How to Actually Set Boundaries at Work: Advice from Greenhouse Software’s Zakiya Daley

How to Actually Set Boundaries at Work: Advice from Greenhouse Software’s Zakiya Daley

When Zakiya Daley went back to work after having her second daughter, she was ready to hit the ground running. "I felt really empowered at that time. I had two [children, which] is what I always wanted. I want to raise strong women. I want them to see me working," says Zakiya. "I felt like, yes, I'm more than just a mother and a wife. I can be all these things." Here she pauses for a moment, then continues: "But I couldn't."

Zakiya was working as a Customer Success Manager for hiring software company Greenhouse, and she jumped right back into work after her maternity leave. A week into her return, she was on a call with a customer who was asking questions about the product. "I just couldn't answer them. It was like I'd never worked there before. And this was a pretty big customer," remembers Zakiya. "I realized that I wasn't ready, and I called a meeting with my manager, where I broke down in tears."

That was out of the ordinary for Zakiya, whose team describes her as being unshakeable. Her cool, calm and collected response to stressful circumstances had always been a point of personal pride. Her manager understood and immediately offered her support. Zakiya recalls her manager asking "What do you need in order to be successful? Do you need to take more time off? Do you need to only come into the office only one or two days a week?"

It was this conversation that helped Zakiya discover that she had postpartum depression. "I was faced with a constant struggle of trying to figure out what I needed to do for myself and my mental and physical health. How I could be there for my kids, especially my new baby who had health issues at the time, and also continue to support my colleagues and customers," she says.

It took some time, creativity and flexibility on both her part and Greenhouse's part, but Zakiya feels like she has learned to manage her boundaries and take care of herself. Zakiya is now thriving in her new role at Greenhouse as a Customer Program Manager, partnering with the customer service and marketing teams to build community and educate customers. Despite a rocky start to 2020 when the pandemic hit, Zakiya is learning to adjust and take every day in stride.

We sat down with Zakiya to get her advice for other women looking to balance their personal and family lives with their career, take care of themselves, and make it through this tough period with their sanity intact. Here's what she shared.

Get ahead of burnout when you can, and learn to accept when you can't

Returning after her second child was born wasn't the first time Zakiya had come across burnout or excessive work-related stress. Several years ago, she was working at a different company and preparing to head back to work after the birth of her first child when she got a call from her boss. "My role was being eliminated," she remembers. "They were offering me another role, which was good in terms of job security, but it was completely different and not what I wanted to do." She started to feel stressed—should she quit and look for another job while trying to adjust to being a mother for the first time?—but ended up following her instincts. She knew she'd hate working in a job that didn't interest her just because it was the safe thing to do. "Turning down the role was my first real liberating moment as a woman, as a Black woman and as a mother. Making the decision to walk away gave me confidence to go for the things that I knew would bring me happiness." says Zakiya.

Stressful situations aren't just limited to big life decisions. Zakiya remembers another time when her stress level reached a breaking point and how it led to crying in her boss' office.

"I had to recognize that I have a range of feelings that I go through on any given day and that I should try to understand them. My manager told me that crying is a natural response to the things I was going through, but it wasn't something that I'd ever accepted for myself," says Zakiya.

Zakiya and her manager took an action-based approach by outlining work-life boundaries. Having this distinction between work and personal gave Zakiya the balance she needed to produce excellent work while taking care of herself. Here's how they approached that:

  • Focus on capacity management. By determining Zakiya's career goals and where she wanted to grow they made a plan for how to manage competing priorities, which they revisited every month. "It was a really good opportunity to check in and talk through how I was feeling, but also to make sure we were headed towards those little incremental milestones. For me that was extremely effective, because as a mom of two I couldn't see six months down the road—I could only think of the next week," says Zakiya. Breaking down her goals into attainable milestones helped her regain her confidence at work.
  • Set a flexible schedule. Zakiya was living in New Jersey and facing a long daily commute, so she and her manager set up a system where she'd come into the office once or twice a week and otherwise work from home. "It was really important for me to still have that face time with my colleagues and frankly, my friends," she says.
  • Prioritize overall wellbeing. "I knew I didn't want to feel that way again, so I had to become very intentional about how I protected my emotions, my mental health and even my physical health," says Zakiya, who recommends that women get regular check-ups to make sure there's nothing underlying going on that complicates their health. "Stress can have very negative effects on our bodies and our health, and I have people in my life that I want to be around for, and things I feel like I still need to do, and I can't let the stress take me away from those things." That means sometimes taking a Wednesday off when she's overwhelmed and needs to decompress, or setting working hours and non-working hours where she doesn't even touch her laptop. It also meant limiting her use of social media because it made her compare herself negatively to snippets of other people's lives.
  • Communicate boundaries. "I had very transparent conversations with the people I work directly with and let them know where I was at," she says. "That doesn't mean necessarily telling them everything you're going through. I've had multiple managers at Greenhouse who are really invested in me, and there's such a spirit of support at Greenhouse, from upper management to my peers. I told them that I have a lot of responsibilities at home, that my youngest daughter has chronic asthma, and they all understood my priorities." For Zakiya and her coworkers, her professional boundaries look like having calendar blocks during the day when she is not available and cannot be scheduled, Slack away messages that unabashedly say when she's busy doing homeschool or lunchtime with her kids and a cap on the amount of social catchups she does in a given week.

How to take care of yourself at work in a pandemic

Zakiya's approach to managing her job and her family was working out pretty well and even held up when her family moved from New Jersey to Atlanta in August 2019. Then the pandemic hit, and everything changed.

"I have a certain level of expectations for myself when it comes to my work, to the way I parent my children, to the way that I take care of my family, and lately, I started feeling like I'm always missing [them]," says Zakiya.

She realized that she'd never been a full-time parent and had to adjust her expectations for herself if she was going to be a parent, a teacher and a full-time employee (in a new role, to boot) all at once. Here's what worked for Zakiya in adjusting her routines and boundaries for the pandemic:

  • Say no to Zooms. "They were great until they weren't," says Zakiya, who now deprioritizes family and friend Zooms and instead focuses on having one-on-one phone calls with her loved ones a few times each month. "We can have a more intimate conversation, which is for me and the person that I am, what really feeds my soul."
  • Get in-person support. Zakiya and some close friends made a quarantine pod together and are following strict social distancing rules to make sure they can all keep socializing.
  • Prioritize rest. "I know that I feel better when I have a good night's rest. Having that clarity also allows me to be introspective and really pinpoint where the things in my life that are causing burnout are."
  • Keep a log. "I like to write things down, and look back on them, because that's where you identify patterns," says Zakiya, who keeps a journal, jots thoughts down in her Notes app and records voice notes for herself on her phone to listen to later. "I try to capture those moments because I need to really understand why this is happening to me so I can then address it."
  • Find creative outlets. Zakiya has been taking LinkedIn Learning classes on brainstorming and frameworked thinking to keep her creative juices flowing and give her fresh takes on her work.
  • Sometimes, just get right down on the floor. Literally. Lately, Zakiya's been following her preschooler's lead. "A colleague reminded me that sometimes you just need to lay down on the floor. I hadn't done that in years, but I did, and it felt great," she says, smiling.

"I can't say that I've solved it, but I'm becoming a little bit more okay with realizing that whatever we thought was normal before was only normal because it was the only thing we knew," says Zakiya. "So I'm starting to look at this time we're living in and figure out, 'What about this can be normal? How can I make this feel normal?'"

Just like finding balance in non-pandemic times, that's easier said than done, notes Zakiya. "None of this is a checklist. You don't go down the list in 36 hours and then feel better. It takes time. The key is knowing that you have to make yourself a priority, otherwise you're always going to be in a cycle of 'I'm okay, I'm not okay, I'm okay again.'"

If you're interested in working with Zakiya at Greenhouse, check out their open roles here.

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