workplace boundaries

Setting manageable boundaries in the workplace is crucial to maintaining a healthy work environment. Learning to set reasonable boundaries will reduce stress, help you manage priorities, and bring peace to your everyday work life. The first step in this process is to have an honest conversation with yourself and ask about your comfort level, preferred communication methods, and how large of a workload you can successfully handle without diminishing top-quality results.

Once you do this, it will be much easier to communicate your boundaries to your coworkers and supervisors. Commonly broken workplace boundaries include:

  • Expecting coworkers to respond immediately to emails or messages
  • Distractions in offices with an open floorplan
  • Being asked to take on unusually large workloads
  • Presenting a tone or attitude that you know will bring upon conflict

All of these can be solved with clear and direct communication of your specific needs. Every person has varying capacity limits regarding what they can handle physically and mentally. Meaning, you cannot generalize expectations across the board. Expressing these boundaries and expectations does not have to be a confrontational endeavor.

Fear to say no to overwhelming requests can cause unwanted stress and anxiety, but if you say yes, your quality may suffer. For example, if you are unable to take on a task that has been assigned to you, you can say, “I really appreciate you thinking of me for this task! Unfortunately, I have a lot that I’m currently working on, and would not be able to give this assignment the quality and attention it deserves. I think it would be best for someone else to take care of this one.” – This response is clear and to the point, while still maintaining a high level of respect for the person in question.

Delegating tasks is another way to keep your workload manageable. If you want to be able to complete every task to the highest quality possible, learning to recognize when you should delegate is a necessary skill. Understanding your team member’s strengths and using them to your advantage is extremely important. It will make them feel like valued members of the team while relieving some of your stress. 

Alternatively, there are even less confrontational ways to approach some of these common boundary issues. Some professional messaging platforms, like Slack, include helpful “status features.” This means, if you are in a meeting or on a phone call, you can set your status to show exactly that you are currently preoccupied. This prevents a barrage of messages from coworkers, as they can see that you are unavailable. This will also help to prevent overwhelming desk folders and the dreaded burnout.

Using technology to set boundaries is simple, and the lack of direct social contact decreases the confrontative nature of human connection. For instance, some company leaders will put a light above their office to let their employees know when they are available. A green light means “Come on in,” a red light means “Come back later,” and a white light may signify “Emergencies only.” This color-coded system is clear, efficient, and avoids your feeling of obligation to take on an extra-large workload. 

Relationships between coworkers can be difficult to navigate. Sometimes people use tones and attitudes that have the possibility of being misinterpreted. This can easily cause unnecessary communication the entire office. Among the best techniques to combat this discouraging behavior is to treat your peers exactly how you would like to be treated. Mirroring is a social behavior that humans exhibit unconsciously. This is when one person feels the energy coming from another person and imitates their attitudes, gestures, and ways of speaking. If you are acting friendly and encouraging towards other individuals, they will likely act the same towards you in return.

While setting these boundaries is important, maintaining them and being consistent is equally beneficial. You have to water a plant every day if you want it to grow. Similarly, maintaining boundaries and expectations needs consistent attention. Treating people kindly and continually enforcing the same tone each day will discourage any confusion regarding the boundaries you’ve set and make for clear guidelines moving forward.

Setting and maintaining these boundaries will help to gain respect for yourself, and the people around you, while understanding that all time is valuable. These small daily actions will make your workday much more enjoyable as you have set clear expectations for yourself and your coworkers, and there should be no surprises walking into the office each day.