The Boundaries To Set At Work Before A Long Weekend (No One Is Entitled To Your Time, FYI)

We hear the term "work/life balance" a whole lot these days. Workers want more of it, and companies often use the term to give you the impression that they're providing a healthy environment. Sometimes that's true. Other times, it's very much not. The shift during the pandemic from office work to working from home for many people began to blur the boundaries between work life and personal time. We've gotten used to being "on" for work while on our couches or in our pajamas. However, that blurry line has existed in some form since the Internet became a part of our professional lives. 


Once upon a time, when you left the office for the day, the weekend, or a holiday, you couldn't be reached very easily. Now we answer emails in bed at 2 in the morning, take our laptops on vacation with us, and end up with no time or space to decompress. It's no wonder the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is recommending that people under the age of 65 get screened for anxiety. 

Though it has become much harder to unplug from our professions during the work week, it's imperative that we start taking our time off seriously. Many companies are not going to draw that line for you. You've got to do that yourself. It's especially important when we get a three-day weekend. Things are rough right now, and having that time to completely detach from work and focus on your life/family/binge-watching (which is a completely legit use of your time off — not being sarcastic here) is vitally important. Let's talk about some strategies to help you make this work. 


How to say no

It can be hard to say no at work. According to a study cited by Thrive Global, women and femme-identifying people are disproportionate "people pleasers" at work. The study showed 54% of women act as people pleasers. In comparison, only 40% of men showed the same tendencies. People pleasers often find themselves saying yes to unreasonable requests from bosses, including additional work or work over holiday weekends. As we said in the title of this article, no one is entitled to your time. If you're being paid for a 40-hour workweek, that should consist of 40 hours, not another 10 hours answering emails or requests or 'just this one thing.' How do we say no in a way that's both firm and respectful? 


Science of People has some tips, including practicing your "no" before you give it. Of course, you shouldn't have to devise an excuse, but sometimes letting a boss know early that you have other plans can be helpful. So if you get a message saying, "I know it's a holiday, but this won't take up too much of your time. Can you just write these five quick emails for me on Saturday?" you say, "I'm sorry, but I'll be away for the weekend with no access to my email." You can also be honest and say that you're completely unplugging for the weekend, "but I'll get on that as soon as I'm back in the office on Tuesday," or "I'm very happy to do these right now and schedule them for the weekend, but I'll be unavailable during the holiday." You do not need to explain further. The important lesson is being firm but polite. This is still your boss, and you can respect their request while still ensuring they respect you. 


Dealing with pushback

So what do you do when you get pushback? Not every boss is going to accept the "I'm unavailable" excuse. First, remember that this is your time. It's one thing if you're being paid, but you do not have to work if you're not (even during a paid day off). Constant people-pleasing can actually harm your reputation on the job, according to Psychology Today. Firm but friendly boundaries actually give you more clout at work. You come across as confident in your own skills and self-value. A good answer, if you're repeatedly asked, is, "I'm sorry, but my plans are firm for this weekend through Monday evening." 


Aside from being polite and respectful (but firm and unwavering — this takes some practice), offering an alternative is helpful. As we said, you can offer to take care of this during the week before the vacation. You can ask your boss for the most important task, do it Friday, and then offer to do the rest when you're back in the office. If the request comes during the actual holiday, you have a few options, like setting an away message (we'll get to that), ignoring the email until you're back in the office, or sending a response saying that you're unavailable but happy to take care of this on Tuesday. 

Moving your apps and prepping the tech

There are a few things you can do to keep yourself from caving to the pressure of working over a holiday. The first is setting an away message and an alarm for yourself to set it on Fridays. It can be as simple as "I'll be out of the office and unavailable until whatever date/day of the week. I'll check email and messages upon my return." You can also offer the contact information for a co-worker who is actually scheduled that day(s), though check with them first. 


Another thing that can be helpful is moving any work-related apps like Slack (and social media sites if that's part of your job) on your phone off of your homepage. That way, they're not in your line of sight every time you go to show someone a funny meme, reminding you of the request. It takes a bit, but there is something to the "out of sight, out of mind" saying. 

Turn off your notifications for the weekend as well. Make it a Friday ritual for your last 30 minutes of work. Away message, set. Notifications, off. Apps, moved. Time for the beach! 

Tying up loose ends where you can

Sometimes tasks need to be done, and we're not talking about blowing off things you're supposed to be doing. They should be done during work hours, not after. A little prep will go a long way, particularly for a three-day weekend or holiday. If you have one coming up, one strategy is to ask your boss what the anticipated tasks are for the week "because I'll be unavailable during the holiday weekend." That way, you've covered your bases. Often it's good to have this in writing, so an email is one option. You'll be able to follow up on that on Friday morning with, "Just a reminder that I'll be unavailable this weekend. What are my priorities for today?" If a last-minute request happens, you can just reiterate what you've already said. 


When you insist that your time off is respected, you have to ensure you're respecting your time at work. That means doing a little planning for the end of the week. You can bring your boss into this by saying, "I have other obligations on weekends, so let's talk about how I can be effective during the week and plan for when I'm not here." That shows that you're taking responsibility for your job while drawing a firm line and reiterating that your availability isn't negotiable.

Mentally unplugging

Sometimes we can inadvertently sabotage ourselves by not giving our time away the same priority we'd like our bosses to give it. We can draw all the boundaries we like, but it means nothing if we continue to answer emails or phone calls during our time off. That means practicing leaving work at the office — even when the office is our couch. Look, we're all really freaked out about the economy these days, and when we see an email from work, we want to be a good employee and respond. That's why we're telling you to shut it off for the weekend. Move your email app to another screen on your phone on Friday if that makes it easier. You are allowed to make yourself the priority for this small sliver of the week. 


We're all familiar with the inner argument we have with ourselves when we get a work email on a Saturday. "If I don't look now, I'll be overwhelmed on Monday." You can combat this by giving yourself 30 minutes on Monday each week (or Tuesday if it's a three-day weekend) to go through what you missed. Tell your boss that this is your practice and stick to it. 

We've gotten used to being monitored and available 24/7, and it's going to take a while to get comfortable with all of this. Holding the line for yourself can feel like you're doing something wrong at first, but we promise you, you're worth it