Coaching Session 13

Today’s audio is 19:03 minutes long.

Some people don’t recognize boundaries. You may remember that Seinfeld episode about the “close talker” – a guy who didn’t understand the personal boundaries and stood too close when he talked with you.

Many bosses and employees could use some lessons in boundary recognition and boundary management. What seems obvious to some, seems invisible to others. Today I want to focus on just one aspect of this.

Our Time, My Time

Our time means the time with you, your boss and your co-workers. It’s work time.

My time is my personal time. It’s my time away from work.

How do you manage the boundary violations committed by your boss?

Let’s say you report to work at 8am. Some days work requires some late hours, but mostly you’re able to get away by 6pm. There aren’t any hard and fast rules. You’re okay with that. What irks you is when you get a text, an email or a phone call from your boss during off hours. It might happen in the evening, a weekend or during a holiday. There have even been times when it happened so early it woke you up.

Are all these boundary violations worth fighting for (or better said, against)? No, they’re not. You have to decide for yourself which ones create enough stress that you need to better manage them…and which ones you can continue to stomach.

But how can you tell your boss to stop calling you at home? Or to stop texting you at all hours of the weekend?

Better yet…CAN YOU talk with your boss? Or should you?

Here are just some of the ways I’ve heard employees deal with these situation:

I just ignore them (the texts, emails or phone calls from the boss during off-work hours).”

I respond, but I try to be as brief as possible because my wife gets really irritated whenever my boss calls.”

I only acknowledge them (the texts, voicemails or other forms of communication) by sending a single email toward the end of the weekend.”

Sometimes I get really courageous and reply with a text or email saying, ‘I’ll handle this first thing on Monday.‘” “I always respond, but I also always get mad.”

I don’t mind it really, but it does sometimes get out of control. I sometimes feel like I just can’t get away no matter what I do.”

What bugs me the most is my boss will try to mix personal with work whenever he calls. He’ll leave me a voicemail saying, “I hope you’re weekend is going well. I hate to bother you, but I’m working a report for Monday and was wondering if you could take a few minutes and forward me (some spreadsheet, some email, some whatever…fill in the blank)? I hope your family is doing something fun this weekend.” And I’m thinking, “A failure to plan on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part,” but I’ll still do it. 100% of the time.”

On and on it goes. Employees driven to madness by a boss that simply doesn’t understand, recognize or care about boundaries of work time versus personal time.

Without knowing your precise situation (keep in mind these coaching sessions are available to every single coaching client and you have a situation that may be very different from somebody else), I can’t give you any hard and fast rules so I just want to give you some things to consider.

Can you talk with your boss? 

Now I know you can literally talk with your boss, but can you have an honest conversation about this with your boss? I’m not asking you if it’ll be fun or comfortable. I’m asking if it’s possible for you to address this in a nice, non-confrontational way where you think you’re boss may (there are no guarantees) respond positively?

I would never encourage anybody to engage their boss in a conversation where you feel the odds are heavy that your boss would get angry, penalize you in some way or think you were less committed to your work. You have to asses that risk. However, a boss who constantly violates these boundaries is a poor leader. I’m not talking about some special project where the entire staff is under the gun (unless that sounds like the way your work goes ALL THE TIME). I’m talking about a boss that is constantly, habitually imposing on you during off hours. He isn’t doing himself any favors by imposing on his team during off hours. You aren’t doing him any favors by refraining from trying to remedy that either.

It’s possible your boss isn’t aware of the impact it’s having on his direct reports. You may be helping your boss become a better leader simply by pointing out the behavior.

Offer a better solution. I can’t reiterate it enough…do not approach this from solely from your point-of-view or with a self-centered demeanor. Be kind. Be respectful. Be helpful. For instance, take that example of the employee whose boss asks for something he needs for a report due Monday. Why not suggest that you have a meeting before winding down the week every Friday – if only for a few minutes – to make sure you both leave work without anything hitting the floor? That would be better than having your boss call you on the weekend with some last minute “I need this” request. Make sure you include that problem, too. Don’t simply hope the boss will make the connection. Make the connection for your boss. Put it in the light of how it can benefit the boss!

It might go something like this…

(on Monday following the weekend when the boss sent the voicemail asking you to forward something he needed for a  report due today)

You: “Did you get that report done okay?”

Boss: “Yes, thanks for forwarding that spreadsheet to me.”

You: “Of course. You being under the gun to get that report made me think. Would it be profitable for us to sit down for a few minutes every Friday afternoon before we both get out of here, to review anything like that report you had to do, so we could address it before our weekend starts? I’m sure you hate worrying about having everything you need and I know I don’t like my weekends interrupted either. Could we carve out 15 minutes or so every Friday afternoon? It might help reduce a bit of stress for you…and I know it would benefit me, too.”

Boss: ????

Frame it however you feel it would best suit your situation, and your boss. Just remember, give the boss a solution, a benefit (for him or her) and be clear, but subtle about your own personal time. Your boss didn’t likely get to be boss by being an idiot. Trust your boss to get the signal you’re delivering. Make sure you’re delivering it clearly, even if it is subtle.

NEVER simply inform your boss that you don’t appreciate being contacted away from work. Stern, draw-a-line-in-the-sand conversations with your boss should NEVER happen…unless something illegal or unethical is happening. And you’d better make sure you have your facts in order and substantiated if that’s the case.

Consider this:

  1. Your boss may be completely unaware of their boundary violations
  2. Your boss may think you don’t mind
  3. Your boss may simply be focused on their own needs (self-centered bosses abound)
  4. Your boss may be an — (another name for a donkey)

You can manage most of these. Okay, that last one is the toughest. 😉

Those first two may be best managed with a brief conversation offering a better solution.

Number 3 might require a more persistent approach. You may have to talk with your boss using that solution strategy repeatedly until he really gets it. As with most things in life, there are no guarantees.

Generally speaking, you can be polite, respectful and offer a better solution, then you have to sell it (that means you have to carefully present it so it’s not patronizing, but so the boss can see how it’s a better way to live than to constantly interrupt workers during off hours). Sell it.

Here are benefits of handling things during work hours only (as much as possible):

  • We have all our files at the office in case we need to find something
  • We have all our information on our computer in the office
  • At the office we’re in a work environment that’s more conducive to getting the job done (try that with the kids screaming and the dog barking)
  • At the office we have access to co-workers who may be able (or necessary) to contribute to the work

Craft your “pitch” and talk about your solution with your boss.

Old Habits Are Hard To Break

Sometimes I encounter a client who confesses they’ve got a boss who has a long history of never turning work OFF. I’m sorry to report that you’re odds of improving the situation with such a boss are slim and none. The fact that you’ve tolerated it and not addressed it means you’ve been compliant and complicit for too long. I’m not telling you to refrain from trying. I’m just being honest in telling you it may be unlikely that you’ll make any headway.

Even so, let’s consider your best option.

(you use a modified version of the solution strategy)

“I know for a long time we’ve never had any real boundaries between our time here at work and our time away from work, but I’ve been thinking about ways I might be able to help you more. And better. I feel badly whenever you get in touch with me during the weekend and I’m out watching my son play ball, or we’re walking the dog and I’m no where near my work stuff. Would it be more helpful if we built some short meetings into every week so the two of us could sit down and talk about the things you might need from me for the coming week? It just seems to make more sense that I’m here where I have all my (files, reports, whatever it may be you need to help your boss) and where I don’t have the tug of my personal life, like walking the dog. I’d like to be more fair to the work by being able to do it here, rather than away from here.”

Some important points I’d like you to consider.

First, you’re not talking about being “at home” and you’re not focused on the boundary. You’re focused on the quality of the work and being supportive of your boss.

Second, you’re not talking about being overworked or whining about anything.

Third, you’re presenting valid and logical reasons why doing the work at work trumps the roulette wheel of not knowing when the boss might call, interrupting who knows what!

Fourth, you’re clearly stating your preference for doing the work at the office instead of away from the office (don’t say “home”).

What if the boss asks, “Do you mind me calling you at home?”

Be honest. Tell him you do mind, but follow it up with the valid reasons you just stated. Don’t make this about you resenting the intrusion into your personal time (even though you do). Make it about producing the best work possible and being supportive of whatever work your boss might have that requires your help. Focus on producing better work! Focus on helping your boss produce that work in the most efficient manner possible. Don’t turn into a coward and say, “No, of course not. You can call me anytime!” Unless of course, you’re an idiot and you mean it. In that case, my advice is simple: Get A Life!!

danger-boundariesWhat About Me Being The Boss?

Easy. Just reverse engineer everything I said. In addition, be sensitive to the needs of your direct reports. Don’t burden them with work away from work unless it’s absolutely necessary. And if you can, plan it ahead of time so they’re not blindsided with a last minute command, “We’ve got to work late tonight!”

We all hate to be hit with unexpected unpleasant news. Do your best to only give your staffers pleasant surprises! Respect your own time. Respect your employees’ time away from work. Respect their time at work. Don’t intrude.

Would you drop by one of your employee’s houses and demand to see them? Then don’t do it electronically or by phone. Because it’s not face to face some bosses find it easy to be thoughtless and intrusive with text, emails or phone calls.

If it’s urgent enough that you’d get in your car, drive to their house and KINDLY ask them to help you — then you judge if you really need to contact them. Sometimes emergencies dictate it. Just make sure you’re not Chicken Little always crying, “The sky is falling. The sky is falling.”


It’s impossible to address your specific challenges – if you have them. When it comes to boundary management situations vary. Let’s talk about it further if you’d like. I’m sure together we can devise a plan that will improve your situation. The best advice I can give you is…

be considerate of others.”

Followed up by…

encourage others to be considerate, too.”


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