas, owner of Nimbus HR Solutions Group, a Chamber Member. “Many people don’t really have a workday anymore they have a workflow, and we don’t even have boundaries and have let them all go.”

 

She says workplace boundaries can be broken into several categories, including physical, intellectual and emotional, communication, time, and priority and workload, and that each requires employers and employees to have a clear indication of what their work expectations are.

 

“If work performance isn’t where it needs to be, as a leader, we need to ask ourselves why? Does the employee feel comfortable here and does the task match?” says Carrie. “Are we having those candid conversations with our employees to say these are the clear expectations I need from you? Maybe I missed something on your onboarding?”

 

She recommends creating a 90-day commitment plan to ensure a new employee can get up to speed, and to give returning employees time to get back into the flow.

 

“If an employee was away from work for medical reasons, we would create a return-to-work plan and it would be gradual,” says Carrie, adding that most SMEs owners spend at least 90% of their time dealing with people and people problems and that using a professional HR company can help ease those stresses. “We like to put the power of a full-service HR department into the hands of the small business owner so they can focus on the business of running their businesses.”

 

 

The team at Nimbus HR Solutions Group Inc. – Carrie Thomas, Danielle Delnick and Janette McDonald – provided the following advice when it comes to creating healthy workplace boundaries:

 

How would you define ‘healthy’ workplace boundaries?

Healthy workplace boundaries are an agreement and understanding between the employer and employee on what a person requires to be effective, successful, and even over-achieve in their work.

It is a balance between the needs of the employee versus the needs of the business. Overall wellness impacts a person’s ability to produce quality work, the happier, more fulfilled and balanced a person feels the better the output from them. Investing in a health work environment and company culture is a more cost-effective solution as it promotes retention and ultimately lowers the cost of recruitment and training.

 

Examples:

 

  • Promoting break periods: We all know people who eat lunch quickly at their desk while they continue to work. Promoting actual break periods away from the desk/workstation.
  • Limiting over-time, unless necessary: If constant over-time is happening for your business, there’s a good chance you have a hiring need.
  • Ensuring over-time is paid correctly.
  • Setting clear working hours: Limiting communication TO employees outside of them (we know that legally they don’t have to respond, but we also know people are reading them and potentially stressing from home).
  • Work cellphones: Companies providing work phones that can be turned off outside of working hours that don’t go through to personal lines.
  • Clear communication and management of projects.
  • Keeping emotions out of interactions: We all have seen movies where the boss raises their voice, demoralizes, or bullies their subordinate. If an employee’s work performance is not meeting the expectations of the company, managers are not entitled to yell or belittle them. There is a more effective way to communicate with someone who has failed.
  • Open door policies: Providing an environment where managers encourage feedback, questions, and input from their team.
  • Having and promoting an Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”) with your Employee Benefits Plan.
  • Company employee appreciation events (balancing work/fun).

 

When people return to the workplace, or continue with hybrid models, what potential steps should employers take to make the transition smoother?

 

  • Consider completing the transition in stages. This would be especially useful if your team is moving back to a fully on-site model.
  • Take an employee census to determine how they will be feeling about the move back to onsite to give you a better sense of what the culture will be like.
  • Encourage team lunches to build up in-person comradery.
  • Adjust your dress code policy: If possible, consider implementing a more workplace – casual dress code that is professional and comfortable. For example, some companies have incorporated a “athleisure” dress code and even provided them with company branded comfy sweats.

 

How can an employer help employees communicate their needs?

Establishing rapport with employees: The more employees trust their employer, the more likely they are to communicate when experiencing any challenges.

Establishing rapport with employees immediately is an excellent way to encourage open communication.

For example, managers can bring lunch for their teams, and instead of discussing business, they can encourage everyone to share their interests and lives. This might be a modest gesture, but it can work as an excellent way to help employees begin communicating with each other.

 

  • Having an open-door policy
  • Have regular meetings with employees.
  • Provide context regarding assignments.
  • Listen to employees.
  • Avoid making assumptions.
  • Learn employees’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • Regularly set expectations.
  • Provide constructive feedback.
  • Make roles clear from the start.
  • Choose a suitable method of communication.
  • Use tools to enhance communication: Keep in mind that messaging platforms, video conferencing, and e-mail are excellent communication tools but if you discover they're ineffective in your workplace, continuing to use them can result in communication challenges. If possible, try to take the conversation offline and speak to employees in person. Changing your communication method can simplify tasks and prevent miscommunication.

 

What are the signs that ‘healthy’ workplace boundaries may be lacking in a workplace?

 

  • Low retention
  • Employees edging on/experiencing burn out.
  • Lack of feedback from employees.
  • Hands-off management styles.
  • High sick calls/absenteeism.
  • Employees feel the need to answer emails regularly outside of work hours (and managers expect this).
  • Employees are unable to take vacation time, personal time.
  • Workplace gossip is rampant.
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