Someone working a full-time job can spend more time at work during the week than they spend sleeping. People’s jobs take up a huge amount of their time and energy. This can be beneficial; work can provide friends, structure, and a purpose. But this isn’t the case for many.

Work is also responsible for many mental and physical health problems. These days, we take it as a given that no one likes their jobs and that toxic work environments are the norm. This feels incredibly disempowering. But it doesn’t have to be like this. You may not be able to change your boss, and you might not be able to kick that annoying coworker to the curb. But, setting boundaries will make a major difference in how you feel on the job.

Why are boundaries important in the workplace?

Boundaries are crucial for work life balance and job satisfaction. If a workplace is problematic, it’s hard to change the whole structure. However, you can change your personal boundaries so that the unpleasantness affects you less. Setting those boundaries can keep the negativity from seeping into or taking over your personal life.

Having poor boundaries around your job can lead to being overworked and underpaid. It can lead to invasive coworkers, which can lead to having your privacy violated. You may find yourself constantly bring work home, which will negatively impact your family and friends. Without good boundaries, you will move from job to job without finding a good situation– not just because you keep choosing bad spots but because you are taking your unhealthy boundaries to every new position.

Examples Of Helpful Boundaries

In her book Set Boundaries, Find Peace, Nedra Glover Tawwab lists several of the most important boundaries to improve your work environment and your mental health. You will have to decide how to enforce these boundaries but keeping them in mind will be beneficial.

Don’t Automatically Do Work For Others

If we’re the one who always has to jump in when a coworker goes on vacation, it’s a short path from helping to getting overburdened. It’s challenging to set boundaries around something like this, because most of us want to help coworkers. But you’re not obligated to overfill your plate. If you have a light load and want to help, you can. But if you’re already busy and don’t have the time or energy, you don’t have to. Even if you like helping, this is a fast way to have your time and energy abused. You are not being rude if you prioritize your work and your needs.

Decide How Much To Share

Chatting in the break room is a part of most peoples’ workdays. But it’s easy to get pushed into sharing more about your life than you’re comfortable with. Perhaps you hope that, if you give them information, they’ll like you more. Maybe you’re scared to look rude. But you’re not, and they won’t.

These are coworkers. You only have to tell them as much about your personal life as you’re comfortable telling them. They are not automatically entitled to all your business. Tell them what you want to share, but set a boundary about what you don’t want to talk about at work and hold to it.

Don’t Work Without Pay

It’s been an especially busy week. So, on top of the extra hours you put in during the week, you feel compelled to put in extra time on the weekend, too. Or maybe your boss emails you a proposal draft in the evening and asks if you to send edits back by the morning. Perhaps you’re not on call, but someone pages you with an emergency anyways. A common one we hear is stepping in to an interim senior role– but then you’re still expected to do all of your regular duties on top of the interim ones.

You aren’t getting compensated for this. If you’re constantly being asked to do things that are outside of your original job description or are more “senior” than your role, consider setting a boundary. No more extra work without extra pay.

Sometimes people struggle with setting a boundary because they’re salaried. Remember: you’re still only being paid for a certain number of hours. A salaried position doesn’t mean that your workplace gets access to you 24/7. The work will still be there the next day; you don’t have to work outside of hours to get it done. And, if someone asks you for just a ‘quick’ task outside working hours, you don’t have to say yes. You can set a boundary that work happens at work, when you are getting paid, and it does not leave the office. People should respect that. To use a popular quote, ’No’ is a complete sentence.

How To Set Workplace Boundaries

Be Proactive

It’s easier to set boundaries from the start than to establish them after poor treatment. Most of us want to be liked at work. Unfortunately, that leads some to avoid setting professional boundaries because they’re afraid of upsetting people. If you set boundaries early, people will learn them, and you won’t have to gain back ground.

Be Firm

Sometimes, you might have to bend on a boundary a little based on the nature of your job. But this happens less often than you might think. If something truly terrible will happen if you don’t shift a little, then consider it. But chances are that the work doesn’t need to get done right then (or by you), and you can maintain your boundary.

Every time you break your own boundary, you show others that it’s okay to do the same. So hold firm whenever possible, and teach people that your boundaries are set in stone. Eventually, they won’t even try to break them because they know they won’t ever succeed. This also means you shouldn’t keep changing them. You may need to adjust occasionally, but people will follow a clear and stable list of rules more consistently.

Get Help at Work

Boundaries are personal, but you don’t have to maintain them alone. Nedra Glover Tawwab advises reaching out to your boss, if they aren’t part of the problem, HR, or even legal. If people at work aren’t respecting your boundaries, you can get help. Self-care works best when there is community involvement.

This is, according to Tawwab, especially necessary when you’re afraid setting boundaries could cost you your job. This is when you need to reach out most. You are allowed to have boundaries without fear. Talk to whoever you can to get the support you need.

This is also why it’s important to speak up, when you feel safe. Lots of people don’t want to rock the boat, so they keep silent about poor treatment. But this contributes to the bad behavior. While it’s not your responsibility to make it stop, you might find you’re not alone. By speaking up, more people might take notice and more changes will happen.

Get Help Outside of Work

Setting and maintaining boundaries is hard. It might upset people and even cost you some connections. But the people who truly respect you will respect your boundaries. And you deserve to have time off, vacation, and a healthy work life balance. Professional boundaries will improve mental health, build your confidence, and help you stay happy in the workplace.

If you find that you’re struggling to figure out what your boundaries are, how to communicate them, or how to maintain them, enlisting the support of a psychologist may help. As executive coaches, we often help overworked and successful professionals with their boundaries. Send us a message to see how we can help or book a free 20 minute consultation call with Dr. Barajas.