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How to set boundaries in the workplace

11 Jan 2022
5 min read

Setting boundaries in the workplace is critical for our overall well-being. Boundaries allow us to be more efficient, less stressed and more motivated. Setting them also increases our sense of confidence as we acknowledge that our needs are important. 

This is often harder to do in the workplace, as fearing the judgement we receive from colleagues and managers makes this more challenging. This is especially true for people pleasers who rely on the feedback from others to determine their self worth, and this is often at the expense of our own needs.

But setting boundaries, especially in the workplace contributes to a greater sense of employee happiness, particularly as work related stress and mental health conditions continues to increase. It’s now estimated that 58% of employees experience anxiety and only 9% receive the support they need. 

Because of this, we need to change the way we look at things. That means, asking ourselves what we need to be the best version of ourselves.  

Here are a few thoughts on how you can start to set and respect boundaries in the workplace.  

Evaluate your work environment to thrive

We’re all different and work in different ways, valuing different things. Some people might prefer quiet spaces to focus on certain tasks distraction free. Other people might thrive with buzzing offices and background noise. It might also mean diverting calls for periods of time while you use focus time to work on tasks. It’s important to note that there’s no right or wrong. But it would be really helpful to know what spaces you work best in. 

Boundaries also apply to meetings. With many companies operating remotely or internationally, meetings can be held at any time of the day. Before automatically accepting every meeting in your diary, think about what your contribution is to that meeting and the impact it has on your role. Evaluate whether your time is better spent elsewhere. In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown talks about stripping back unnecessary meetings in order to concentrate on real contribution. He tells us “it’s not about getting more things done. It’s about getting the right things done.”

This also brings up the need for more flexibility during your working days and the workplace. Post-pandemic, most organisations are good at adopting a flexible schedule. Make sure you’re using it effectively to your advantage. Whether that means taking time out of your day to exercise and boost your productivity. Or scheduling tasks around personal admin such as collecting your children from school, which will likely reduce the workplace stress and pressure of trying to do everything. 

Create personal boundaries 

With changes to work post-pandemic and the option of remote working, most of us are free to work from anywhere. This can be both liberating and imprisoning. We need to manage our boundaries carefully so that our work life doesn’t bleed into our personal life.  

For tips on how to manage this, that might mean:

  • Avoiding checking emails until your official working hours
  • Removing yourself from your desk space when working remotely to keep the differentiation between work and home
  • Setting your out of office even when you have a day of annual leave to honour a complete break and day of rest
  • Keeping routine and structure to your day and tasks including the time you wake, sleep, eat and exercise

Communication is key

To establish effective boundaries, you need to first have effective communication and think collaboratively. It might seem obvious, but ensure you over communicate your boundaries so that people are aware of them and can respect them. For example, if you don’t signal your need to put your headphones in during focus time, other colleagues might see this as you avoiding chatting to them. 

When setting boundaries, communicate your needs clearly and come from a more solution-focused angle and remember that you’re all working towards a common goal. For example, if you’re given a piece of work to do which you feel is beyond your current capacity, don’t suffer in silence and perhaps work longer hours or skimping on other projects. Have a conversation with your team and discuss openly how to prioritise your workload so that everything is looked at effectively.

Create a culture of trust and respect

For any of these tips to work, organisations need to build a culture of trust and respect. That means, trusting your team to fulfil their jobs effectively. Or communicating honestly and openly with colleagues about boundaries or needs to work best.