5 Steps to Set Healthy Boundaries at Work

5 Steps to Set Healthy Boundaries at Work.jpg

“I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”  – Ed Sheeran

Taking care of yourself first is essential – you can’t pour from an empty cup. When your life is in balance, it is easier to breathe, and it's easier to perform. But drawing a clear line in the sand and saying “no” isn’t always easy. The most common reasons we struggle to set personal and professional boundaries often have to do with what or how we think of ourselves. We want to be good people, good employees, good friends, etc. Sometimes we avoid setting boundaries with our boss, clients or coworkers because we might be afraid of what it will do for our career. We can easily fall into over-commitment if we allow approval seeking behavior to get in the way of our own well-being.  The first step is to learn how and when to say “no.”

Although it’s often gratifying to be the go-to person, we can’t please everyone and take responsibility for everything that comes our way. It’s tempting to pull out our Superman or Wonder Woman cape when requests and responsibilities start to pile up. Putting everything on our shoulders can be a slippery slope though, that begins with putting other people’s needs ahead of our own and ends with us feeling worn out and frustrated. Before we know it, we’re too overwhelmed for the fundamental aspects of our routine that nourish our energy stores, like sleeping, exercising, eating right, and having fun! 

If you find yourself getting into a people-pleasing mode, or if you feel like you have little to no control over your work, it’s important to pause and consider how you can become your very own superhero.  In reality, firm, clear boundaries attract respect from others and reinforce it for ourselves. When we set limits, we say “no” to the things that are outside of our responsibility, so that we can be available to what’s truly important. It can take practice to get comfortable with gracefully saying “no.” If you follow a few simple steps, it will get easier.

5 Steps to Set Healthy Boundaries at Work:

  1. Set aside some time to think about how much attention people expect of you at a moment’s notice. Do you always make yourself available? Or repeatedly add more to your plate to help people out? What are you not able to say “no” to without feeling guilty?
  2. List at least five things that you would like people to stop doing to or around you (e.g., engaging in office gossip or asking for your help with a last-minute project). How is this detracting from your daily efficiency? 
  3. Write out a clear rule or boundary that corresponds with your values. What criteria does a request need to meet for you to engage? 
  4. Establish mental processes that will help you stick to your boundaries. If you feel tempted to give in to an unreasonable request, allow yourself to pause before you respond. Think through: “Is this my responsibility, or do I feel like I should because I’m in people-pleasing mode”?” How could you tactfully convey that you’re not available? Here are a few strategies: 
    • Point someone in the right direction: "I can’t do it, but I’ll bet Christine can.”
    • Thanks, but no thanks“Thanks so much for thinking of me, but I’m sorry I can’t help you right now.” Or, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’ll have to pass/my time is already committed.”
    • Limit your commitment: “I can’t take on the full scope of the project, but let me tell you what I can do…” 
  5. Finally, think about the positive outcome of saying “no.” How badly do you want to feel that freedom? What will happen if you cave in and don’t stick to your new boundaries?

As time goes on, your boundaries may need some updating. Try to keep it simple and be flexible if you need to compromise. Make concessions with care, so you don’t take on something that doesn’t feel right. 

This formula can be adapted and applied to all areas of your life. Remember: we are all responsible for communicating what’s important to us and where we stand. Setting boundaries can help you develop mutually respectful relationships and enjoy what you’re doing in the moment.

What strategies have you used to set clear boundaries at work? Please share in the comments!