Boundaries are a crucial life skill in all areas of life; whether that be our social life, our family interactions, our workplace, our home, etc. Boundaries are what help us protect our energy, establish our values, and not overextend ourselves. A few example of what boundaries can look like include:
- Saving some free time just for you
- Not answering calls or text messages (barring an emergency) while spending time with others
- In COVID times: telling friends how/if you’re comfortable seeing them (outside, with masks, after you’ve both been tested, etc.)
Boundaries, basically, are there for you to say: “For my own wellness, this is what I’m comfortable with, and this is what I’m not comfortable with.”
So, why do workplace boundaries matter?
Well, mainly because we spend a lot of time at work! It’s a big part of our daily routines, so making sure our wellness is prioritized in the workplace is necessary for overall wellbeing. When our wellness in the workplace is overlooked it can lead to burnout, which can show up as:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased symptoms of anxiety
- Increased symptoms of depression
- Head or muscle aches
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Emotional numbness
Establishing and communicating boundaries in the workplace can help prevent burnout before it starts, or help you right your course again when you’ve become too overloaded. While it is uncomfortable for many of us (work is a place we tend to feel helpful and productive, so saying that your plate is full or that you need support can be new and frightening while we learn to do it), being clear about your own boundaries in the workplace opens up the environment for your colleagues to respond in kind, which can help to foster a sense of communication and support amongst all colleagues.
A few examples of office workplace boundaries include:
- Only checking emails certain hours
- Not saying yes to things you don’t have time for, because you feel you “have” to
- Taking a lunch break without working through it
- Not working while on vacation or off for the weekend
A few examples of work-from-home workplace boundaries include:
- Having a designated “work” space that is different than your “living” space
- “Clocking out” aka: not working past the end of your day even though it can feel as though there is little distinction between work + home life
- Not offering to “take care of something quickly” when you’re not “on the clock” just because your work/laptop is right there
If you’re new to setting workplace boundaries, here are a few tips on how to establish and communicate them in a professional environment:
Consider your feelings:
Are you nearing burnout? Are you struggling to manage your stress at work? What were the stressors that took you from busy to overwhelmed? Are there any issues with communication in your workplace? (Being contacted at inappropriate times, inappropriate conversations, etc.)
Taking time to consider how we’re feeling (and the roots of those feelings) can help show us where we need clearer boundaries in the workplace.
Don’t hint, be clear:
While it would be great if the people we worked with could read our minds when we’re unhappy about something, the reality is they probably can’t tell you’re upset unless you tell them. So when a boundary is violated, don’t hint around your discomfort. For example, if you don’t want to be contacted out of office hours but have never communicated that to your team, it’s likely you’ll be contacted outside of work hours! Instead, address the need directly. Say “I won’t be available for work (barring an emergency) outside of X hours. In my absence you can contact X, or wait for me to get back to you when I’m back in the office.”
Take advantage of office tools:
If you’re going to be out of the office and unavailable, set up an autoresponder reminding people of who they should contact or when you’ll be back in the office and available. This is a super easy way to reinforce that boundary without leaving anyone without the resources or support that they need.
If you need support in setting boundaries, our therapists can help.