Ask An HR Lady: How Do I Get Over My Fear Of Being Fired, And Ask For Better Work-Life Balance?
Hi HR Lady,
I’m nearing a year of working from home with a company I’ve been with for 4 years. While I was excited at the beginning of 2020 to have A) kept my job amidst layoffs and B) not have to commute to work, I’ve found that I’m more stressed with WFH than before. Recently during online therapy, I discovered I have a problem with “unplugging.”
While this is true for most people who work remotely, my biggest issue is that my boss also has a problem with unplugging, too. Because we don’t have to commute, the boundaries aren’t necessarily clear to her when we are “offline.” She sends emails after office hours (usually 6pm or so) and a majority of them warrant a real-time response or have questions that need answers. Or she messages us in our ‘Teams’ chat. It’s to the point where the sound of my phone’s notifications gives me horrible anxiety.
How do I create boundaries? I’ve asked other people in other departments and their bosses have enforced office hours, and I’m jealous. But I’m scared to ask since I don’t want to seem ungrateful or lose my job.
Wanted: Boundaries And Work-Life Balance
First, I want to applaud you for seeking professional help, especially during this time. It’s important that you’ve found language to articulate what you’re experiencing and that you’re seeking guidance to resolve the issue. Further, it’s clear you’ve been proactive in seeking help from other team members and have done things within your control to have a better work/life balance.
I think I see two different areas for growth here—the first, communication and boundary-setting with your boss. And the second, boundary-setting with yourself and monitoring the relationship you have with work. Here’s my advice for both.
As for boundary-setting with your boss, I am going to lay-out three courses of action. I’m presenting them in the order I would take.
- Practice transparency. Typically I would make this the second action after “enforce your own boundaries,” but I’m suspecting that you’ve already set the expectation that you’re down to go above and beyond for the role. (We’ve all been there!) Therefore, I think drastically changing your behavior will have adverse effects. Instead, start with transparency. Buzzword alert, I know. But hear me out.
Just as you displayed empathy toward her in your note to me, you can apply the same consideration when speaking directly. It sounds like she may be overwhelmed, so where one might typically give direct feedback, I would facilitate a dialogue where you both can share what your experience has been like with working remotely. Once engaged in conversation, share what you’ve learned in order to produce the best quality of work, you thrive most with routine and consistency, especially during a chaotic time.
Ask her how you can best support her as a team member during working hours, and let her know that you’re likely to be offline and pivoting into your evening routine around 5:00 pm (or whatever time it is for you).
- Enforce your own boundaries. If the openness proves ineffective, you’ll need to be your own advocate. That’s not to say you need to be rude or cold, especially if you’re typically warm in nature. However, it means your actions need to match your intentions. I like and endorse this script from The Muse on dealing with bosses and unrealistic expectations. In fact, it’s a tactic I applied at a former employer when I was working with a micromanager, and it helped shift my experience at the company. “Don’t respond with actual answers or completed work—unless you’ve been given an unmistakable, urgent deadline. Instead, try this: I reviewed your email and the assignment details. I will have X deliverable completed and sent to you by 2 pm on Monday afternoon. I’ll let you know if I have any questions as I’m plugging away.”
- Speak-up in reviews. It’s not that I want to cause you anxiety, I swear! But far too often, employees stay quiet in peer/manager reviews. While it may feel, seem, (or at crappy companies, prove) to be more of a formality, it can truly be — and in my experience, has been — the driving force behind the policy change, leadership coaching, and culture initiatives.
Now onto the relationship, you have with work. I share a soft spot in my heart for people who struggle with work/life balance, especially because of my struggle, coupled with validation-seeking workaholism, which resulted in a mental breakdown.
Speaking from experience, here’s what you should do:
- Define what “career wellness” is for you. What is the relationship you’ve had with work, and how do you want it to evolve? Further, what does “unplugging” look and feel like in action? Is it having a workout after logging-off to signal to your mind that “work is over now,” or could you need an updated, more thoughtful “relax routine” where you truly relish the time you spend away from the laptop.
- Snooze notifications after 5. At a certain point, I had to take email and apps like Slack off of my phone altogether, but setting your alerts to ‘Do Not Disturb’ on weekends and after 5 pm can help with your anxiety when hearing the phone go off.
- Switch laptops. I’m not telling you to get a new laptop. I am saying if you do have a personal laptop, keep work-related tasks on the work laptop and personal tasks on the personal laptop. This can help with conditioning your brain to have an “off” switch when it’s time to relax. (And as a freelance writer myself with one laptop, I use two different web browsers to help signal which mental space I should be in at one time.)
- Work your body or your mind. As much as I hate to admit that body movement is good for the soul, my past has proven it to be true. Personally, it’s been cycling classes that have demanded I take my mind off of other projects and focus on the instructor and the beat of the music. Even the classes where I phone it allow my hands and eyes to be on anything but a work-related email. And if physical exercise isn’t your jam, board games, coloring books, and podcasts are fantastic distractions.
- Create a “sanity station.” For me, it’s a corner of the house where I drop-off my phone and laptop at daycare, and I get to organize the house or enjoy a movie without a little screen lighting up.
Those are my tips! Here are articles that helped me over the last year and what I would recommend you read. (#NotSpon, just TFD articles that I have bookmarked. True story.):
Hi there, and welcome to Ask An HR Lady! I’m Jazmine Reed-Clark, a career coach, writer, and podcast host of the podcast Office Politics. Prior to coaching, I worked in the human resources department, employee programming, and recruiting space for 4 years, primarily in the tech start-up industry. In each column, I’ll be answering three of your workplace advice questions — from cover letters to complaints to disgruntled employees, I’ve seen it all (and made a few mistakes myself!). I’m excited to share my knowledge and experience with the TFD family, in hopes of empowering readers to advocate for themselves in the workspace and know their rights as an employee. (And while I love to give advice, not every situation can yield a simple response. It’s important to research the employment laws in your state to make the most informed decisions.)