Setting boundaries in the workplace

Published by mpume on

Setting boundaries in the workplace

What do we mean by setting boundaries?

What’s interesting is that when we speak about setting boundaries, people often have the misconception that it’s something that one has to physically do. Boundaries don’t necessarily have to be that; they are more of a mental, emotional, and sometimes physical position that you take with people; in how people treat you, how people behave around you and the expectations you can set up for your environment. It really lends itself to self-care, self-importance, and self-worth because when we don’t check these things and how we are doing from an emotional perspective, people take advantage of our boundaries. We need to get involved in the major conversation that is happening globally about setting boundaries, otherwise we will find ourselves heading towards an environment that is debilitating for us. And when you find yourself in such an environment, consequently it starts to affect one’s behaviour and mood.

In terms of children, children need boundaries right, as a parent you give a child the boundary of where they are allowed to play in, and it really contains the behaviour within that space and when you just let children rampantly run around and run free, they kind of drive you as parent crazy. So as humans we instinctively need a bit of boundaries and rules and expectations set up for ourselves because it will provide a framework on how to be and what to expect and what to allow within this environment.

Why is it important to set up boundaries?

In terms of the work environment, as an employer if there are no clearly communicated boundaries for the employees, and clearly defined expectations, the behavior, people will want to push and see how far they can get away with things.

Boundaries in relationships eg children, partner, colleague, boundaries lend itself in having the other person understand where we stand with each other.  Thus cultivating a safe space and an opportunity to be vulnerable with someone specifically in a relationship really   enables a conversation around boundaries. Very often we think we have to apologise for setting up boundaries. Whether it’s in a relationship, whether it’s with your work colleagues, whether it’s with your boss, whether it’s with your child, you shouldn’t negate the importance of the boundaries and you shouldn’t have to apologise because this is where you are okay with yourself and the other person sharing that space with you.

Different Types of Boundaries at Work

Boundaries in the workplace ensure everyone can thrive. Without boundaries, employees may feel stressed, angry, confused, or resentful. Having strong relationships with people at work starts with defining the kind of behaviour that is suitable for the environment. According to research, there are several different types of boundaries you should be aware of:

  1. Time boundaries: Time boundaries are very important in the workplace otherwise people tend to over-commit their time. As an employee, you should understand that your time is valuable. You should not dedicate time to things that are contrary to your role or job description. It’s critical to prioritize your tasks and have the ability to say no when you are not able to commit time to something else. Respect time boundaries by showing up on time for meetings.
  2. Intellectual boundaries: In the workplace, we all deal with colleagues who have different ways of doing things or different solutions to problems. In some cases, we may disagree with an idea or process. It’s important for you to understand that you can have a respectful discussion with a colleague if they disagree intellectually regarding something at work. You should also know that you have the right to walk away from unhealthy conversations where people are expressing prejudice against others.
  3. Physical boundaries: Each person has different physical limits, and this is especially important to note for physically demanding jobs. Some people can be on their feet for longer than others, while some have difficulty sitting for hours at a time. If you are an employer, respect peoples’ physical boundaries and provide them with breaks to change their position if they need it. It’s also important to not invade anyone’s physical space, such as by hugging them unexpectedly.
  4. Emotional boundaries: Work is stressful for many employees, and they have strong feelings about specific aspects of work. Avoid dismissing an employee’s feelings if they choose to share some feedback with you. Invite employees to be honest about their feedback. Employees should know that their feelings are valid, and they have permission to share them with others at work.

Ways to set boundaries at your workplace

  1. Seek help

Setting boundaries at work may be as simple as seeking advice from your manager. For example, Create two separate lists, one for you and another for your boss,  of the things you believe you are being held accountable for in your job, prioritise the items you think you should be focusing on and lastly, negotiate agreed-upon priorities.

  1. Conduct an audit

Beyond simply speaking to  your boss, conducting a boundary audit can go a long way in providing clarity around where you need to set limits. Start by becoming more aware of those people and situations that cause you stress and anxiety.

  1. Communicate clearly

Once you set limits, you need to communicate them to your team or colleagues clearly and confidently. For instance, if you don’t want your team members to contact you at all hours, tell them exactly when you will be available for work conversations. When a boundary gets violated, address it immediately.

  1. Take time to respond

One trick that may keep you from saying “yes” to that next project is the art of pausing. Learn to take time to respond in order to explore how best your response will serve you.

  1. Create structure

If you find yourself in long, drawn-out meetings with your boss, develop a structure. One way to do this is to establish an agenda that puts you in control and positions you as a leader. A short weekly check-in might be more efficient than having your boss continually coming by your office unscheduled.

  1. Prepare for pushback

Once you start establishing healthy boundaries, you can expect others to react negatively. This is a sign that the boundary is necessary and that it’s working effectively. It’s also helpful to visualize your boundaries getting crossed and imagine how you will address those situations. That way, when a moment like that arises, you are able to handle it rationally instead of emotionally.

Benefits of setting work boundaries

One of the most advantageous benefits of setting boundaries is that there are clear expectations. When both employers and employees know what is considered acceptable at work, they are much more likely to meet those expectations.

  1. Reducing misunderstandings and disputes

Clear communication in the workplace is important. Boundaries can help to significantly reduce misunderstandings because they act as a set of rules and guidelines. Arguments and disagreements can also be reduced with boundary setting in the workplace.

  1. Increasing employee engagement and satisfaction

Setting boundaries at work helps you connect more with other colleagues. When there are fewer stressful disagreements and uncomfortable conversations, you are more likely to feel fulfilled at work.

  1. Improving structure and processes

At work, processes and procedures ensure that tasks get done right. With clear boundaries in place, your business can improve upon your processes and procedures even further. Creating structure is an important part of boundary setting.


Employees who are the happiest and most productive are those who set boundaries. People who set limits gain respect because they show respect for themselves. Boundaries in the workplace help to increase overall efficiency. There are fewer mistakes, project derailments and missed deadlines because expectations are clear, and employees are encouraged to communicate openly and honestly. Boundaries ensure everyone feels respected at work and is able to state what is considered acceptable behaviour.

Categories: Experience


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