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Setting boundaries pays off, even in a part-time job

"Health is not everything, but without health, everything is nothing."

Arthur Schopenhauer

In this article you will learn

  1. why it pays to promote part-time professionals and managers.

  2. that it is important to set boundaries and stand up for yourself.

  3. tips on what to do when you are given extra tasks that do not fit into your workload.

The desire for part-time work is on the rise. It is not only parents who have the desire to reconcile work and other areas of life and thus realize their needs for a fulfilling, holistic and long-term healthy (work-)life balance. According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, many people under thirty suffer from stress, are looking for more meaning and want to work part-time. But retirees are also interested in part-time work. They want to continue to put their knowledge to good use and counteract the shortage of skilled workers.

Many employees have recognized this: Deliberate part-time work leads to a better quality of life, one gets sick less, is more creative in top-heavy jobs and works much more efficiently. (A German article on this in the Beobachter with references to various studies: arbeitszeit-warum-sich-weniger-arbeiten-fur-alle-auszahlt).

Part-time work with added value

Well-educated people who can apply the knowledge they have acquired over many years to an exciting job, regardless of their life situation and workload, help our society as a whole.

For parents with children in particular, it is often difficult to balance work and family life. This can lead to stress. Often, well-educated mothers in such a situation see no other solution than to leave the labor market. This should not and need not be the case. Employers should also be interested in satisfied and balanced employees. As a rule, they are more resilient and have fewer stress-related absences due to illness.

After all, we should all be interested in keeping well-trained workers in the market, regardless of their age. This would not only counteract the shortage of skilled workers, but would also help to alleviate the imbalance in retirement provision somewhat.

Flexible working (time) models help

But what does it take to reconcile work and family or other commitments? The Corona pandemic has shown what is possible. In one fell swoop, people were allowed to work in a home office where they had previously been told it wasn't possible. New, more flexible working models have emerged. More and more jobs are being advertised using job sharing, a model in which two people share a task and apply for a job together. Some companies offer completely time- and location-independent work. Of course, this doesn't work everywhere. But there are jobs where it does work.

Part-time work is not for everyone. Neither is working from a home office. It requires good self-discipline and self-management skills and transparent expectation management. People who are more of the "people pleaser" type, who have trouble saying "no" and want to please everyone, will need support on a day-to-day basis. The danger is great that they will work more despite part-time. Under certain circumstances, individual coaching can help to develop strategies for achieving the desired (work-)life balance.

What does it take to make part-time work work?

For part-time work to work well, there needs to be good communication between employees and employers. Without good agreement on what each other's expectations are, misunderstandings will occur. The good news is. It can work! As a team leader and senior project manager for strategic projects, I have experienced it myself. In these ten or so years of part-time leadership experience at an international company, I was able to adopt helpful lifehacks and tricks that have made my life much easier.

Today, I combine various professional tasks, family, sports and further education (I am a lecturer, coach and workshop leader, among other things). I like the great flexibility, freedom and networking opportunities and I can use each of my training and education in a meaningful way.

Which path is right for you?

Whether it is a traditional career or an alternative, many paths lead to your desired (work-)life balance. The important thing is that you feel comfortable with your path. Part-time work can help you reconcile very different needs. In combination with modern work (time) models, the impossible becomes possible. For example, you can have a mandate as a lecturer as well as a permanent position and even self-employment is possible. In tandem, a so-called "top-sharing" or "co-lead", you can also take on a full-time leadership position and share the task with your job share partner. As long as you feel comfortable with it and communication with all stakeholders is open and transparent, there are (almost) no limits to self-actualization.

Setting boundaries - always worthwhile

Here are the key points on what to do if you receive extra tasks that do not fit into your workload:

Firstly, know your own limits and communicate clearly

In order to have the (work-)life balance under control, it is necessary to set limits on your own responsibility. No racing driver would drive a race without the important pit stops. The risk would be too high that a tire would blow out and he or she would not reach the finish alive. It's similar for us. When neck tension starts or the headaches and backaches start again, we know we should shift down a gear and take a break.

But often we do not listen to our bodies and go even more full throttle. Our inner drivers tell us, "You've got to get through this." And suddenly, usually a few weeks or months pass quickly in the fast lane, the battery is empty, the weekend is no longer enough to recover and even the long-awaited vacation no longer helps us to regenerate. The ones who suffer are our loved ones.

That hardly corresponds to our values. Most people want to have time for their loved ones. This not infrequently leads to even more stress and a constantly guilty conscience. In such situations, some turn to sleeping pills, alcohol or other addictive substances and find themselves abruptly in a downward spiral from which they can no longer escape under their own steam.

Secondly, learn to select well and say "no"

Part-time work can help us to sufficiently recharge our batteries and to better balance different areas of our lives and thus remain healthy in the long term. However, this is only possible if we set limits in a self-responsible manner and also appreciate ourselves for doing so. Often, however, we are so caught up in the hamster wheel that we don't even stop to ask ourselves whether an additional task needs to be prioritized or not, but we simply add it on top. Yet good selection is the be-all and end-all. Not everything others would like you to do has to end up on your "to-do" list! Or do others always do everything YOU would like?

In everyday life, we can consciously set priorities and critically question which tasks really need to be done. In this way, we make a conscious decision before we say "yes" or "no" to an additional task.

The following steps are helpful for consciously selecting "on-top tasks."

  1. Is this a task that absolutely has to be done or just a nice to have? (So-called "scope creep" is one of the most common causes of project failure in project management. So if you critically question change requests, you are a wonderful gatekeeper, not only for yourself, but also for the company!)

  2. If only "nice to have", it is worth asking: Do I have the time and inclination to accept this additional task or not? Do I want it? If the answer is no, then clearly say so.

  3. If it is a must have, put yourself in the moderator role. "Okay, this task needs to be done. Who could do it?" Note: It is NOT YOU who should do the task! You are already out of capacity. Maybe there is one person internally who still has resources and would be happy to take on the task? Let others contribute their ideas and return the responsibility to where it belongs.

  4. If there are no internal resources, one option would be to outsource the task. Ask if this is possible and if budget is available. Maybe you have some external partners in general with whom you can better balance peaks? Imagine all the quality of life that could bring....

  5. If you have to do it because only you can do it and it is really urgent, then you will have to postpone other tasks, because your day does not suddenly have more hours. Check with your supervisor about this. If you do A, what can you defer or reschedule for it?

  6. A word about deadlines. If you receive assignments over the weekend or overnight and feel taken advantage of, be sure to set boundaries and take responsibility for yourself. Address it head on. Say how you feel when this happens, what it does to your relationship, and challenge your counterpart to work together to find a solution so this doesn't happen in the future. You will positively influence the corporate culture and give your counterpart a chance to self-reflect and grow. Your relationship will be strengthened.

  7. Be proud of yourself when you say "no" and really mean no. Nothing is worse than saying "yes" when you really mean "no" and then getting angry afterwards. Stand by yourself and your needs. Think of the race car driver. Pit stops are not a luxury. It builds your resilience. It increases your productivity and performance, which directly benefits your employer.

"Yes, yes. That's easy for you to say!" you may be thinking. "That will never work with my boss! He or she will just flatten me. After all, (almost) everyone works 10 - 12 hour days. I can't say no to that and let my team down!"

I know this situation all too well from my own work life and have often judged others or the situation instead of focusing on myself and what I can influence. As the overall project manager, it was my job to always take a bird's eye view, keep in mind the needs of all stakeholders and look at the situation as a whole. When we stumbled from one reorganization to the next and communication no longer met my expectations, I also reached the limit.

I sought help from a coach. In coaching, I learned useful tools for setting boundaries. I also learned about my needs and how to be true to myself and communicate my boundaries clearly. This is my responsibility and no one else's.

I became a good example of how to bring down overtime balances and successfully manage projects without losing customers and employees, but it didn't come naturally. I dealt intensively with my values and realized what is important for me in the long term and how important it is to always reprioritize (not only at work, but also in my private life).

My realization: It is more important to do the few things right than to do many things and nothing right. So it is always about focus, reduction to the essentials. This way you save resources and reach your goal fit and happy.

Today, I use these experiences and accompany specialists and managers in sharpening their own "jungle knife" and cutting their way through the thicket of tasks. This increases their self-determination and self-efficacy. With a guide, everything goes faster and easier because they know the way and can read the compass. If you've long thought you should make a change and want an outside perspective on it, now may be the opportunity.

More useful links for a healthy work-life balance:

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