Boundaries at Work

Reprinted from the Salt & Light Australia Daily Devotional. Part one of two.

In my Bible study group, we are working through the book Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend. The authors explain that boundaries are biblical limits that we are created with, and many issues that we suffer from are a result of us not establishing boundaries, or other people’s issues with boundaries. The chapter on “Boundaries and Work” is very interesting.

I’ll work through the first five of the Nine Common Problems we experience at work, as identified by Cloud & Townsend, as well as suggested responses. The remaining four will come in part two of this post.

  1. Getting saddled with another’s responsibilities
    How do we avoid doing someone else’s work? Don’t do it, you are enabling their irresponsibility, let them own their own responsibility and make sure you explain clearly what is your responsibility and what is theirs. The exception is a genuine need, once-off help.
  2. Working too much overtime
    How do we respond when there is an unacceptable amount of work? Your working overtime is YOUR problem; don’t be a victim of an abusive situation. Set boundaries, being clear about what tasks are possible. Review your job description with your manager, for example: “You have a problem. You hired me for 20 hours and have given me 40 hours work. Which 20 hours do you want done?” If the situation does not improve, decide whether to stay or leave.
  3. Misplaced priorities
    Know your limits and enforce them. Strive to do excellent work, and spend time on the most important (not urgent) things. Make sure you, your manager and your team are agreed on what is important. Say no to the unimportant, beware distractions, and delegate. If no action is taken, then you have to decide whether to stay or go.
  4. Difficult co-workers
    Remember that you can only change yourself, not someone else, so don’t make the other person the problem. Change your own reaction.
  5. Critical attitudes
    Working with people who are critical: don’t try and win them over (it’s impossible) or allow them to provoke you. Keep an accurate self-appraisal, rather than focusing on their opinion. Confront the critical person about their impact, possibly together with others affected by the criticism. Limit your exposure to the person as much as possible, physically and/or emotionally.

Think it Through

Have you suffered from any of these boundary problems?
Would these suggestions assist in your situation? Who can join you in praying about the situation?

What Does the Bible Say?

Cloud & Townsend discuss some of the impacts of sin on work. In Genesis 3:17–19 we see God expressing the consequences of the sin:

To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,”
‘Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.’

The way this translates to our experience of work is that work isn’t fun any more (because the ground is cursed and there are thorns and thistles); we blame others when things don’t work out; and love is separated from work, that is, we don’t work because we “want to” but because we “should” work.

Good work can come when we work with God to reverse those impacts: make work fun, collaborate and find what you love in the work.

Prayer

Dear Lord,
We admit that many of the things we complain about our work could be problems with us not setting boundaries.
Please help us to set clearer boundaries about what we will and won’t do.
Help us to have a support person who can give us perspective, pray for us and encourage us to take agreed actions.
Help us to communicate well with our manager, our co-workers and our team.
Help us to be aware of the impact of sin and focus on doing good work.
Help us to make work fun, collaborate and find what we love in the work.
Amen

Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.

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