Boundary Setting with Your Boss

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The role of an Assistant requires the ability to establish close knit relationships and a level of trust that only comes from years of close and consistent social interaction with those you support.

Setting boundaries with anyone in life can be difficult, pushing back and saying no in your career can be tough, especially when you’re fond of the person you’re working with. However, as important as it is to establish a strong connection with your boss, it is equally as important to create and maintain clear boundaries. They’re a workaholic, have back to back meetings, send emails 24/7 and expect you to be on the same wavelength as them; on less than a 3rd of their salary…

Of course there are benefits of working for someone who constantly pushes you, but what happens when the pace becomes unsustainable and the expectation of your role and responsibilities becomes confusing and unreasonable?

As an Assistant you should have time allocated in your Executives calendar at least once a week to catch up on the short and long term. Take a deep breath, step back and start to look at these one to one meetings more strategically. Remember, you are having a business meeting, not a catch up with your best friend.

Whether you have been working with your boss for a long period of time or if you are starting a new position, setting boundaries is not as difficult as you may think.

Approach the conversation with confidence. Open as you would normally do with general conversation on topics you feel comfortable with. Take control and raise a discussion regarding the boundaries you would like to establish to ensure that you aren’t constantly swimming upstream. Perhaps you don’t want to answer emails before and after a certain time in the day. You might want to be able to leave earlier than usual on a Friday if all of your loose ends are tied up or work from home if they are away on business. And god forbid you want to be undisturbed when your out of office goes on…

No matter the conversation and the expectations you put forward, make sure you end on a positive note and reassure your boss that you are committed to your position and to them. Managing expectations is part of your role so don’t be afraid to manage up.

Establishing boundaries can be hard but maintaining those boundaries can be even harder. Stay strong, don’t be under any illusion that boundary violations won’t happen because they will.

Stay committed to your original conversation and reinforce the boundaries you put in place when the time comes. Or better yet, you may even be able to pre-empt compromised boundaries through learning the behavioural habits and general demeanour of your boss during particular times of the year.

The role of an Assistant is to make the lives of those that you support as easy as possible. Use boundary setting and maintenance to your advantage in your everyday routine. Learning the warning signs of boundary violations means that you can develop ways to prevent these instances before they occur

Is board report time particularly stressful for your boss? Establish a relationship with the contributors of each board report and make sure that they feel supported enough to get everything on your bosses desk a week earlier than usual.

Does your boss freak out when you go on holiday in case a last minute coffee/lunch meeting comes up and they have no idea where to go? Keep an up to date spreadsheet of places you have tried and tested at PA networking events (you can apply to attend our exclusive events for Assistants here) and share this with them before you leave.

Boundary setting will be viewed differently by everyone you speak to. You are always going to run the risk of relationships becoming awkward but defining who you are and what your value is to a business is not only a responsible approach to your work ethics but important to your mental well being.