Learning to set boundaries with coworkers and management is key to professional success. Work boundaries help employees maintain a healthy work-life balance, develop appropriate relationships with coworkers, and communicate needs and desires to leadership.
By learning to set boundaries at work, employees can prevent burnout, maximize their satisfaction with work, and stay healthy. This guide explores the different types of boundaries employees may need to set and how to put these delineations in place.
What Types of Work Boundaries Exist?
Before you start establishing boundaries, it’s crucial to understand what they are, how they can be used to your benefit, and what categories they fall under. At its most basic, a boundary is a line a person draws to mark what they accept as appropriate behavior and conduct. They help people formalize their needs and protect their integrity. Boundaries in the workplace typically fall into three categories: mental, physical, and emotional.
Mental boundaries include stipulations about work-life balance and steps taken to maximize personal productivity. Physical boundaries include ways of caring for one’s body and clarifying personal space. Emotional boundaries arise to keep an individual’s emotions separate from those of others and to mitigate the emotional toll that some work takes on employees.
Healthy boundaries should always protect you from being taken advantage of while not being designed to take advantage of others. They should protect you from overcommitting and allow you to set limits for yourself without feeling guilty about saying no.
3 Tips for Setting Boundaries in the Workplace
1. Know Your Needs Ahead of Time
Self-awareness and reflection are the foundations of healthy workplace boundaries. In order to set professional boundaries, you first need to know what your personal boundaries are. What lines cannot be crossed? What behavior makes you uncomfortable? What type of working environment improves or detracts from your performance? When you start developing workplace boundaries, it can be helpful to write down your thoughts and needs surrounding your working situation.
Ask yourself what types of workplace relationships you’re okay with developing and what kind of distance from work you need to feel healthy and whole. If there are any non-negotiables for you, it’s important to know these ahead of time and prepare to stand by them. Once you know your needs, you can begin articulating them.
2. Communicate Expectations
Communication is key when it comes to setting healthy work boundaries. Whether you’re discussing your boundaries with a coworker or a supervisor, you should always aim for maximum clarity. Ask management to explicitly define the expectations for your role and let them know, in turn, what your expectations are for a working environment. Be clear about your working hours and your intention to take any breaks you’re entitled to. Establish expectations around how and when communications about work matters will take place. It’s okay to ask for radio silence during peak productivity hours, and it’s okay to establish times during which you won’t check work emails or conduct any work outside of normal hours.
When communicating your expectations with coworkers, you can let them know what topics you are and are not comfortable discussing during work time or even outside of the working environment. Setting boundaries with coworkers may feel anti-social, but doing so helps you maintain a professional environment.
3. Seek Help When Needed
Addressing necessary boundaries and approaching management with concerns or needs can be stressful. Many people are socialized to defer to authority or accept working conditions that are less than ideal. Others find it hard to confidently articulate their needs or ask people in power for accommodation.
If you struggle with these types of conversations, professional and personal coaching can help you build the skills necessary to advocate for yourself in the workplace. Seek out a social coach who fits your personality and schedule, and train with them to improve communication and develop strategies to help you broach these topics more easily.