How to Set Personal Boundaries at Work (And How They Help)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Setting personal boundaries in the workplace can help establish a healthy, productive working environment. Clear limits allow employees to establish perimeters with their managers for what they're willing to do during working hours. In setting firm boundaries and reassessing them consistently, you may achieve greater job satisfaction and notice an increase in your productivity levels. In this article, we discuss why setting boundaries at work is important for work-life balance, offer recommendations on how to establish your own limitations and explain different types of boundaries.

Why is it important to set personal boundaries?

Individuals typically spend a majority of their week at work, whether they work in a physical office or work from home, so setting appropriate personal boundaries in the workplace is important. Striving to find the perfect work-life balance is something that you may find you work on throughout your career, as different employers have distinct expectations of you as an employee.

By defining your boundaries early on and implementing them in the workplace, you can help set perimeters for how you want managers to treat you and establish what you're willing to do. These boundaries can help you find a lifestyle balance, diffuse workplace challenges and assist you and your employer in setting clear expectations for your role.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

10 ways to set boundaries at work

After you've determined the specifics of the boundaries you want to set, you can start implementing them at work. Consider the following steps when setting your parameters:

1. Understand your job description and requirements

It's important that your personal boundaries remain fair to your employer in that you avoid setting restrictions on tasks that are part of your required work. Understanding your role and expected duties can allow you to plan your daily and weekly tasks. Knowing the estimated time necessary for each task can inform your capacity for additional jobs, further learning and mandatory breaks.

2. Set priorities

Within workloads, some tasks exceed others in terms of urgency. You can identify your most important work priorities and meet with your manager to ensure they match your employer's expectations of you. After you've established these priorities, you can also identify personal ones that you choose to keep separate from work. For example, this could be a school pick-up arrangement where you've requested to leave by three in the afternoon or a recurring weekly appointment you choose to attend.

Related: How to Set Achievable Business Goals at Work

3. Communicate clearly

An important aspect of setting boundaries is communicating them to others. If other people are unaware of your boundaries, it's possible they may inadvertently cross them. This may result in frustration for both parties. You could explain this verbally during a meeting or emailing relevant team members outlining your availability. On some professional messaging platforms, you can add symbols that represent when you're out of the office, at an appointment or focusing.

4. Monitor your emotions

When colleagues cross your boundaries, you may feel discouraged. It's important to observe your emotions when setting new limits and record your responses when colleagues challenge them. If a situation causes issues, it can be better to regulate your emotions and calmly explain your feelings to the person concerned to maintain control.

Related: 35 Top People Skills to Help You Succeed in the Workplace

5. Set limits early

Workplace boundary issues often concern tasks you're reluctant to perform. Setting limits early on can be an effective way to ensure you avoid repeating the same compromises. Your limits could involve arranging meetings for after ten in the morning or leaving your work phone in the office when you finish. Whatever your limits are, implementing them early on and making them clear to colleagues could reduce the occasions your supervisor asks you to do something beyond your wishes.

6. Utilise technology

As many professionals are familiar with technology in their daily tasks, you can extend this to include setting workplace boundaries. Blocking out internal and external appointments online can help prevent colleagues from double booking you when you're unavailable. It may also be worth installing apps or web software that can mute social media and text message notifications to help you stay absorbed in your task.

7. Keep relationships professional

The workplace can be a convenient environment to foster new friendships. But, it's advisable to keep your professional and personal life separate in the office. This is because it can sometimes be more challenging to set boundaries between close friends than colleagues, and mixing the two can lead to compromising situations.

Related: How to Build Relationships for Career Success

8. Take time off

You accrue time off so that you can make practical use of it rather than build it up on the organisation's payroll system. Burnout can be a common challenge with many employees, and one of the best ways to avoid or counter this is to take time to rest. Taking sick leave for mental health issues is as important as using it for physical ailments, so ensure you maximise this time. When you're out of the office, avoid answering work-related texts or emails so that you can give yourself the full benefit of the time away.

9. Just say 'no'

Sometimes, it's necessary to say 'no' to set a firm boundary. While some employees may find it uncomfortable to decline a team leader's request, it's important to feel sufficiently secure to refuse tasks outside your scope of work. While doing so politely, being able to say 'no' is one of the best ways to establish your boundaries. If you feel unsure about refusing a request by your manager or supervisor, practise professional and thoughtful ways to rebuff unwanted tasks.

10. Prepare to be firm

After clearly communicating boundaries to your colleagues, you could encounter situations where they try to test them. This may happen during an urgent project or when a team member who finds it challenging to respect your boundaries refers a situation to you. Either way, it's useful to establish contingencies for these occasions to reinforce the limits you've put in place. Your workplace boundaries can make you more productive and fulfilled in your role, so it's important to defend them if others attempt to compromise them.

Related: 5 Burnout Stages (With Tips to Minimise Your Burnout Risk)

Types of boundaries

There are several types of personal boundaries for workplace situations. Some examples of these categories include the following:

Emotional boundaries

Emotional boundaries establish the perimeters for how others in the workplace behave towards you. Sometimes, it takes a challenging situation to help you determine what type of emotional boundaries to set. Setting these limits could involve the following:

  • Behaving professionally at work, including with colleagues you have personal friendships with

  • Specifying the type of constructive feedback you prefer from your supervisor or manager

  • Being sensitive and considerate of others' emotional states

  • Notifying others when you prefer to work alone

Physical boundaries

In addition to establishing boundaries relating to personal space, physical boundaries can also apply to your workspace or desk. Examples of both considerations include the following:

  • Establishing handshakes or no touching as your preferred physical greeting

  • Wearing headphones to indicate you want to focus on your work

  • Being firm on break times, and what you do during this time

  • Setting perimeters for colleagues' comments on your appearance

Related: 8 Code of Conduct Examples: A Workplace Guide

Time and priority boundaries

A work-life balance is a situation that many employees try hard to establish in their lives. Good time management and workload prioritisation are important for completing your work within the working day, preventing excessive overtime and spending time at home completing work. These types of boundaries can look like the following:

  • Restricting your availability to meetings to certain times of the day

  • Setting up an automatic out-of-office message on your emails and work phone line

  • Responding that you're at capacity when asked to help out with more work

  • Delegating tasks to others when possible

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