How to Set Boundaries in the Workplace

By Robyn Foyster Robyn Foyster has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
on 1 January 2013

How to Set Boundaries in the Workplace Shivani Gopal is the Founder and CEO of The Remarkable Woman; a women’s mentoring and empowerment platform.

In the words of the remarkable Brené Brown, “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” 

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 and 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. On the other hand, when your workplace boundaries are clearly defined, your entire team will work more efficiently as everyone is aware of who is responsible for what. It also means that job performance is more accurately tracked and everyone has a greater sense of accountability and overall respect for one another.

So, how can you establish healthy workplace boundaries?

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

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

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 

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 Healthy Boundaries

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 well-being 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. 

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