You schedule a yoga class, lunch with a friend or happy hour. But how often do you cancel for what seems like an urgent work demand? With the unrelenting pace and volume of work, it has never been more challenging - or more important - to set and keep boundaries.

As a leader, you can model behaviour in a meaningful way and facilitate appropriate boundary setting for your team and organisation.

I understand the challenge. As an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in the ’90s, work came first. To the firm, I was the “ideal worker” - a fully committed employee with no personal “entanglements”.

I was single with no children, and had almost unlimited capacity for work. But so did my peers, whether or not they had children, partners or ageing parents. It was just the industry and the company culture.

It wasn’t until I moved to Paris in 1997 to become a finance manager for Disney that I experienced someone setting a non-negotiable boundary.

We received a request from Disney headquarters for a financial analysis. I told our controller that she needed to work late that night.


Stunned by her response, I didn’t recall posing the task as a question, nor did I even know this response was an option.

She was a single parent who needed to pick up her child at day care. She was also French. She just shrugged her shoulders, seemingly not feeling any sense of conflict like her American colleagues might in the same situation.

I remember feeling both respect and envy for the boundary that she had set. She gave me the data to complete the task, and the world didn’t fall apart when she left at 6pm.

Twenty years later, I now work as an executive coach, and work-life balance is an issue that my clients frequently grapple with, as they face the new work demands that come with technological advances. For example, one client in San Francisco who works for a fast-growing tech company shared that she gets up at 4am to work.

She has anxiety about the possibility of missing an e-mail at midnight. “Is this normal?” she asked. I responded that even if it is the norm at this company - it is not acceptable universally, nor should it be.

A recent survey revealed that the restructuring of work has resulted in significant burnout. Nearly half of the human resource leaders surveyed reported that employee burnout accounts for 20-50% of their companies’ annual turnover. 87% of HR leaders cited improved retention as a critical or high priority over the next five years, but 20% said they had too many competing priorities to focus on fixing the problem this year. - New York Times

* Zucker is an executive coach and a founding partner of Next Step Partners, a leadership development firm.