Setting Boundaries in the Workplace


by Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC


Setting and maintaining boundaries in the workplace can be challenging, as it may involve asserting yourself and potentially encountering resistance from colleagues.  Some people may believe they have good boundaries when in reality they avoid asserting their own wishes and preferences out of fear as being seen as “unkind”. In truth, boundaries are indicative of respect, self-esteem and create a healthier and more productive work environment


What are boundaries?

Boundaries are limits and guidelines that individuals establish in to communicate their needs, maintain their autonomy, and ensure their comfort and safety.

A common misconception is that boundaries are rules about how other people should act. However, it is more helpful to think of boundaries as the actions you will take to protect your emotional, physical, and psychological well-being.  


Why are professional boundaries important?

Workplace boundaries are needed in order to maintain a productive work environment and prevent burnout. Professional boundaries help you to define your working hours, manage your workload, and ensure that you’re treated fairly and respectfully by colleagues and supervisors.

Below are common areas in which people set boundaries in the workplace:

  • Physical boundaries are all about protecting your personal space and privacy. This includes physical space (such as respecting someone’s workspace) as well as digital privacy (such as not going through their emails or messages).
  • Time Management boundaries refer to limits you set around your working hours, breaks, and overtime. This helps prevent overworking and burnout. It’s also essential to respect others’ time by not expecting immediate responses outside of working hours.
  • Communication boundaries involve respecting preferred communication channels (email, messaging apps, in-person), being mindful of the frequency and urgency of messages, and avoiding constant interruptions.
  • Conflict Resolution boundaries include maintaining a calm and respectful tone during disagreements, not involving others in personal conflicts, and seeking mediation when necessary.
  • Boundaries around workload/responsibilities includes knowing when to say no, asking for help when needed, and not taking on more tasks than can be reasonably managed.
  • Physical/Emotional Health boundaries means prioritizing your physical and mental well-being. This can look like taking sick days when needed, not pressuring others to work when they are unwell, and not discussing overly personal or sensitive topics.


How do I know When to Set a Boundary?

Knowing when to set a boundary in the workplace can be nuanced, since it depends on the situation as well as your feelings and personal preferences. It’s a good idea to start by paying attention to how you feel and react to situations around you.

Here are some common indicators that can help you recognize when it’s a good time to set a boundary:

  • Feeling uncomfortable, anxious, or resentful in a situation: If someone consistently engages in behavior that makes you uncomfortable or disrespects your boundaries, it’s important to address it and set clear limits.
  • Feeling Overwhelmed: If you’re feeling overwhelmed due to consistently taking on more tasks, responsibilities, or commitments than you can handle it’s a good time to set boundaries around your workload.
  • Lack of Personal Time: If you feel that you have no time for yourself due to constant demands from others, it’s time to establish boundaries around your personal time and self-care.
  • Invasion of Privacy: If someone is prying into your personal life, asking intrusive questions, or invading your personal space, it’s a sign that you need to set boundaries to protect your privacy.


Remember, setting boundaries is about taking care of yourself and maintaining healthy relationships. It’s not about being selfish or unreasonable, but rather about creating a balance that ensures your needs are met while respecting the needs of others. Trust your instincts and prioritize your well-being when deciding to set a boundary. It’s okay to assert your needs in a respectful and assertive manner.


Important phrases to read every day:

Sometimes, people respond to boundaries by trying to wear you down. If you are struggling to enforce your boundaries and feel yourself starting to relent, keep these phrases in mind:

  • I am not responsible for other people’s emotions
  • I do not have to anticipate the needs of others
  • My needs are valid
  • I love myself enough to set boundaries
  • My time and energy are precious
  • The only people who are upset about me setting boundaries are the ones who are benefitting from me having none.




Seeking Mental Health Support

If weak interpersonal boundaries has left you feeling emotionally drained and anxious, it may be time to speak with a professional. Scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center may be the first step in making your mental health a priority in the new year. Meet our team to learn more!


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