December 01, 2021

Setting Boundaries at Work

People often underestimate the importance of establishing a good work/life balance. Learning how to set boundaries at work, between your personal life and your career, is as crucial as it has ever been, with over one-third of America’s workforce now conducting their day-to-day operations from their own homes. You might think being able to roll out of bed and log into your daily Zoom meeting would be a godsend, but the fact is, burnout is at an all-time high.

A 2021 survey conducted by Indeed showed that more than half of workers are feeling burnt out. That’s a pretty staggering number. Setting boundaries at work has become more and more challenging, as lines have never been more blurred.

Employees that have trouble setting boundaries at work are almost three times as likely to leave their current employer. This can not only hurt the career trajectory you may have been on but also subject you and your family to financial strain. Knowing how and when to say “no” at work is easier said than done at times, but we’re here to help you re-define your boundary lines for your own long-term success and well-being.

What is burnout, exactly?

Burnout is a specific type of career-related stress that can be characterized as a physical and emotional exhaustive state, as well as feelings of sudden motivational loss, anxiety, and even depression. Burnout is caused when someone is exposed to stress over an extended period of time from a variety of work-related factors, such as:

  • An excessive or continuous heavy workload
  • Lack of communication or team support
  • Unrealistic deadlines or unrealistic goals
  • Lack of control or autonomy

How can I set boundaries at work effectively?

While many of the factors that cause burnout are on the organizational level, you can take action to alleviate stress and avoid burnout by setting healthy boundaries that will make you happier, more successful, and more fulfilled in the long run.

1. Establish your priorities.

Everyone wants to have money and financial comfort. But money isn’t the only important thing in life, or even the only reason you work.

When setting boundaries at work, write out a list of all your top priorities, including your career, and then see where you should be allocating your time in accordance with your priority list. You may realize you have priorities you’ve been neglecting, like spending time with your children or pursuing a passion. Identifying and naming these priorities empowers you to protect your time for them.

2. Take the time you need and are entitled to.

Taking time off is an excellent way to set boundaries at work and solidify the line between the home you and the work version of you. Scheduling your vacation time can be more difficult than it seems, especially for people who have a lot of responsibility. Regardless, remember that those days are there for a reason. You’ve earned them.

3. Learn when to say no.

Now that you’ve got your priorities figured out, you should have a better idea of what’s “non-negotiable” when it comes to your work-life balance.

If your workload is already full and you can’t take anything else on without crossing a boundary, it’s good (and healthy) to politely turn it down. Saying “no” truly is a skill and one you need to practice to master. Once you do, however, you’ll not only be happier at work, but your peers and those above you will respect your boundaries more.

4. Look at others around you who successfully set boundaries.

When you envision upper management at a big corporation, you might think of them as “workaholics.” It’s true that most successful people have a high motivational drive.

But if you look closely at some of the most successful people you know, you may be shocked to find that they have firm professional boundaries. It’s how they stay sane. Talk to your boss, or someone you respect in your industry, and see how they prioritize their life and set boundaries. Everyone’s a little bit different, so pick someone who you think is closely alignerd with your life priorities.

5. Maintain boundaries at work by communicating them clearly.

It’s absolutely essential you make your professional boundaries clear from the get-go. You’ll find that most people are more than willing to respect boundaries, but they can’t do that if they don’t know about them. Remember, everyone’s professional boundaries are different, so what’s completely acceptable for one person might be crossing the line for you. When setting boundaries at work, a few good pointers for communicating them are:

  • When you’re on vacation or taking time off, clarify in your out-of-office message that you will be unavailable unless there’s an emergency.
  • Notify the rest of your team when you’re either leaving or signing off for the day.
  • On your business voicemail, specify your operating business hours and when you’ll be next available if it’s outside of that time.
  • Clearly define acceptable reasons for someone to reach out outside of your operating hours, and preferred methods of communication for doing so if necessary.

If your boundaries are still being overstepped, maintain a polite attitude when addressing them, but make it clear that it’s outside of your bandwidth. Here are a few professional responses:

  • “I’ll be happy to assist with this project, but project X will have to be deprioritized or the deadline adjusted.”
  • “This project generally takes around X days to complete, but I see you’re wanting the turnaround in X days. It would be helpful to extend this timeframe so I can give this project the attention it deserves.”
  • “Hello, thanks for reaching out to me. I’m on my lunch and away from the office currently, but I’ll be happy to address your question when I return to my desk.”

In Conclusion…

Burnout is a serious issue in the workplace and can lead to a number of negative consequences for your mental, physical, and financial well-being. Setting boundaries at work can allow you to live a happy and successful life, both at work and outside of it.

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