Why I’m not the coffee girl and why you need boundaries in your business

Let’s start with a quick note, your boundaries are different from mine. That doesn’t change the value of them.  We need to value our own boundaries and respect each other’s.

Providing excellent service to your clients includes having healthy boundaries

During one of my roles as an administration coordinator, the boss bought a coffee machine.  He got a thrill from showing it off to visitors.  He and the office supervisor spent loads of time enjoying their new toy.

After a week, the machine was starting to get grimy.  Some of the workers were using it without cleaning it afterwards.

My boss, the supervisor and I were chatting one morning.  Suddenly Mr Boss changed topic mid conversation.

I sensed an ambush. 

“So, the coffee machine is getting filthy and the guys won’t take the time to do a good job of cleaning it.  We think it’s best if the three of us all take turns cleaning the machine and making drinks for meetings, etc.”  My boss smiled at me. 

I’ll give him credit for at least putting himself and the supervisor in the roster. 

But I wasn’t happy. 

They spent a lot of time out of the office and I knew I’d take on 80% of the work.

Resisting the urge to throw my stapler at the smug smile on the supervisor’s face and instead smiling back, I responded:

“Well, since I don’t drink coffee and will never use the machine, I don’t see a need to clean it or learn how to use it.  Now you have your own machine you won’t need to go out for coffees, that’ll give you more time.  Plus, you’ve both become so good at making them, I wouldn’t be able to make them that good.”

I spun my chair around and dogmatically stared at my screen.

There was silence for a while and then they went to clean the machine together.  They never brought the topic up again.

Wondering why I felt upset by his request?

The assumption I would say yes to the coffee making and machine cleaning ignited my long-buried hatred of the task.

I’ve worked in a café, dealing with people who like only one tiny drop of coffee in their cup of milk.  Or needing to reheat the milk, because one of our regular customers thought it was never hot enough.  Despite explaining to her how the machine can only go up to a certain temperature.

I stopped working in a café for a reason.

I love helping people, I do.  But catering to everyone’s individual pickiness about a drink I don’t even consume is not my idea of a fun day.

Also, I’ve worked in an office where an employee jumped at every chance to get the boss’s coffee or pick up his lunch order.  I watched the other team members snigger about how that employee was trying so hard to get in good with the boss.

Thirdly, I loathe it when females working in office admin or receptionist roles get dumped with the coffee duties.  The assumption is that they will be happy doing menial tasks which no one else wants to do.

You’re probably shaking your head, thinking, but that’s what a good host does.  I argue, it depends on how you host.

When family and friends come to my home, I’m happy for them to help themselves to our selection of teas and flick the kettle on.  (Unless it’s the first time and they don’t know where anything is). 

If I’m going to have a cuppa myself, I’ll offer them one too.  I practice relaxed hospitality. I provide food and drink, but I don’t go out of my way to cater to their every whim or run myself ragged while they lounge.

So, my three reasons for not making coffee in that role were my fears of:

  1. Being taken for granted
  2. Being seen as sucking up to the boss
  3. Or worst of all, expected to do it because I was female

What does my aversion to making coffee have to do with your business?  It’s about creating healthy boundaries.  

My boundaries around brewing a mug of brown stuff are different to your own.  And that’s okay. 

Protect your boundaries
We all have our own personal boundaries, it’s important to protect them

It’s vital when you’re running a business. Especially when your service or product impacts on your customers health and fitness.

You’re invested in your client’s wellbeing. It can be easy to give too much of yourself in the endeavour of helping them.

Let’s look at an example.

We have a nutritionist, Julie and her client, Roberta.

Let’s pretend you’re Julie.  Your fear is being taken for granted and not being able to switch off from your business on the weekend.

At your last appointment on Wednesday, Roberta said she’s been going great.    She left happy and determined to keep doing well with her diet.

On Saturday morning, you get a text message from Roberta:

“OMG Julie I caught up with the girls last night, we watched Dirty Dancing and Sally brought a giant box of jumbo doughnuts.  I told myself it’s okay to only eat half of one. But I ate half the box! I feel awful, my pants already feel tighter this morning and my head hurts.” (followed by three crying emoji faces)

Do you:

  1. Write a long, supportive message back. Explaining it’s all going to be okay, you’ll help her get back on track, encouraging her to take a deep a breath and enjoy the weekend?
  2. Give her radio silence?
  3. Have an automated message stating ‘Thanks for contacting me, I’ll get back to you within office hours. These are Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm. Have a great day and I look forward to chatting with you soon, Julie.’?

The problem with option A? You’re creating an expectation of your availability and you’re not teaching her to respect your time.  She’s having a selfish moment and isn’t considering how she might be interrupting your time with your kids.

Choose B and because she’s currently self-focussed she’ll think you don’t care.  She may even consider cancelling her next appointment.

Choose C and you give her a chance to step back and reassess her behaviour.  She’ll hopefully realise she’s overstepped a boundary. And if you’re lucky, Roberta will apologise at your next appointment.

Creating boundaries protects your time and energy which are your most valuable assets

You need these to spend time with your family and friends, to do the things you love. 

Also, you already invest a lot of time and energy into your business.  If you keep pouring more into it, you’ll build resentment towards your business.  This in turn, hurts you and your clients, they feel the lack of care because you’re rung out.

It’s the same for personal trainers. 

If you want to check on clients between sessions, add it into the contract.  Chat with them at the start about how you want to support them as best you can.

State how you do this for all your clients, so naturally you can’t call them every day, but you do want to keep in touch. Tell them you’d like to check on their progress once a week.  Choose a day and time together for you to send them a message or have a five-minute chat on the phone. 

What if the conversation starts to go over the allowed time? You say “I’d love to chat more but I need to check in with my next client.  I know you can do this and I look forward to hearing more about your progress at our next session.”

You’ve stated the boundary of time while still being supportive.  (You have other clients which you care about too, they can’t fault you for this.)

Spend some time thinking about what you value most and ask yourself, am I setting my business up to support these values?

Do you need to reassess the boundaries you have in place? Maybe you haven’t established any.  Are you finding it hard to know when you’ve clocked off because your business permeates your whole life?  It’s time to clearly define when you’re switching out of business mode.

You might choose to be the coffee girl, or not.  As long as it’s a choice you make, it doesn’t matter which way you go.  Choose how you want your business to work for you.

Share how you’ve set boundaries in your business in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!