How to Set Workplace Boundaries

Kris Leigh Townsend, LMFT
Posted by

Somehow, you’ve gotten to a place in your career where getting through a work day feels like the equivalent of trudging through mud.  You wake up every morning, begrudgingly putting on knee high boots and mumbling a well-practiced “I quit” speech under your breath.  By the time you get home, you’re covered in sludge and too tired to do anything else but drop your bags at the door and belly flop face first into the floor.


You feel taken advantage of, out of control and plainly underappreciated.  You can’t take it anymore!  But your livelihood is on the line.  Your stability, your family and your goals all count on you keeping your job.


If you can’t change your circumstance, you have to change your approach.


The most simple and effective way to take control of workplace fatigue is by setting boundaries.                


What are boundaries?


Boundaries are personal limits, or rules, we set for ourselves that align with our needs and values. 


There are three types of boundaries; rigid, porous and healthy.  People who seem detached in the workplace, avoid others, are inflexible and have difficulty asking for help have rigid boundaries.  People who have difficulty saying “no”, take personal responsibility for coworkers’ problems and accept disrespect have porous boundaries


Healthy boundaries (the kind you want to have) require the ability to stand firm in your limits while also being adaptable to changes and open to communication.


Commonly, people have porous boundaries in a workplace.  They fear getting fired, being disliked or creating unnecessary conflict.  This starts from a place of wanting to do well in the position and slowly results in feeling disappointed and resentful.  Because people with porous boundaries have difficulty setting limits, they tend to feel overworked and may even become rigid over time to avoid emotional damage.


By setting healthy boundaries, you can take back control of your space to achieve respect, confidence and success. 


Ways to set healthy workplace boundaries


Learn your limits
In order to set boundaries, you first have to know what you’re comfortable with.  Some people enjoy flexible job positions and are energized by wearing multiple hats, while others prefer a predictable and regimented schedule.


There is no one way to set boundaries.  It is individualized to your comfort level. 

Boundary setting starts by asking yourself questions like, “What do I feel comfortable giving?”, “What are my job requirements?” and “What are my needs in this situation?” before responding to others requests.  It also requires paying attention to your body when you feel uncomfortable and addressing it at the onset.


Say “no” to tasks that are not in your job description
You may be uncomfortable saying “no” for a lot of reasons.  Most likely you feel guilty or anxious.  Guilt and anxiety are normal experiences when newly setting boundaries, especially when you’ve been conditioned not to set them. 


Try not to let these feelings drive your choices and, instead, take back the wheel!


When saying “no”, use assertive language.  Cut out the “kind of”s, “maybe”s and the long made up excuses for why you can’t do something. 


Keep it simple, brief and kind.


Say, “No, I’m not able to do that for you today” or even, “Yes, I’d be happy to help you after I’ve finished my work”.


Be sure to say “no” when you need to.  It is up to you to set the expectation for how people are allowed to treat you.


Take breaks when you need them

Are you taking your paid time off?  Why the heck not?!


You have it, you earned it and you deserve it!


Paying attention to your mental, emotional and physical health needs are essential to the longevity of your workplace happiness and, more importantly, your life.  Nothing will catch fire (probably) and the work will be there when you get back.


Recharge your battery by taking mental health days, planning vacations and making time for people you love.  One hour of work with a clear head always outperforms an entire day of work on 1%.


Even while you’re at work you can take micro-vacations (it's way more fun if you call them that).  Get up and take a walk each hour, stretch after you’ve been at the computer for too long and, my goodness, go to the bathroom when you have to!


Make a morning routine

If the first thing you do in the morning is check your work emails, or social media while we’re at it, it’s time for a new morning routine.


Set yourself up for success by proactively destressing before you start your day.  A successful routine doesn’t have to be a two-hour marathon training at 4am.  Routine can be as simple as waking up early enough to make yourself a coffee and stretch a little before diving head first into fulfilling the needs of others.


A consistent routine is more important than a flashy one.


Pay attention to transitions between work and home

There is a secret space in time wedged between the blocked off hours of our day called transitions.


Transitions are these wonderful moments where you move from one space to the next and, if you pause, can be used to wash your slate and begin anew.


The best way to bring awareness to transitions is by using physical markers.  For example, “The moment I close my car door, I don’t answer any more emails” or “After I cross this bridge, I stop thinking about work”.


Transitions can also be paired with physical rituals like taking a run or lighting a candle when you get home to mark the end of your work time and the start of your personal time.


Set a time frame for work emails and phone calls

Approximately 99.99999% of emails can wait until the next day to be answered.


With the entire digital world in our pocket at all times, it’s easy to forget that there's a difference between work and home.  Notifications on your phone don’t stop just because you’ve left the office.  If you work remotely, this boundary is even more important to implement. 


Set a time frame and stick to it!  If you can turn off notifications, do it.


If you’re worried about people perceiving you’re negligent, put a note in your signature or an automated away message that reads something like, “Emails are responded to within 24hrs between 9am - 5pm Monday through Friday”. 


If people know what to expect from you, they are less likely to be upset.


Reframe your position

Remember your value.  You were hired for a reason.  You’re good at what you do and you offer something for the team.


You are not forever indebted to your job for giving you a position. You offer a valuable service.


Framing yourself as an asset to your team will help you have the confidence to set boundaries.

Know that setting boundaries sets you and everyone else up for success.  You’re not doing your best work if you’re resentfully stomping around the office and emotionally dumping on your coworkers about how unhappy you are.


Asserting your needs and advocating for your value will allow you to do your best work, have higher job satisfaction and create more work-life balance. 


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Teresa C.
    Teresa C.

    Agree. Every employee should have training. It's great knowing your limits.

  • Elizabeth M.
    Elizabeth M.

    Hi. It may also be....what state you work at. That you can set boundaries.

  • Eva E.
    Eva E.

    I think every employer should have training for there employee,about bounties,sexual harassment,ect

  • Suresh S.
    Suresh S.


Jobs to Watch