Boundaries July 2022

Healthy Boundaries for the Healthcare Leader:  What you Allow is What will Continue

Think about a time when you said yes to something you really didn’t have the time or bandwidth to do. How did you feel? Did your stress level rise? Did you feel resentful towards the person who asked you to do ‘the thing’? Did you stretch yourself, both physically and mentally to complete the task while pushing something to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list that might have meant more to you? Maybe the thing that someone asked you to do required being away from your family or required you to do it on your day off. Did you feel intruded upon physically, mentally, or emotionally? Were you allowing others to use you while putting your own well-being on a back burner? Many of us spend a lot of time and energy attempting to please others by saying yes to everything they ask of us. Sometimes, our yes to others becomes no to something that might be more important to us. Did you know that setting healthy boundaries is an important part of self-care?

Here’s an example: As a leader in healthcare, we are expected to be available 24/7/ 365. Many times, in my professional life as a leader, I found myself answering calls and texts at all hours of the day and night, even during my personal time off. I understood my responsibilities as a leader but found myself feeling resentful over the number of calls and texts I received during my down time, especially those that were non-emergent. I wanted to be there for my team, but it was coming at a cost to my health and well-being. At a nursing leadership meeting, I expressed my frustration over feeling like I couldn’t ‘dis-connect’ from work and was not surprised to learn that other leaders felt the same way. As a team, we decided to set some professional boundaries. The plan was for each of us to take call every sixth weekend. The on-call leader handled the calls and texts and the other five leaders had time to decompress and disconnect. While this was a great solution, I took it a step further and communicated to my staff how important it was for me to have time to re-fuel personally to be a better leader professionally. I also told them that I understood the ability to disconnect from work was important for them as well. I made a commitment to my team to avoid texting and emailing them on their time off unless it was an absolute emergency, and they made the same commitment to me.

A boundary, by definition, is something that fixes or indicates a limit. In human relationships, a boundary involves physical and emotional limits that guide appropriate behavior between people. Research has shown that setting healthy boundaries allows individuals to develop their own unique interests and meet their own unique needs. The inability to set healthy boundaries can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, resentment, and helplessness, and can negatively impact our sense of well-being.

Healthy boundaries serve as rules for how others should behave around us, as well as how we behave around others. Healthy boundaries allow individuals to communicate their needs and wants while also respecting the wants and needs of others. It’s not selfish, rude, or wrong to make requests and set those boundaries that help us understand and embrace our value and priorities.

Even when people might not like what you do or say, often they will respect you for advocating for your best interests.

So, what do healthy boundaries look like? Here are a few examples:

  • Clearly communicating your wants and needs and honoring and respecting the needs and wants of others. (Remember the example?)
  • Being able to say “no,” and to accept when someone else says “no.”
  • Being flexible but not compromising yourself in an unhealthy way.
  • Being able to respect the values and opinions of others, even if they are different from yours.

The Human-Centered leader …It Starts with You…

The ability to set healthy boundaries reflects caring for self, which is an attribute of the Human-Centered Leader. The Human-Centered leader acknowledges the importance of being able to clearly communicate thoughts and feelings in a way that expresses their needs. The Human-Centered leader knows that setting healthy boundaries begins with self-awareness and self-compassion. If you don’t like the way you feel or act, you have the power to change it. It starts with you…

What are some ways to begin setting healthy boundaries?

Think of your priorities.

Start small.

Communicate clearly regarding those things you will and won’t do.

Remember, “No” is a complete sentence. (Anne Lamont)

Reflect on areas where you have already been successful in setting healthy boundaries.

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AJC: Local Nurses’ Book Champions Human-centered Leadership in Health Care