In a culture that is highly collectivistic rather than individualistic, it can be difficult to set clear boundaries. Boundaries are relatively a new concept to many, and they are essential in order to have successful relationships and careers. People pleasing coupled with a lack of awareness can be a deadly combination that quickly leads to burnout at work. Not only will it lead to an
emotional burnout, but it will also lead to less productivity and efficiency at work. To thrive in the workplace, it’s important to list your priorities, learn how to say no if your schedule doesn’t allow you to take on extra tasks, openly communicate your expectations, decline calls outside of work hours, and avoid engaging in work unrelated topics that you’re not willing to discuss.
Signs you have poor boundaries at the workplace:
● You feel burnt out from work
● You find yourself working during your breaks
● Your social life/ family time is impacted by your job
● You find it difficult to say no to extra tasks
● You tend to be jealous or intimidated by other people’s boundaries
Ways to create healthy boundaries at work:
- Communicate your needs
Be open and direct when it comes to the way you expect to be treated. Are you willing to take on
tasks outside of your job description? Are you willing to answer work emails outside of work
hours? How do you expect to receive feedback? Are you comfortable gossiping with your
coworkers or do you find yourself wanting to tell them that you wish you hadn’t engaged in
these conversations? Be honest and clear about what you want. These conversations don’t have
to happen at once, but you can bring each boundary up if it’s violated. People won’t know your
needs if you don’t voice them.
- Use the Eisenhower Matrix
Divide your tasks using the Eisenhower Matrix, a method that sorts out priorities in terms of
importance and urgency. This is necessary because once you’re aware of the tasks that are on
your plate, you can know if you have the resources to take on extra work or not before you are
swayed into saying yes to a task you can’t commit to. Divide tasks accordingly:
Urgent-Important, Urgent-Not Important, Not Urgent- Important, Not Important- Not Urgent.
This can help you create boundaries because it prevents you from overextending yourself.
If you’re asked to take on another task when you’ve already got a lot on your plate, you can say
“I would be happy to help on this project, but I don’t want my primary responsibilities to suffer.”
- Find creative ways to say no
Saying no can be difficult, especially if you’ve been taught that you shouldn’t say no because
saying yes makes you more “likable” or “flexible”. People can also end up saying yes out of a
fear of disappointing others or coming off as “rude”. To stay professional, you can always find
different ways to decline extra tasks politely. If you’re asked to take on extra work during the
weekend, you can say “Sadly I can’t help with that, I’m already committed to something else. I
hope you understand”. The first few times of turning something down can be difficult until it
eventually becomes more simple because you set the standard for what you will tolerate.
- Take breaks
Take time to actually be offline. With COVID and working from home, the line has become
blurry when it comes to taking breaks and working after hours. You are allowed to make yourself
less accessible outside of work and during breaks. Taking a break from emails or work calls after
work is necessary to avoid burnout, and that way you have the ability to focus on other aspects of
life like friends and family. If someone has scheduled a meeting with you during your break,
you can say “Hi __ I just saw your invitation to the meeting. Unfortunately this is when I
usually take my break which helps me feel more energized for work. Can we reschedule?”
- Emotional boundaries with certain topics
Setting boundaries with co-workers about specific topics is essential to stay professional.
Sometimes it can be difficult to steer the conversation in a different direction when someone is
persistent with questions. To pass time, some coworkers can ask personal questions or gossip
about others. Other coworkers can get too friendly and lose sight of the professionalism that
comes with the workplace, and for that reason it’s important for boundaries to stay intact.
If a topic surrounding anything personal, offensive, religious, or political comes up and you don’t
prefer to be a part of the conversation, you can say “I’m not comfortable discussing this topic,
and besides, I have other tasks to work on!”. This will show that you aren’t open to discussing
these topics, and will also give a fresh reminder of what your priorities are.
Building boundaries can be difficult, but it’s also a practice. If we don’t make it a statement to
communicate the way we expect to be treated, then our dynamics with others will not change and
it will eventually lead to bitterness and resentment. To protect our emotional wellbeing and our
work, we need to identify the boundaries that need to be drawn and to take small steps towards
1- Do I take on more tasks than I can handle? If yes, why?
2- Is there a specific person that I find it difficult to say no to?
3- Am I upfront with my needs or do I expect people to know my needs?