5 Ways to Set Boundaries for Your Workaholic Boss
Everyone has had or heard of the workaholic boss – the one who emails past midnight and expects the job done by the morning; the one who insists you remain contactable at all times including past midnight, during weekends and even while you are on holiday overseas; the one who is in the office at all hours and expects the same from you.
You want to be considered every inch the dedicated worker that you are. Yet, working for and working like your workaholic boss can be a strain on body and soul. What is to be done?
We give you tips on how to set boundaries without jeopardising your career.
1. Prove Your Worth
Clocking 100-hour work weeks may be your boss’ idea of hard work and productivity but studies show he is wrong. There is plenty of research proving that longer hours actually lead to less productivity. One in particular noted that when a worker put in 70 hours a week, his productivity level remained the same as when he worked 55 hours. Not only that, prolonged work hours result in stress that can lead to multiple health problems. This, in turn, hurts the organisation because it means more absenteeism, medical claims and employee turnover.
Of course, throwing statistics at your superior will probably not make him change his mind or his ways. Instead, prove to him that you can deliver all that is expected of you and more without bending to his work style. Show him that your productivity and efficiency are not dependent on long hours or 24/7 availability.
You can begin by taking charge of what you do within your work hours – eliminate unnecessary meetings and emails; stay focussed at your tasks; and make lists, prioritising the important items and working on them first. Then, make sure your boss knows your achievements. Emphasis the results, not the hours taken. Until he knows you are someone who can accomplish tasks, he will not trust you to work in a way different from what he is comfortable with.
2. Communicate Clearly
Your boss may not consider himself a workaholic. Living his job may be the only way he knows how to work. Besides, others before you probably suffered silently. Until you tell him otherwise, change is unlikely to happen.
So, have an honest chat with him. Help him to realise that both of you share the same goal – to get the job done well – but how you expect to reach that goal may be different. Tell him how you work and show him how that has worked for you and the organisation. You may even be pleasantly surprised to find that he never expected you to work like him. Some workaholic bosses are married to their jobs because they are not married to anyone else. They may not necessarily expect the same of others.
If he still sets last-minute deadlines, calls for meetings past work hours or contacts you after work, do not comply grudgingly. This only enables him and embitters you. Communicate. Remind him that you have commitments outside of the office or an appointment to keep. Inform him that you will attend to the work the next day. He may simply have forgotten about the boundaries set because workaholics are notoriously single-minded, making them unaware of the needs and perspectives of others.
Sometimes, bosses give the reliable workers more work or do not remember what has been assigned to whom. It is up to you to tell him if he has overloaded you.
3. Manage Expectations
In that frank talk, and periodically thereafter, have your boss articulate what he expects from you. Ask him: What are some of the key things you expect me to accomplish in three months or six months? How would you define success in those things? With these, you can then manage his expectation of you and show him in terms he appreciates that you are meeting his expectations.
As he tells you his expectations, negotiate those that are not reasonable. For example, if he emails you late in the night and expects you to get the job done by the morning, tell him how sleep is important for anyone to be in top form. Tell him, instead, that you will always clear his emails first when you get in and that every urgent task assigned in the night will be attended to before lunch the next day. Offer him the option of texting you if something is truly urgent and requires your immediate attention regardless of time of day. This way, you show him that you can accommodate his work style when there really is a need.
Finally, stick to those boundaries you have set. There may be times when something is so urgent you might have to break the boundaries but your boss needs to know those are exceptions.
4. Take Charge
Some workaholic bosses are this way because they are control freaks. They need to see you at work and know exactly what you are doing because they feel that is the best way they can ensure that things get done.
If your boss falls into that category, take charge of how you want to be managed. Keep your boss regularly updated and tell him exactly when he can expect those updates. Otherwise, you will be subjected to his schedule which might interrupt your workflow and slow you down.
5. Be an Agent of Change
Sometimes, your boss works the way he does because the organisation functions that way or because the system makes him work that way. Look at the processes in your office and see if you can make them more efficient. Then, you will not be sucked into the cycle of overwork.
This last one is not a way to manage your workaholic boss but it is certainly a way to manage yourself. If after you have done it all and the situation does not improve, consider walking away. Your health – physical and mental – is just as important as the security of a steady pay cheque.