The Importance of Setting Boundaries at Work

As cultural norms surrounding the workplace have shifted over the last few years, achieving the ideal work/life balance is an issue that’s come to the forefront for both workers and employers. Part of that balance involves setting (and keeping!) boundaries while at work. But what’s the best way to get started? 

It may help to first understand what exactly people mean by “boundaries” and why they’re so important in the workplace. According to executive coach Melody Wilding, LMSW, office boundaries are “the limits, expectations, or personal rules you set to keep yourself from over-committing and that protect your energy so you can perform at your best.” These can be issues such as when you arrive at and leave work, how quickly you’re expected to respond to office communications, priority projects, the number and duration of break times, or personal topics you are or are not willing to talk about with coworkers.

One of the biggest boundaries people tend to struggle with is simply saying “no” to work requests you recognize will be too much in terms of time or emotional bandwidth. While it may feel strange at first to refuse a request from a coworker, Forbes points out that standing up for yourself—and realizing that others can and do adhere to your boundaries—can actually result in stronger work relationships. You don’t feel taken for granted, while others respect you for standing firm.


Those who don’t set boundaries often find themselves suffering from burnout or putting off tasks until the very last minute in an unsuccessful bid to avoid doing them altogether. When clear lines are drawn, it helps people focus on the work they enjoy and respond more effectively to requests that take mindful effort and energy.

So how do you go about setting these healthy boundaries? The first step is pinpointing what, exactly, makes you unhappy at work. Is it an unreasonable work load? Too many busywork projects? Too much office gossip? Once you’ve taken a few moments to really think and identify the issues with which you’re struggling, now is the time to set the boundaries that feel right for you.

1. Be clear about your needs

Quietly shutting down at work won’t bring about any changes. Instead, communicate clearly and directly with your employer about what is and isn’t working so you can come up with a solution together. This doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive or demanding during your meeting. Instead, have a few points written down ahead of time and request a private one-on-one session during which you can calmly discuss your concerns.

2. Limit work to work hours

This can be particularly hard with the rising number of employees working from home, but it’s just as important (if not more so) to make sure that once you’re off the clock, you’re done answering work correspondence. Obviously certain positions will have to have exceptions to this rule, but for most of us, limiting (or silencing) work notifications after office hours is a major step toward healthy boundary setting.

3. Take your vacation days

Most jobs have some sort of paid time off (PTO) packages, and it’s vital to your physical and mental health that you take advantage of them. Time reports that in 2020, Americans didn’t use 33 percent of all PTO days. This attitude of blowing through vacation time doesn’t prove you’re a hard worker—instead, it chips away at the boundaries between your personal and professional lives, which sets an unhealthy precedent for the long term.

Hopefully this helps you get started establishing healthy boundaries at the office—the first step toward launching you on your way to a work/life balance that works for you. And don’t worry if your boundaries look different than those of your family, friends—or even your coworkers. Everyone has different needs and wants in their professional lives, so it makes sense that everyone should set specific boundaries that work for them.

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