The term boundary is one frequently associated with personal and romantic relationships. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, setting boundaries leads to an improved sense of security, stability, predictability, and order. The same can be said for boundaries set within the workplace.
In this guide, we’ll delve into what professional boundaries are, why they’re important and what boundaries you can set to ensure that your work isn’t affected by colleagues overstepping the mark.
What are healthy boundaries at work?
Healthy boundaries are boundaries that are easy to communicate and follow in the workplace, so, for example, a healthy example could be:
I will not respond to emails outside of my working hours.
This boundary clearly states what you expect from your colleagues and what they can expect from you. An unreasonable example could be:
I will not respond to emails until 10 am once I’ve had my morning coffee.
This boundary is unreasonable because it limits the ability of other people to do their job and ultimately stops you from doing your job too.
As with anything in the workplace, communication and collaboration are important, meaning that you should discuss your boundaries with colleagues rather than expecting them to know.
Why is it important to set boundaries at work?
As mentioned earlier, professional boundaries not only allow you to do your job better but also improve your quality of life, in turn leading to more productivity in the workplace. Someone who is continually having their professional boundaries broken is unlikely to enjoy coming to work.
Types of boundaries at work
An example of a mental boundary is setting strict hours that you work, for example, not working into the evening. This might allow you to switch off better in the evenings leaving you feeling refreshed each morning.
Mental and emotional boundaries have some overlap in the sense that they’re both mental boundaries, but emotional boundaries are different in that they are boundaries that directly affect your mood. An example of an emotional boundary might be that you will not take part in office gossip or badmouthing, this will ensure that your mood remains positive throughout instead of allowing yourself to feed into a negative mindset in the workplace.
Physical boundaries are a lot easier to spot, things such as not allowing people to touch you inappropriately or even just standing a touch too close. Control over your own space is essential to a feeling of safety so having set physical boundaries is paramount.
How to set boundaries at work
Now we’ve discussed the types of boundaries and why you might need to set them, let’s talk about how you might set them.
- The first step is to work out what your boundaries are, you can’t expect anyone else to know if you don’t.
- The next step is to communicate your boundaries professionally. It isn’t worth going around the office telling everyone that you won’t work a second longer than your contracted hours if no one has expected that of you.
- The final step is to enforce your boundaries if they are crossed. This might involve a chat with a colleague or a more formal conversation with a manager, you can decide whichever is appropriate.
Here are some examples of healthy boundaries you can set at work:
Set limits to your work hours
When we’re eager to impress, it can be easy to work more hours than necessary leaving us susceptible to burnout. You can prevent being overwhelmed with work by giving yourself time to decompress after work and during the weekend.
If your current workload doesn’t allow for more work without breaking your time boundary, don’t be afraid to delegate it to someone else. Have a conversation with your manager and the proposed colleague you’d like to give the work to in order to ensure proper communication.
Hiding a problem doesn’t make it go away and that’s why it is important to be transparent to your manager and colleagues if you are overworked and overwhelmed. At SEFE, we understand that overcoming problems at work can be difficult, so we put together a guide to help you navigate this obstacle.
Establish professional relationships
Boundaries can be blurred when professional relationships aren’t kept professional. We’re not saying to not be friends with your colleagues, but try to keep your time in work strictly professional i.e. talking about the weekend when you had one too many drinks.
This one is really simple but is sometimes more difficult. Learn to say no. You would be amazed how much stress can be avoided at work by simply saying no to an extra piece of work, or to a social occasion that you don’t quite feel up to.
Don’t attend unnecessary meetings
This one can be tricky, but if you can establish whether a meeting is worth your time, you can then make the decision whether to attend. Be prepared to defend your decision and emphasise other important projects that you are working on.
Use your time off
When you are off work, you are meant to be off work. By establishing this with your manager and colleagues, you can make sure that you come back to work feeling refreshed instead of coming back feeling like you’ve not been away from the office.
In conclusion, boundaries are a necessary and powerful tool to ensure long-term happiness and productivity in any workplace. By establishing your own boundaries early into your career, you can elevate your enjoyment of work, your career progression and your work/life balance.
Remember that boundaries are personal to you and are fluid. A year into the future, you may not be affected by some boundaries that you’ve set earlier and that’s ok to change those boundaries to suit the new you. For more tips on how you can ensure a healthier work/life balance, check out our blog.
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