Workplace boundaries are important — in fact, setting boundaries at work is a major step toward finding fulfillment and, ultimately, success.
Here's what you need to know about workplace boundaries, why you need them and how to set boundaries at work.
What Are Workplace Boundaries?
According to Gallup's State of the American Workplace 2017, 53 percent of employees say that a role that allows them to have greater work-life balance is “very important” to them. Workplace boundaries help you achieve and safeguard that work-life balance (and your sanity).
Your workplace boundaries might have to do with how much work you're willing or not willing to take on, or what kinds of relationships you're willing or not willing to establish with colleagues and clients from work. Regardless, there are three major types of boundaries:
- Physical Boundaries: Your physical boundaries refer to the rules that define your personal space and touch (i.e. hugs vs. handshakes) in the workplace.
- Emotional Boundaries: Your emotional boundaries refer to your emotions, and they distinguish your emotions from someone else's at work to help you build a stronger sense of identity. Your emotional boundaries might cause you to say no to certain asks at work, for example, and you won't allow others' attitudes about it to easily influence your own.
- Mental Boundaries: Your mental boundaries refer to your thoughts, values and opinions on matters in the workplace. For example, you might have your opinion on how things should operate at work and value your morning meetings — and you won't allow someone else's ideas of how things should go to influence your own.
Examples of workplace boundaries include the following:
- Saying no to working on the weekends.
- Committing to your family time after work hours by not continuing to check emails.
- Giving yourself permission to say no to job opportunities that, while enticing perhaps monetarily, don't suit your lifestyle needs.
- Utilizing your paid time off when you're sick, need a mental health day, need some bereavement time, want to take a vacation or just because you have earned it and want to take it.
- Turning down tasks that aren't in your job description.
- Closing your office door when you need quiet time.
- Putting headphones in when you need to focus.
- Saying no to falling victim to the mother-manager syndrome.
- Allocating and delegating workloads so that you're not responsible for everything.
- Keeping professional with coworkers, even if some of them are good friends — this may mean handshakes over hugs at work.
- Committing to your idea of a work-life balance.
- Sticking to your guns about an idea you have at work.
Why Should I Set Boundaries at Work?
You should set boundaries at work in order to protect yourself from burning out and/or finding yourself in uncomfortable situations that may be otherwise avoidable. Setting boundaries at work is important because, if you don't, you might start to feel undervalued, underappreciated, disrespected or worse. You also might lose a healthy work-life balance if you don't.
How Do You Set Personal Boundaries at Work?
You can set personal boundaries at work in a variety of ways. Here are a few tips for setting boundaries in the workplace.
1. Turn off When You're Off
When you leave the office, unplug. In order to achieve a healthy work-life balance, you need to be committed to it, too. This means that, just as you focus on work when you're at work, you need to focus on being in the present when you're not at the office — this might mean refraining from checking your emails at family dinner or not taking calls in the middle of your weekend.
It's helpful to avoid company-issued devices if you can. If it's not required to use a company-issued phone, for example, then not having one means that you'll spend less time checking it.
2. Don't Overdo Overtime
Sure, overtime is great. You can get paid more (and, often, time and a half), which can be hugely satisfying. And you'll impress your manager by stepping up when they need you. But you have to be careful not to overdo the overtime so you don't burn yourself out.
Make sure that you go to work on time every day, do your work well, meet and try to exceed the expectations of you and, sometimes, volunteer for some overtime. But only you know how much work you can feasibly handle while juggling the other aspects of your life, too. Remember that, if you spend too much time working, you'll eventually tire yourself out, and that'll take a toll on the work that you're doing.
3. Take Time Off
The average American employee who can take PTO took just 16.8 days off in 2016 — only an additional half day from the year prior. We’d neglected to take the 662 million vacation days that were left unexploited. In fact, a 2016 survey released by Wakefield Research found that 69 percent of working Americans don’t even take sick days, even when they really need it.
Take the time off that's been given to you. You need it for your mental health, if not your physical health.
4. Clearly Communicate Your Hard-Nos
Make sure that your colleagues and manager understand your hard-nos, whether this means that you don't work weekends (and, thus, won't respond to emails sent on Saturdays) or that you're not going to be the one running the company calendar because it's not in your job description. You want to clearly communicate this upfront so that those with whom you work understand your hard-nos and, hopefully, make efforts to respect them. If they don't, at least they won't be blindsided when you say no.
5. Prepare for Pushback
Understand that, regardless of your boundaries, there's going to be pushback. Boundaries are necessary for a reason, and that's because, too often, people cross them. But don't view violations of your boundaries as setbacks; instead, consider these violations as opportunities for you to communicate more clearly and improve on your boundary-setting skills. And remember that not everyone is going to totally understand your boundaries (or necessarily agree with them), and that's okay; you have them in place for a reason, and you need to respect that for yourself.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.