How To Set Boundaries at Work: 6 Ways To Set Boundaries

a white picket fence against a light blue background: how to set boundaries at work

Setting boundaries at work can help you achieve work-life balance by limiting the amount of mental and emotional energy that you allocate to your job. While your company shares the responsibility for creating a positive work environment, you can also make your job work for you by understanding your personal limits and setting healthy boundaries. If you’re self-employed, however, that responsibility falls on your shoulders—but it’s critical to staving off burnout

Establishing boundaries in a professional setting might be intimidating, but it’s in the best interest of employees and employers to do so. Workplaces thrive when those doing the work feel engaged, happy, and fulfilled. Learning how to establish and maintain boundaries can improve your work life and create time for joy away from the office.

Why is it important to set boundaries at work?

Setting boundaries can help you maintain a healthy work-life balance. Understanding your own boundaries may take time, but doing so can help reduce work-related stress, provide you with time to recharge, and increase your overall level of job satisfaction. Sticking to your boundaries may inspire your coworkers to do the same, leading to a healthier workplace for all. 

Types of workplace boundaries

Workplace boundaries can support everything from your physical health to your emotional well-being. These are a few types of boundaries that may be helpful:

  • Physical boundaries. These boundaries describe what you need to feel physically comfortable and safe in your workplace. Individuals have varying levels of comfort regarding physical touch, belongings, and personal space. One example of a physical boundary could be asking a colleague to refrain from sitting on your desk when they stop by to chat. 
  • Emotional boundaries.  Emotional boundaries aim to protect your emotional well-being and mental health. These may include interpersonal boundaries, like choosing not to engage in negative office gossip with other employees.
  • Mental boundaries. Mental boundaries help you focus and remain present at work and may include communication or time boundaries. For example, choosing not to answer emails after working hours may give you time to rest and preserve mental energy. 

📚FURTHER READING: Learn how to balance your business and your mental health with these mental health and wellness resources for entrepreneurs.

How to set boundaries at work

Building boundaries takes time—it requires a deep understanding of your relationship to work and personal needs. Your specific goals may vary, but these are some common ways to set healthy boundaries at work: 

  • Block off time.  If meetings or frequent communications from other coworkers interfere with your focus, set aside time for deep work. Try blocking off certain hours on your work schedule to focus on tasks that require your full attention.
  • Delegate work. If your workload feels like too much to handle, consider delegating a few tasks to your direct reports. If you’re an individual contributor, speak to your manager to see if any items can be deprioritized or reassigned. And if you’re self-employed, look for opportunities to automate tasks or bring on specialists that can help take on tasks that feel extraneous or too draining. If you run a Shopify store, for example, try testing out bots designed to assist with ecommerce automation, or reach out to a network of Shopify Experts who can support website development, design, and more.
  • Communicate. No two people will have the exact same personal boundaries. For example, some people may enjoy spending time with coworkers outside of the office, while others may prefer to keep relationships strictly professional. Communicate your preferences to your coworkers and manager so they understand your preferred work style. 
  • Take vacations. Vacations are a way to spend time focusing on enjoyment. Take advantage of accrued paid time off or unlimited vacation plans to restore your energy and help prevent burnout. And yes: You can even take vacation as an entrepreneur.
  • Set off hours. Save time for your personal life by setting off hours, or hours in which you do not respond to work emails. This can be especially important for remote workers because, when your office is your home, it’s easy to fall into a habit of checking your emails at all times. Setting time boundaries will help delineate your personal time from your work life. 
  • Take breaks. Taking breaks, like a coffee break or a lunch break, is a quick way to rest and restore your energy during the work day. 

Workplace boundaries FAQ

What are some signs of a work environment that lacks boundaries?

If work frequently interferes with your personal life, it could mean that your workplace lacks healthy boundaries. Signs of a workplace with poor boundaries include frequent messages outside of working hours, work messages sent to personal devices or email accounts, and repeated requests to perform tasks outside of your job description.

If you feel you may be working in a toxic environment, consider voicing your concerns to your manager or human resources representative.

What do I do if someone doesn't respect my boundaries?

Setting boundaries can be difficult. If another employee isn’t respecting your work boundaries, there are several ways you can address the problem. Depending on your relationship with the employee in question and the severity of the transgression, the first step may be to negotiate your boundaries directly. If you feel safe, start by making your boundaries clear and requesting a behavior change.

If this doesn’t feel like a viable option—either because of an unhealthy power dynamic or because of the specific behavior—the next step is to raise your concerns to management or human resources. It may be beneficial to keep records of any evidence of the behavior in question, such as copies of inappropriate emails or a list documenting each incident.

How can I establish boundaries for work while working remotely at home?

Remote work comes with unique boundary-setting challenges; establishing a separation between your work life and your home life can be difficult when they happen in the same place. To establish boundaries at home, try designating a certain space as your home office and avoid working in other places in your home. Set limits on your working hours and schedule regular breaks.

Are there other effective ways to say no at work?

Clear boundaries can help you understand when it’s time to say no at work. If you’d like to say no to a task or other request, try suggesting an alternative approach to the project and explain your reasoning.

What are examples of professional boundaries?

Examples of setting healthy work boundaries include taking a lunch break every day, refraining from work on the weekends, and declining to share your personal possessions with coworkers.