How to Establish Healthy Boundaries at Work

By McKenzie Schwark
Features Writer

This last year, the lines between work and life have blurred even more than they already had. But even if you love your work, even if you have your dream job, it’s important to set boundaries and distinguish your personal and professional lives from each other. Setting boundaries at work can be really tough! It can be hard to stand up for yourself or advocate for your needs in a work setting. Here are our tips on how to set clear boundaries at work so that you can stave off burnout, continue enjoying your job, and thrive personally and professionally.

1. Understand your worth

Sometimes when we’re feeling down about ourselves, we can throw ourselves into work in order to feel better. It can serve as a distraction, or a way of getting additional praise. But this method is a one-way ticket to being burned out. Knowing your worth means understanding that you deserve rest, time with loved ones, and a chance to recharge however you need. When you feel like you need to set a boundary at work, it’s important to keep these things in mind. You are not entirely defined by your work, and your worth is made up of a culmination of things, all of which deserve your time and attention.

2. Be clear about what you want

When setting boundaries in work or in life, it’s important to be clear about the outcome you want. Clearly defining your expectations will help you define and ask for the boundaries you expect. Your work boundaries might be only staying until 5:00 pm, not working over the weekends, or taking your work email off of your phone. When starting the conversation with your boss or coworkers, you don’t want to be overly apologizing or second guessing yourself. Prior to the conversation, write down the boundaries you are trying to set along with your reasonings for doing so. This will help you be clear and concise during your conversation.

3. Redefine success

We’ve been taught that in order to achieve success we have to hustle, but achieving most of your goals will look like a marathon, not a sprint. Because of this, you need to conserve some energy and think about being in this for the long haul. Sometimes being ambitious looks like taking time off to tend to yourself, or advocating for yourself to not work outside of working hours. If you can define what success, especially long-term success, looks like for you, then you’ll be able to reframe taking time for yourself and boundary setting as part of that journey, rather than a setback.

4. Manage expectations from the beginning

If you can establish clear boundaries and manage the expectations of your boss and coworkers from the beginning, it will be much easier to advocate for yourself later down the line. It’s much harder to backtrack and set boundaries when you’ve been working outside of them for a long time. Be clear about the amount of work you are able and willing to take on, and don’t take on more than you can right away. That sets the expectation that you will always be willing and able to work outside your ability for the duration of your job.

5. Decide on nonnegotiables

It’s likely that when you set boundaries, your manager or coworkers will want to try and negotiate with you, or compromise depending on what you are asking for. Before going into this conversation, decide what is nonnegotiable to you. That way you won’t be caught up in the anxiety of the moment and compromise on something you aren’t comfortable with.

6. Know the signs of burnout

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress which has not been successfully managed. Read our blog to learn more about what burnout looks like and how you can stave it off. If you feel like you’re becoming burned out, the chances are you’re already there, and setting boundaries is a crucial part of making sure burnout doesn’t totally overwhelm you.