Healthy boundaries, healthy workers: How good workplace boundaries help nonprofit professionals

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On October 22, CharityVillage and Sheena Greer presented a webinar where we explored this topic in more detail. Watch the full recording here.

Before you read this, I want you to hold up a mirror and look at what you see.

That’s you. You work for a nonprofit. You are awesome. You are changing the world.

Now notice everything else that surrounds you. Tangible things like your desk, your work, your co-workers. Intangible things like your organisation’s mission, vision and values.

Do you know where you end and all those other things begin?

Some days it might feel impossible to draw that line. You work hard at your job, and always do your best to use your abilities to drive your organisation’s mission forward.

But this often comes at a cost. And too often, it is wreaking havoc on our personal boundaries.

  • Do you ever say yes when you really want to say no?
  • Do you ever say no and then feel incredibly guilty?
  • Do you stay quiet when someone mistreats you because it’s just easier that way?
  • Do you want to be useful, and so you end up giving way too much?
  • Do you allow yourself to be interrupted or distracted to meet the immediate needs or wants of others around you?
  • Do you refrain from communicating your needs in order to keep the peace?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you (like so many in our sector) may struggle with boundary issues.

What are boundaries?

Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits. They are built out of a mix of beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences and social learning.

Why are boundaries so important?

Boundaries are critical for a number of reasons.

1. Boundaries help build strong, respectful relationships. Like the old saying goes, a good fence makes a great neighbour. It’s not about building concrete walls, but is instead about understanding and communicating where you stand. This is the best way to build solid working relationships with others.

2. Boundaries increase productivity because they create transparency. If you are clear about who you are and where you stand, and others on your team are able to do the same, conversations about the work you are doing together will be more transparent, helping you work better together.

3. Boundaries help build accountability within the team. The clarity that good boundaries brings to the table means that individuals are accountable for their actions. Boundary issues often go hand in hand with a blame-heavy workplace. Strong boundaries can help combat this.

4. Boundaries help teams focus on shared goals and shared expectations. When we have spongy or weak boundaries, others' expectations of us can be completely out of whack. If we promote better boundaries, we can work harder together to meet our organisation’s goals.

5. Boundaries help set people at ease. Especially you! If you have boundary issues at work, you’re likely to be a lot more stressed. And likely to be a less effective team member.

6. Boundaries improve overall communication. People know exactly where they stand and what is expected of them. We are able to talk a lot more freely and honestly when our boundaries are in check.

7. Boundaries help prevent workplace bullying. If you or others have weak boundaries, there will always be someone who is able to take advantage of that, push you around, and get away will all kinds of stuff that should never be tolerated in a workplace.

8. Boundaries encourage team members to think for themselves. A team full of “yes men” isn’t going to be a team of very independent thinkers. And if we want to solve the world’s wicked problems, we are going to need strong, passionate independent thinkers!

9. Boundaries ease delegation issues. People who have trouble delegating tasks likely also have some boundary issues. But knowing where your circle is drawn will allow you to see what tasks could be shared with others around you.

10. Boundaries minimize misunderstandings. This saves so much time. If we can clearly communicate who we are, what we need, and where we stand, we can spend less time wading through muddy waters of unclear directions or confused lines of communication.

Boundaries truly are critical in ensuring you feel safe, sane and productive at your job. They help us to feel strong and resilient. While naming and claiming our boundaries takes time, persistence, and patience, it is so incredibly important if you want to find some peace at your job.

Setting strong personal boundaries really does help in terms of making things better for everyone. We are in the business of changing the world! Let’s work to be stronger for ourselves so we can be stronger together.

After nearly a decade in the nonprofit sector, Sheena Greer decided she wanted to do more to help organizations tell stories that matter to people who care. She started her business, Colludo, to share her love of simple, powerful communications with organisations that want to change “business as usual” to change the world. You can learn more about Sheena by visiting www.colludo.ca.

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