How to Set Healthy Boundaries in the Office
- Understand Your Limits
- Decline Extra Work
- Take all Vacation Days
- Use Contracts and Policies as Backup
For professionals in every industry, creating healthy boundaries at work is a crucial consideration. Done correctly, this single step can improve every aspect of the office experience. Why? With clearly defined boundaries, it’s possible to avoid compromising situations, unreasonable workloads, and unpleasant colleague interactions. More importantly, it makes it easier to create a healthy work-life balance.
1. Understand Your Limits
Before creating healthy boundaries, it’s important to understand your personal limits. Everyone is different — one employee might be happy to do overtime, but another might not. This is particularly true for workers who have significant commitments outside of the office. Professionals with children might decide that their evenings are dedicated solely to family time; someone who goes backpacking on the weekends might decide to keep work to the weekend. The same goes for personal needs at work. Some people need to focus on projects without interruptions, while others might feel uncomfortable with certain activities or tasks.
Communication is a crucial part of boundary-setting at work. To start, let coworkers and supervisors know about important boundaries as soon as possible. If weekends are off-limits, let the boss know immediately. Some issues come up unexpectedly; in that case, simply respond by enforcing the limit in the moment. If a colleague texts with a client-related question at 8:00 PM, simply reply with, “I’ll reply in the morning; I prefer to keep work at work.” Simple, direct responses communicate boundaries without alienating or offending others in the office.
3. Decline Extra Work
For people-pleasers and employees who want to impress the boss, it’s common practice to take on extra responsibilities. That’s fine, but it can get out of hand quickly. Other employees might start taking advantage, or the boss might assume that another project is a reasonable ask. To avoid the intense stress and worry of too-large workload, it’s important to learn how to decline extra tasks. The trick? Doing so without being insubordinate. Fast Company suggests focusing on current tasks. A statement like, “My priority right now is Project X; can I take that on when my schedule opens up a bit?” is often enough to placate the boss. When rejecting a colleague’s request, a simple “I’d love to help, but my efforts need to be on Project X at the moment” will do.
4. Take all Vacation Days
Part of setting workplace boundaries includes taking time off. Resist the temptation to let vacation days accumulate. Instead, take them and use the time to recharge completely. Set an email vacation responder, don’t answer work calls, and ask colleagues to text only in an absolute emergency. Feeling ill? Take a sick day, and don’t work from home. This lets coworkers know that personal health and wellness take priority over work. The same goes for after-hours communications; even if an email comes in late at night, avoid replying it until business hours. That way, clients and colleagues don’t become accustomed to 24/7 availability.
5. Use Contracts and Policies as Backup
Sometimes, clients and colleagues have trouble respecting clearly communicated boundaries. For those repeat offenders, it might be necessary to use official documents as a backup. If a client continually asks for tasks that are outside the scope of work, offer to modify the contract to accommodate the extra projects. If a boss makes a habit of passing on tasks that aren’t appropriate for your current salary and job description, request a raise or a promotion. Try, “I’m happy to take on these projects, and I’m delighted that you have confidence in my abilities to handle the extra work. Since these tasks fall into a more senior job description, is it possible to discuss a promotion or a raise?”
Boundaries are the key to avoiding becoming “overworked and underpaid”. By setting workplace boundaries and acting quickly to enforce them, it’s easier to create a happier, less-stressful office experience.