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How to Set Boundaries at Work

LearnAlyssa Davis
Photo by True Agency on Unsplash

Photo by True Agency on Unsplash

"The hardest part about setting boundaries with people, no matter who they are, is not feeling confident in our authority to do so. As long as you realize that setting boundaries is necessary for healthy relationships, you will feel better defining and keeping them.” – Tamera Mowry-Housley

Prioritizing YoU

We tend to like the idea of boundary setting in theory, but in practice, it can be a different story. Whether it be a need for perfectionism, fear of missing out, or a classic case of social conditioning, we tend to say “yes” to things we would rather not be doing. This is not to say that “yes” is always an unhealthy response. “Yes” makes way for new adventures, unique experiences, and variety in life. But saying yes with the wrong intentions paves the way for burnout.

To understand how to set effective boundaries, we need first understand why we say “yes” when we’d rather “no”. Identify if your initial need for “no” is coming from fear of failure or if the task at hand is simply not a priority. If the task doesn't take precedence, then stick with your guns and set your limits. Understand that time is the most valuable asset you have. Fill your 24 hours with tasks that serve your end goal in each aspect of your work life – mind, body, and soul.

Once you understand that there is a clear need for concise boundaries in your work life, grant yourself the authority to set them. Value your own time. Know that once you have more distinct boundaries for yourself and others, you can invest more time in those that matter most. Looking at boundary setting through this lens, makes implementing them not only important but fundamental, in maintaining the relationships you keep. When you communicate your boundaries, people can anticipate your needs, while also having the psychological safety to express their needs back to you. Setting boundaries isn’t about cutting off lines of communication so much as it is about opening them up. If you’re having trouble drawing clear lines in the sand, start here:

  1. Communicate. Your colleagues cannot read your mind. Let them know what you need to be successful. If you work remotely, tell your team when your working hours are: “I will answer emails from 8am-9am and 4pm-5pm.” Whatever the case may be for you, establish clear expectations. Starting a new job is an optimal time for making your rules about when you are on and off the clock. People will grow accustomed to the hours you work. If you begin your new job always working weekends, burn out 3 months in, and decide it’s not for you anymore, that’s going to be a much harder adjustment for your colleagues than if you begin by not answering any work-related emails or messages until Monday morning when you’re back in the office. This is not to say you can’t set new boundaries, but if you have the option to start fresh, set the precedent.

  2. Delegate. If you find that there is too much on your plate, try asking a coworker if they can take on some of the load. If you don’t have that authority, check in with your supervisor to see if someone else can help you with your workload. Frame it as, “I’d like to complete this task, but in doing so, my work on this project will suffer.” You’re not saying you don’t want to or even that you can’t take it on, just that you care about the quality of your work and want it to be accomplished to the best of your ability. When someone asks for a favor that you are unable to prioritize, ask them to check in with a trusted colleague first.

  3. Know what you can and cannot control. You can set your boundaries, but you can’t expect people to always adhere to them. This isn’t to say that you should let people walk all over you if they have no sense of boundaries, but if after communicating your needs with them, they still aren’t getting the picture, there’s no need to waste energy with useless frustration. Try speaking with your HR department if it’s a serious matter, but in most cases, you can let them continue as normal while you stick to your boundaries you’ve set. Odds are, they’ll catch on eventually.