How to Set Boundaries in the Workplace

overwhelming work

The Remarkable Woman CEO and Founder Shivani Gopal gives advice on how to set workplace boundaries.

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” stated by Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly and many other remarkable books.

We’ve all heard of boundaries, and rightly so – they’re a crucial part of everyday life! For those of you who always want to help others, it can be extremely difficult to enforce boundaries. However, this is an important skill that everyone should learn. On a personal level, boundaries are a necessary form of self-care. It is also essential to maintaining good mental health. In the workplace, boundaries effectively define your responsibilities and limits to your co-workers. 

Poor boundaries often lead to poor communication, misunderstandings and overwork. However, clearly defined boundaries will lead to a more efficient team. Everyone is then aware of their responsibility and for what project. It also means that job performance is more accurately tracked. Everyone has a greater sense of accountability and overall respect for one another.

So, how can you establish healthy workplace boundaries?

Overwhelmed working woman
Overwhelmed working woman

Identify your limits

The first step is to identify your limits. Now, these will vary depending on your personal situation so take some time to work out what these are. Ask yourself ahead of time: will you be responding to emails on the weekend? Are you happy to meet up with your colleagues outside of work? 

Think about previous times when you have felt uncomfortable, pressured or resentful and use these to identify your limits. If you know these in advance, you’ll be more ready to communicate your boundaries if the situation occurs again.

Communicate your needs openly and clearly

communication at work
Open communication at work

You should never feel guilty about saying “no” when you need to.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in life is that “no” is a complete sentence. If you’re trying to work your way up through the ranks in your workplace or want to impress your boss or co-workers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of agreeing to do whatever tasks are dropped on your lap.

However (and I can’t stress this enough), you should never feel guilty about saying “no” when you need to. Of course, I don’t mean that you shouldn’t ever help your co-workers but if the work you’re being asked to do is outside of your scope, goes against your moral code, or significantly impacts your ability to do your own job – you have every right to say no. In fact, you’ll likely be respected for it.

Delegate more

delegate at work
Delegate at work

There’s no physical way that I can do everything at 100% all of the time. 

This one is for all the perfectionists out there. Have you ever felt like you need to do everything yourself because no one else can complete the work to your standards? I understand the feeling, but I also understand that there’s no physical way that I can do everything at 100% all of the time. 

In these instances, you need to be able to delegate. Identify how much of the workload you can realistically take on and trust your coworkers to do the rest. This means that you can focus on doing a fantastic job on one section, rather than spreading yourself too thin.

Prepare for pushback 

Pushback at work

Use a firm tone and let the other person know that you’re at capacity and won’t be able to help them.

If you’ve been someone who has typically always said yes to helping other people, or if you’re dealing with a particular pushy co-worker, you’ll need to be prepared for some pushback. They may try to guilt-trip you (“But you promised you’d help me, I thought we were friends”) or try to downplay the work (“It’ll only take you five minutes”) but stand firm!

Be aware that this might happen and practice what you will say ahead of time. Use a firm tone and let the other person know that you’re at capacity and won’t be able to help them. Alternatively, if you want a gentler approach, let them know that you can help them but that you have to complete your own tasks first (“I can get around to this after I’ve finished my list” or “I will be able to get this to you by Friday at the earliest”).

Setting boundaries can be uncomfortable, but it’s time to find comfort in discomfort! This is a skill that you can apply to all areas of your life. Think about when you’re on a plane and they tell the parents to put their masks on before helping their children. That’s because you need to help yourself before you can help other people – you need to take care of your own wellbeing if you want to help other people to the best of your ability. 

Shivani Gopal is the Founder and CEO of The Remarkable Woman; a women’s mentoring and empowerment platform. 

Shivani Gopal

Written by Shivani Gopal

Shivani Gopal is a passionate feminist, serial entrepreneur and finance expert on a mission to create a more equal world. She is the Founder and CEO of The Remarkable Woman and Co-Founder of Upstreet. Shivani has won the Top 50 Small Business Leaders award and is a former panellist on Your Money Live and the Today Show while being named one of Australia’s Top Career Women by Cosmopolitan in 2018, and “A Woman to Watch in 2018” by Popsugar. She has written feature articles for Fairfax and WHIMN along with countless other media agencies.


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