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How to Maintain Boundaries at Work

You’re at work, and you’re busy. You keep hearing the “ping” of Slack messages, emails, and texts, but you’re handling it. Suddenly, your boss asks you to do something that feels completely out of bounds. They want you to complete a task that is outside of your job description, or they ask you for a personal favor. Besides, you’re already overwhelmed! What do you do? How do you say no while remaining in good favor? 

It’s important to maintain boundaries at work, for your sanity, and for your career. Here are some tips on how to do just that.

What are personal boundaries?

UC Berkeley defines personal boundaries as “the limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships.” In the workplace, boundaries are essential for maintaining a healthy working environment. Setting clear boundaries helps to protect employees from harmful environments and enables them to thrive both professionally and personally without feeling overwhelmed by their job or putting themselves in vulnerable positions. 

Establishing personal boundaries helps to ensure that expectations between individuals and departments remain consistent, prevent burnout or overwhelm, and limit resentment. Defining personal boundaries is key to creating a safe atmosphere in the workplace where everyone can do their best work while feeling secure and respected.

Personal boundaries can vary from person to person, which is why it’s important for people to share theirs. In a 2019 Udemy survey, nearly half of respondents said they felt pressured to accept a friend request on social media from a coworker. Also, 63% of employees indicated they keep their profiles private so that coworkers can’t follow them.

Some personal boundaries you may want to establish could include: don’t ask for personal favors, communicate a project at least 3-5 days before its deadline, only communicate during work hours, and maintain confidentiality at all times. 

If you feel that your boundaries are being crossed or violated in any way, it’s important to speak up and address the situation directly with the person involved before it becomes a pattern. Oftentimes, simply having this conversation can help clear up any misunderstandings and resolve the issue. People may even admire your confidence. 

Learn to say “no” when you’re feeling overwhelmed or taken advantage of

When we’re feeling overwhelmed or taken advantage of, it can be hard to stand up for ourselves and say no. However, learning how to do this is not only important in setting boundaries but helps us protect ourselves from stress and anxiety induced by tasks or situations we’ve committed to. It’s important to establish these boundaries early on in a relationship in order to protect your future self. 

Learning how to tactfully say no empowers you to make decisions that are best suited to your own needs. If we take on too much, we won’t be able to approach our work with the level of care, detail, and joy we desire. Remember, this is about protecting your capacity in the long run. So the next time someone asks you for something you don’t have time for or feel uncomfortable doing, try confidently saying no.

When it comes to learning how to say no tactfully in the workplace, it is important to remember a few key points. First, it is important to be as clear and respectful as possible when communicating your refusal. Make sure you are direct, clear, and honest when explaining why you are not willing or able to do something. Additionally, try to focus on your own needs rather than making it about the other person. 

If you are struggling to say no, try practicing in low-pressure situations first. For example, you could practice saying no to a friend or family member who is not as invested in your professional success as a manager or coworker might be. This will help “build the no muscle,” and reveal that a simple no is not the end of the world. In fact, it could be the beginning of a new world filled with rest and balance. 

Be assertive in setting and enforcing your boundaries

Knowing your personal boundaries and being assertive in enforcing them is essential for success, personally and professionally. Staying true to yourself when it comes to setting limits can help you be honest and avoid getting overwhelmed by the need to please others or take on more than you can handle. Only you can know what is “too much” and what is “too little” at work. Doing an honest self-inventory will help you stick to your boundaries over time. It can also ensure you’re not comparing yourself to others.  

Being assertive doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive. It simply means respectfully standing up for yourself, defining what’s okay with you and what isn’t, and communicating these boundaries in a clear and direct way both internally and externally. Ultimately, being assertive will help keep your life balanced as it allows you to make sure that all of your needs are met without compromising your values or principles. Remind yourself that no matter what you see on social media, there is no such thing as superwoman. The women who are most successful in the workplace are those who understand how to set boundaries. 

Keep a professional attitude at all times, even if others around you are not

Regardless of the environment you are in, it is important to maintain a professional attitude. Even if others aren’t exhibiting professionalism, you can still set an example by keeping your composure, adhering to etiquette guidelines, and staying alert and focused on the task at hand. Doing so may even encourage others in their own professional behavior – making the entire workplace more productive and enjoyable for everyone. So don’t let anyone else diminish your attitude. (Make that a boundary!) 

Protecting your personal space and privacy is essential to maintaining a sense of security and confidence. It’s important to understand that no one else has a right to invade your personal space without permission; this includes touching, going through your personal items, discerning confidential information – anything that threatens the sanctity of your personal environment. Respecting boundaries is key to having meaningful relationships with both yourself and those around you, so drawing the line at what is acceptable behavior and practicing healthy boundary setting can be beneficial for everyone in the long run. Make sure to stand up for yourself when necessary and know that you always have a right to protect yourself. 

Setting and enforcing personal boundaries is an important part of maintaining a healthy and professional work-life balance. It can be difficult to know where to draw the line, but by taking the time to define your boundaries and communicate them to others, you can help create a more positive and productive workplace for everyone involved. If you are feeling overwhelmed or taken advantage of at work, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from a supervisor or HR. Remember that you have a right to a healthy work-life balance, personal space, and privacy. By maintaining healthy boundaries, you will be able to set the tone for a respectful and professional working environment.


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