From education to employment

Using boundaries to manage workload

Mark Solomons

Workload and well-being go hand in hand. With the recent ratification of initial recommendations from the Workload Reduction Taskforce, by the Minister of State for Schools and the general secretaries of the four main education unions, attention is once again focused on the expectations placed on leaders, teachers and support staff.

Establishing clear boundaries, clarifying roles and expectations and the time available to fulfil them, can help facilitate more effective workload management; and promote wellbeing for yourself and your colleagues.

Boundaries provide clarity about what’s expected and how it will be delivered, avoiding potential exploitation by others; help to build trust and mutual respect and improve relationships between colleagues, managers, and leaders. They maintain autonomy and a sense of self; sustain a healthy divide between professional and personal life; increase performance and boost overall well-being.

Like most leadership skills, the ability to set and uphold boundaries — and relax them when necessary — is something that can be learned and improved. Initially, it may feel uncomfortable introducing new ones, or for others to adjust to them, but the long-term benefits are well worth it.

If staff feel unable to set boundaries, or if those sets are not respected, well-being declines, stress levels heighten, and resentment grows.

Leaders often feel obliged to respond immediately and always be available to everyone, which creates conflicting demands on time and an increase in stress. Setting and abiding by clear boundaries can reduce this conflict.

It is also important to set personal boundaries, these help underpin the importance of self-care and promote personal and workplace wellbeing. Whether feeling pressure from others or putting this on yourself, it can be too easy to work long hours or when not feeling 100%, and this can be damaging in the long run.

A good starting point is to clearly define between work and home life, and the hours you are prepared to work. Letting the amount of work dictate the length of your day, will result in disruption to a healthy work/life balance.

Set your work time and prioritise tasks starting with the most important. Be disciplined about stopping once the time is completed – you can pick up where you left off next time. Times may need to be flexible; there are busier periods in every academic year, when there is simply more to be done and hours are likely to be longer – for example, during assessments and examinations.

Encourage boundaries around in-school working hours and time spent working at home. Make them part of the culture, embed them using a coaching approach, with leaders modelling them. It is important to ensure everyone maintains them.

Being disciplined about setting time frames and keeping to them is not always easy, and for many, it needs to be learnt. Whether boundaries are defined by the school or college, or personally, here are some points for consideration:


  • Schedule uninterrupted time for specific work or tasks, particularly those of high importance
  • Establish clear expectations about acceptable conduct between all staff.


  • Avoid interactions with colleagues who reduce your effectiveness and as a leader coach those staff members who hurt others
  • At home, keep work out of your bedroom and personal living areas, where possible.


  • Agree to tasks within your professional skills and have effective conversations if asked to take on tasks outside your abilities
  • Effectively manage additional responsibilities that will adversely affect your contracted duties.

Time and Communication

  • Set times to read and respond to communications and agree on an acceptable response time
  • Ensure communication and expectations are clear and delivered through the right media 
  • Be ruthless with your time – create opportunities for breaks and non-work conversations, but limit time spent on non-work-related talk during scheduled work times.

Common misconceptions about enforcing workplace boundaries include: ‘Staff will think I’m not working hard,’ or ‘Co-workers will resent the way I work’. However, remember this is a key skill to better manage your workload, and help support others with managing theirs. It demonstrates you take your responsibilities as a leader seriously and enhances your performance, productivity, and workplace relationships.

Setting and enforcing boundaries is an important step in looking after your own and others’ wellbeing– it reduces stress, anxiety, and discomfort, and provides greater clarity about expectations and ‘how we work here’. Boundaries need to be flexible and change in response to specific needs, situations, people, roles, and times of year.

How you communicate these, as an individual or organisation is also important. It’s not necessary for a formal announcement or to inform anyone in a particular way. Add your contactable hours to your email signature, use the automatic ‘out of office’ reply to notify people as to when you will respond, or politely let colleagues know if they are interrupting you at an inappropriate time.

Being consistent with your boundaries, helps others become accustomed to them. Setting reminders for when it’s time to go home, or time to stop working when you are at home, will provide further support.

Establishing boundaries is one way to protect against stress and burnout. From the personal to the communal, they can improve your work-life balance, build more effective working practices, help build better teams, and above all, improve well-being.

For further information, support, and advice about creating a culture with staff wellbeing at its centre, please contact welbee.

By Mark Solomons, founder and CEO of Welbee

Mark Solomons, Author ofWhat Makes Teachers Unhappy and What Can You Do About It’, founder and CEO of Welbee, supports MAT, school and college leaders to transform culture and improve staff wellbeing and performance.

FE News on the go

Welcome to FE News on the Go, the podcast that delivers exclusive articles from the world of further education straight to your ears.

We are experimenting with Artificial Intelligence to make our exclusive articles even more accessible while also automating the process for our team of project managers.

In each episode, our thought leaders and sector influencers will delve into the most pressing issues facing the FE.

Related Articles