Be clear and consistent about your boundaries — including when and for what you'll be flexible.

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Q: I have a co-worker who is a self-described workaholic. He works on weekends and seems to expect me to, as well. I work hard but very much value my work-life balance. How can I manage this situation so that our close working relationship remains positive?

A: Be clear and consistent about your boundaries — including when and for what you’ll be flexible.

The inner game
There is a lot of pressure in the typical workplace to give more these days — more time, more energy, more dedication. But as an employee, you do not have an infinite well to tap. Bravo to you for realizing that balance is important.

Take a moment to remind yourself of the reasons that you value work-life balance. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths and experience the positive feeling that you get when you recharge.

Now, while those feelings are fresh, make a list of the business reasons that this is valuable. “When I am in balance, I …” Am more productive? Make smarter decisions? Am a better team player? If you’re like most people, there is immense value in bringing your most energized self to the workplace. Don’t let this be downplayed.

About your boundaries: Are you clear in your own mind about what is OK and what pushes you too far? For example, is there a time of day that you simply must be done working? If it varies, can you articulate that so that your colleague can have a fair chance of knowing when he is overstepping? Or perhaps it isn’t a time of day as much as a process for asking. Whatever your boundaries are, it’s your responsibility to be crystal clear about them to yourself and others.

Finally, look at your point of view in light of your overall organizational culture, considering whether leadership will have your back on this, or whether there is a 24/7 expectation that the workaholic is embodying.

The outer game
Sit down and talk with your colleague. Since you’re in a positive mode with him so far, it should be easy to have a tone that builds on the positives. Consider chatting over coffee or lunch so that it feels more informal.

Before you meet, develop a single clear message to share. It may be something like, “I like working with you, and it’ll be even better if we agree that I won’t always be checking e-mail on weekends.” Have examples to share that were challenging for you. Most people aren’t jerks, so assuming that he’s not, enter into a joint problem-solving mode to develop mutually satisfying solutions.

Also make it clear where and how you’ll be flexible so that he doesn’t feel locked in. That would be a recipe for pushing back on his part. Then have regular check-ins with him to make sure that you’re both feeling all right about the level of engagement.

If things fall out of balance, get support from your boss. It may also be a sign that your team is not properly resourced. In that case, other steps will be needed.

The last word
Advocate for your best interests so that you can thrive at home and at work.

Submit questions to Liz Reyer at