Regardless of where they are in Australia, accountants and bookkeepers are feeling the strain. From extended lockdowns to prolonged uncertainty, the pressure is on advisors, many of whom are small business owners themselves, to guide clients through to the other side. And as we begin to navigate reopening, this need for support will likely deepen.
This means boundaries, the limits and rules we set for ourselves in relationships, which were once clear can become blurred. What does this look like? It can be anything from the assumption that you will respond at all hours to taking on work beyond your usual scope. According to psychotherapist Esther Perel, there has never been such a strong collapse of workplace boundaries as now, where we are expected to take on new roles and mostly from the confines of our homes. And this, she says, is “intensely psychologically taxing”.
Setting and managing healthy boundaries can reduce stress, improve mental wellbeing and ultimately allow you to bring your best self to work. But it can be hard to know where to start and how to communicate them to clients or employees. We spoke with Amanda Kenafake, CEO of Power Tynan, a wellness focused accountancy firm, on managing boundaries as an advisor. Here are five main things she suggests considering:
1. Start by looking inwards
Start by creating the boundaries that work for you. Then, communicate those boundaries to those you’re working with, whether that be clients or team members. Sometimes people say “Oh, you can’t set rules with clients”. But you absolutely can.
For example, I don’t ring clients before eight in the morning because it’s the time I use to set up my day. And because I’m consistent in upholding this, everyone else does too. The hard part is looking at your own actions, because often they can be telling others that crossing your boundaries is okay. For instance, if you’re asking people to not contact you after 5pm but you regularly email them at 6pm, that can cause issues. The blurring of boundaries we’re currently experiencing is hard, but if you don’t set limits and respect them yourself, no one else will.
2. Have open conversations with clients
Communicating with clients is the same as with everyone else – you should be clear and respectful. But for challenging situations, where someone may not follow the limit you set, have an open conversation to understand why. By finding out what works for them and respecting the boundaries they set – they’re more likely to do the same for you in return. For example, I have one client who doesn’t work on Thursdays; we simply handle everything on a different day so he can enjoy that time with his kids.
3. Set clear expectations for working together
Sometimes, clients want things done yesterday. When that happens, I set expectations by saying “If you can get me these documents by a certain time, then I can deliver by the deadline we’ve agreed on. If however, you can’t give them to me or it’s after that date, then I can’t guarantee you this.” Articulate both sides of the equation and how they lead to the outcome. This helps clients understand their role in the work, rather than placing it all on you – we work best together.
4. Share the load with your team
We’re in an industry that is all about relationships. These need to be built and maintained, but you also need to know when to lighten the load and draw on the support of your co-workers (if you have them). Sometimes it’s about helping clients build relationships with your broader team so they understand how others can help. This means they trust and understand who is best to ask for certain information or advice.
5. Identify shared boundaries for your workplace
When it comes to setting boundaries with your employees, it’s important to be consistent. Start by looking at what is critical and what can be afforded some flexibility – for example, working hours. Ultimately, it all comes down to communication and identifying what matters most to your team as a collective. We have two main rules which are: don’t let a teammate down, and don’t let a client down. If you don’t do those two things, then you’re probably on the right track.