There is a lack of clarity and direction when workplace boundaries are unclear.  It would feel as if we were going for a walk into a forest and had to cross it to get from entry point A to exit point B,  in the dark and without the path marked out. 

How do you feel walking in the dark, with no direction? Fearful? Anxious? Are you hesitant to proceed? Afraid of what you are going to find? 

That is what we generally feel when we do not have the boundaries of the path at the workplace marked. So we would not have clear expectations, and that can be unsettling.

Failure to set clear boundaries in the workplace can lead to a lack of understanding and respect for the other person’s time. It may also result in an unbalanced workload which is detrimental to the company or organization. For example, setting boundaries at work helps employees and employers maintain their sanity while optimizing productivity, creativity, output quality, and customer satisfaction.  

The employee and employer must set boundaries while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.  
It can be difficult for employees to understand what they should do or how much time off is allowed when not setting any boundaries in their profession. On the other hand, it may result in too many projects assigned at once, which increases stress levels among employees and leads to higher rates of errors, both detrimental factors for an organization’s productivity.  

Setting clear boundaries in the workplace allows employers and employees to find common ground. It is encouraging to know the expectations without feeling like one isn’t complying with company policies, or that one is neglecting their responsibilities by taking days off from work. 

Setting boundaries is not always easy, but it is essential. You have a right to healthy boundaries. Establishing limitations can be done in a variety of ways. The following ideas are some key boundaries to consider. 

Establish a Work-Life Balance

In a world where work-life balance is hard to maintain, establishing boundaries is essential. Boundaries can be set in many ways, but one way is by installing a work-life balance. This means that you set limits on how much time and energy you devote to work and ensure that you have enough time for yourself outside work. Don’t take your work home with you. When you are not at work, make a point to refocus your mind on non-work-related topics when you find intrusive thoughts about work entering your mind, this will help protect your time and energy and keep you from becoming too burned out. 

Just Say No

If you don’t have the time or energy to do something, say no. It’s essential to protect your time and resources to use them for important things.

Some polite ways to say no to your boss (or a coworker) if you are asked to help with an extra project that you don’t have time for are:

“I would love to help, but I’m already swamped. If there is a project that I can put on hold so I can assist with the new task, which project would it be?” 
“I wish I could, but I don’t think I can realistically take on another project right now.” 
“I’m sorry, but I can’t, as I value the quality of work I produce, and I am not willing to compromise this.” 
It’s essential, to be honest a,nd firm when you say no, so that the person understands that you can’t help them. 

Set Limits on Working Hours

Set limits on working hours so that you have time for other things in life, such as hobbies, friends, and family members. If you’ve put in a full day’s work, leave at the end of your shift. Don’t let yourself be pressured into staying late or coming in early. This will help keep you from burning out at work or feeling resentful about what little free time you have left from working too many hours. 

This doesn’t mean you can never work paid overtime or occasionally stay over to work on an important project. It doesn’t mean you can’t leave early to catch a plane for work travel. It does mean that you need to keep an eye on how often working longer hours is asked of you and how often you agree. If you find the extra hours are too much, then you need to politely, but firmly, say no.

The problem with having loose boundaries is that when you agree once you begin to tell yourself that it is expected of you and that you have to say “yes” because you did last time. This isn’t true. When you were hired, you had an understanding with your employer with the expected hours you would work.

If that requirement formally changes, for example, if you get a raise in your salary because you are being asked to move from working 35 hours per week to 40 hours, then fine. But it’s the uncompensated time creep that slowly happens over time that you need to be alert for and ready to stop.

When your brain is stressed and constantly swirling, trying to process the negativity you are working in, it can be hard to switch off from work mode and relax. Setting boundaries around working hours also means maintaining thought independence from work during free time. This will help prevent burnout because it allows your brain an opportunity to rest and recharge. This means you don’t check your work email or talk about work during non-work hours. This will help you to relax and de-stress, which is essential for maintaining mental health. 

Keep Your Social Life and Work Life Separate

You should consider keeping your social and work life separate in setting healthy boundaries. You may have great coworkers and love spending time with them, but when you mix your social life with your work friends, you blur a boundary that can easily cause you to think about work ALL THE TIME.

If your social circle revolves around work, you will find yourself talking “shop” and likely rehashing the stress and toxicity you are trying to minimize in your life.

It’s not necessary to completely cut off your coworkers from your personal life, but it can be helpful to have a group of friends outside of work that you can rely on for support. These friends can provide a much-needed break from work-related stress.

This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. There’s nothing wrong with going out with coworkers for happy hour every once in a while, but be careful that you don’t develop codependent relationships with coworkers that have the same struggles in setting solid boundaries.

If you are friends with coworkers and you need to maintain those friendships, then, at a minimum, set boundaries around venting, gossiping, and dwelling on the negativity when you are together socially. Shared trauma creates strong bonds between people but be careful that the relationship you develop outside of work with a coworker is a healthy and positive force in your life.

Too much overlap between work (especially a toxic workplace!) and your personal life can create drama and conflict. 

Speak Up for Yourself
When you respect yourself, you must become comfortable with speaking up to communicate your boundaries. If someone is making fun of your opinion or input, you should try to talk to them about it. Ignoring the situation will not resolve it and if you do not speak up, you are essentially allowing an unhealthy boundary where you are not treated with respect.

If the person is your boss or a more senior staff member, it may be better to speak to them privately. Try not to let their behavior intimidate you – stay assertive and firm in your tone. It is also critical that you stay calm and maintain your composure.

Some examples of what you might say are:

“I don’t appreciate it when you make fun of my opinion. It’s not respectful.”  
“It makes me uncomfortable when you talk about me behind my back. Can you please stop?”  
“I’m not comfortable sharing personal information with everyone in the office. Can we keep that between us?”  
“I think it’s important to respect everyone’s ideas, even if we don’t agree with them.”  
“I’m not sure if you’re aware, but speaking to someone that way is considered workplace harassment. It’s against the policy, and I suggest you stop.” 

“Ghosting” or avoiding the situation will only worsen the problem and could lead to further conflict. So it’s important to stand up for yourself and speak up when you feel disrespected. These phrases will help get your point across in a respectful way.

It’s also important to have thick skin when working in a toxic workplace. Not everyone is going to like you, and that’s okay. You don’t need to be friends with everyone in the office, but you should at least try to be civil and respectful. 

If someone is constantly bullying or harassing you, it’s essential to speak up for yourself and document everything happening. This will help if you decide to take further action against the person later. If the situation continues, then it may be time to talk to your boss or someone in your human resources department about the situation.

Remember, you have a right to speak up for yourself in the workplace and set healthy boundaries that protect your mental well-being.

Do not justify or apologize for your decision when you know it is time to set a boundary with someone. Just be calm and firm in selecting the limit.  

Boundaries for Remote Workers

Boundaries at work can be tricky, especially in the age of remote work. Here are a few tips for setting boundaries with co-workers, even when you’re not physically in the same space:

Decide what is and is not acceptable to you. This includes things like hours, communication methods, and work tasks.
Set clear expectations with co-workers about what is and is not good communication. For example, you may want to agree to check in once a day, or only respond to emails during certain hours. 

Set limits on how much time you’re willing to spend on work-related tasks outside of work hours. If you don’t limit work hours, you risk allowing work to consume your home life and non-work hours. This can be a complex boundary to set, but it’s important to remember that you need time for yourself, too! 

Establish physical boundaries by limiting the amount of time you spend in face-to-face meetings or working from home. Working from home makes it easy for you to carry your laptop around your laptop and work constantly. Try creating a designated workspace so that you are less likely to overwork. This can help you to mentally transition into “work mode” when you’re in that space. It’s essential to have some mental time away from work to recharge. 

Here are a few examples of how to set boundaries with co-workers, even when you’re not in the same space. It is essential to be clear and assertive about what you will and will not tolerate. But, of course, taking care of yourself is necessary for a toxic work environment. Surviving and thriving are possible if you set healthy boundaries. 

If you find it difficult to set boundaries, or if the people around you are not respecting your limits, you may need to seek help from a counselor or therapist. They can help you learn how to assert yourself in setting boundaries to protect yourself while still interacting with those who are toxic.

The key to good boundaries is knowing what you want. If we can learn how to protect ourselves emotionally and physically, it will become natural for us to develop healthier relationships with others.


  • Dr. Tomi Mitchell

    M.D | Leadership Coach| Wellness & Productivity Coach

    Dr. Tomi Mitchell Holistic Wellness Strategies

    Dr. Tomi Mitchell, MD, empowers executives, lawyers, doctors, business owners, and other leaders to eliminate burnout and increase workplace productivity and relationships.  She uses her three-step framework, Embrace, Evaluate & Energize, to empower her clients to have clarity. 

    As a public speaker and trainer, she brings energy to the crowd, captures their attention, and gives them clear, actionable steps to apply immediately to their life. Dr. Tomi Mitchell believes in getting to the root causes of life's challenges, instead of taking a temporary BandAid approach to life. She is a writer, with a book coming out in Summer 2023. She is also the host of The Mental Health & Wellness Show.  To learn more about her framework, check out the following link: Learn More.