From the Blog

How to set boundaries in your 24/7 role

We’ve partnered with TED speaker Tracy Brower, Ph.D., MM, MCR, for a Summer Reading Club – using her book Bring Work to Life as a guide. To dig in deeper, we’re answering your most pressing questions weekly on our blog. Here’s Tracy’s fourth response. See last week’s answer and sign up for our reading club.

How can I manage my work-life integration if I need to be available to my team/manager/customers 24/7?

This is a tough question, and I receive it quite frequently. Sometimes, the jobs with the most opportunity to work away from the office (think: sales, journalists, entrepreneurs and mid-level professionals) also have the highest expectations around staying in touch. Setting boundaries and ensuring you have a life outside work can be a challenge. Here are a few questions I suggest you consider:

Do you like what you do?

If you’re in the kind of job that requires a 24/7 level of commitment, you better like it. If you don’t, it’s that much tougher to devote the necessary energy to the task.You’ll spend untold emotional energy on staying committed to your work (how exhausting).

How much?

Notice that I said you should like, not love, what you do. Loving your job is of course ideal, but it’s also fair to simply like it or see it as a step in your career. Or even have days where you go home unhappy. It’s unrealistic to think you’ll always love what you do, but your work should align with your long-term goals. Sometimes we need to make short-term trade-offs for the long run.

Can you mix work and personal?

Technology allows you to participate in both work and personal matters – so use it to the maximum. Be aware of your surroundings before you mix the two so you’re still engaged. Answer a quick email while waiting in the concession line at your son’s soccer game. Reply to a quick personal text in between meetings. Give yourself permission to respond at these tiny moments, while also making sure you stay present in your relationships. 

But one caveat…

If you’re going to mix work and personal, be sure you can manage a mental boundary (and if you can’t, don’t mix). You need to be able to quickly switch between the two without becoming mired in the work. If you’re frustrated by an email, don’t take it out on who you’re with. Or if you’re annoyed by a text, don’t let it distract you from work. 

Can you turn off?

If you have an always-on-always-in-touch job, then it’s even more important to totally disconnect sometimes. Your brain (and performance) simply can’t be at its best if you never give yourself a break. So part of the responsibility is yours. Ensure you’re leading well enough to delegate. Build strong relationships with team members who can fill in for you while you’re gone. Establish open communication channels with your boss and team members about when you’re available. Others will respect your ability to set boundaries.

Are you performing well?

Performing well is a prerequisite for work-life flexibility and boundary-setting. In your job, performance is about being responsive and accountable. When your performance is stellar, you enhance your ability to set boundaries and say no. Ultimately, the way you demonstrate your commitment is through producing great results, not through working 24/7. So rethink the definition of 24/7. It’s really about making choices that allow you to mix work and life AND to disconnect as appropriate.

So in a nutshell:

  • Like what you do (or at least know it’s an appropriate step on your path)
  • Leverage technology to mix work and life so you can fully participate in both
  • Set boundaries for when you can completely turn off and disconnect
  • Perform brilliantly


Best wishes on the journey!

About Tracy Brower:

Tracy Brower Photo1 - How to set boundaries in your 24/7 roleTracy is a work environment sociologist, author, mother of two and Global Vice President of Workplace Vitality at Mars Drinks. She studies how humans affect their work-life and how it affects them back. Over her career, Tracy has had the opportunity to engage with many of the Fortune 500 companies.