6 Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries at Work

boundaries at work

With smartphones at our fingertips, boundaries around the business are more blurred than ever. Applications like Slack and Gmail make us radically accessible, conference calls can happen at any time of the day, and laptops make it easier than ever to work on the weekends.

It’s no surprise, then, how stress begins piling up. Things happen at work that leaves us feeling frustrated and burnt out. We find ourselves balancing clients who cancel at the last minute, working extended hours, and juggling others’ expectations that we are always available.

If you feel resentful, guilty, or angry about things that happen at work, chances are you have overcommitted yourself or allowed others to overcommit you.

Feeling burned out at work? Try these strategies before you abandon the ship. You can leave your job, but if you don’t leave those unhealthy habits behind then you’ll be in a brand new job with the same old problems.

The key to overcoming that resentment and achieving work-life balance is:

  1.   creating effective routines and
  2.   learning to set healthy boundaries

Boundaries are lines we set about our self-expectations, availability, and (physical, mental, and emotional) energy. Because boundaries protect our energy and focus, healthy boundaries also allow us to be more productive in the workplace.

We might think that setting boundaries pushes others away from us. However, setting boundaries can actually help us have better relationships with others in the workplace.

Use these tips to set boundaries in business:

1. Explore what you need.

Identify where you feel guilt, resentment, or anger around work. Then figure out what you need instead.

    • Maybe you feel anger towards a client who cancels on you at the last minute. Or who doesn’t respond to meeting requests in a timely manner.
    • You might feel guilty because you’re not spending enough quality time with your friends, partner, children, or pets. You might feel resentment because you spend your precious little personal time on these important people in your life, leaving nothing left for yourself.

It’s not as simple as switching off the source of your guilt, resentment, or anger. Often it’s not about one person or thing in your work life. You have to examine the patterns of behavior that repeatedly lead you to these feelings and challenge yourself to break those patterns.

2. Start small by setting boundaries in low-risk situations.

If you have gone your entire life living up to everyone else’s expectations and demands, setting boundaries can feel uncomfortable. Here’s a book I love about shaking off the need for approval so you can live an incredible life. Start by choosing an easy area, like hours you will check emails, to set a boundary.

3. Learn to say no.

You might have trouble saying “no” to things because you feel obliged to impress clients or appear dependable. Be in tune with how a “yes” might lead to resentment. Here are a few ways to say “no”:

    • “Thank you, but this doesn’t work with my schedule. Here’s my availability later this week.”
    • “I can’t commit to this right now, but let’s circle back to this in a few weeks.”
    • “That sounds like a great idea, but I don’t have the availability for this project. I recommend asking (colleague) about his/her availability!”

4. Delegate and share the load.

Not everything has to be on your plate. What responsibility can you pass onto others? Delegating can help you free up time or address those areas around work where you feel resentful. If you have no experience delegating (successfully), here is a very short primer to get you started right.

5. Create structure around what feels right for you.

After you understand what you need, create a structure to help you achieve your desired outcome.

    • Set formal policies around cancellation.
    • Set “office hours” based on when you would like to be available. Not every working hour has to be an hour when you are at the beck and call of others.
    • Whether you work from home or in an office, set up a structure (like closing the door or working with headphones on) where you can work undisturbed.
    • Try setting two “open desk times” during the work day when anyone can walk in (or call in) to reach you. Outside of those times, make yourself unavailable for walk-ins and calls.

6. Be consistent with your boundaries.

Be as firm as possible with your new boundaries.

    • If you only want to take calls on certain days, stick to booking calls on those days.
    • Do you have days of the week you want to be free from work? Practice not working, and not thinking about work, when you are off the clock. If you schedule a vacation for yourself, stick to it.
    • These are your rules. You get to decide where you allow exceptions.

Setting boundaries will look different for everyone. You might find that as you evolve into a different season of life or your work, your needs change. As your needs change, the boundaries you have around business will change too.

Overall, setting boundaries in your work can help reenergize you and the relationship you have with your work life.

Burned out? Try these strategies before you abandon ship. If you leave one job without learning to set healthy boundaries you will just bring those bad habits with you into your new job.

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