11 Ways to Set Boundaries in the workplace

11 Ways to Set Boundaries in the workplace

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We spend most of our days at work and at times this work can seep into our lives at home. Creating boundaries around our workplace is critical. It also shows your boss, colleagues and clients that you have a backbone. When you respect your boundaries others will too. Remember that "you teach people how to treat you". 

However, creating boundaries at work can get tricky because there is the worry of being demoted or getting fired. Yet with clear communication, practice and preparation it can be done.

According to Julie de Azevedo, founder and executive director of Wasatch Family Therapy, it is easier to set boundaries when you first start a job. When you set boundaries consider factors such as the number of hours you will work, under what circumstances and conditions you will work overtime and which people, if any, you are willing to give your phone number.

If you have no intentions of switching jobs any time soon, here are a few steps for setting boundaries and navigating violations at your workplace. These will help you work smarter and gain respect.

  1. Know your values

Understanding your values helps you figure out where you would like to set your boundaries. In other words, by first knowing your values, you can set up systems that help you get those needs met.

For example, you may have several side passions that are important to you, such as volunteering and running races, and because you want to make time for those passions you have strict boundaries around working overtime or being available at all hours.

  1. Seek help

Setting boundaries at work may be a simple as seeking advice from your manager. Ken Blanchard, an American author, suggests this process:

  • Begin with you and your boss each creating a separate list of the things you believe you are being held accountable for in your job. This exercise is eye-opening because there are almost always significant discrepancies between the two lists.
  • Next, prioritise what you think you should be focusing on.
  • Lastly, negotiate the agreed-upon priorities
  1. Conduct an audit

Beyond simply approaching your boss, conducting a boundary audit can help provide clarity around where you need to set limits. Start by becoming more aware of those people and situations that cause you stress and anxiety. Jot them down. If you see yourself feeling angry, resentful or guilty, that is a sign that you might need to reset a boundary or communicate it more clearly.

  1. Set limits

Once you have an idea of the areas where you need to focus, start setting limits. For instance, not checking your work emails between 6 and 9 p.m. will allow you to focus on family time.

  1. Communicate clearly

Once you set your limits you need to communicate them to your team clearly and confidently. For example, if you do not want to be contacted at all hours, tell them exactly when you will be available for work-related conversations. If you do not want to be disturbed during your leave, unless it is an emergency, ensure to clearly outline what constitutes an urgent matter. When a boundary gets violated, address it immediately. It is better to reinforce your limits at the moment than to wait.

  1. Delegate more

Being a good leader means to delegate. If you are expected to do the work of 50 people and feel overwhelmed with projects, chances are you are not doing a good job of delegating work. Fortunately, this is a skill that you can develop. Learn to let go, trust your team and play to their strengths.

  1. Take time to respond

One trick that may keep you from saying 'yes' to the next project is the art of pausing. For instance, the next time you are asked to take a last-minute business trip hit the pause button first. This will give you a chance to check-in with yourself to determine whether you have a conflict. If you need to, buy yourself some time before you agree to go.

  1. Practice saying no

Choose some easy, low-risk situations in which to practice saying no, says Peter Bregman, author of 18 minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction and Get the Right Things Done. Say no to the street vendor offering to sell you cleaning products for your car. Go into a room by yourself, shut the door and say no loud ten times. It sounds insane, but it helps to build your ‘no’ muscle.

  1. Develop a system

David Allen, a productivity expert, suggests sorting through your to-do list and addressing each task in one of four ways:

  • Do it
  • Defer it
  • Delegate it
  • Drop it

The important thing is to tackle each issue only once and move on to the next task.

  1. Create Structure

If you find yourself sucked into long, drawn-out meetings with your boss, create structure. One way to do this is to establish an agenda. An agenda puts you in control and positions you as a leader.  You could also create a structure by setting a meeting where one did not exist. A short weekly check-in might be more efficient than having your boss continually popping by your office unannounced.

  1. Prepare for a 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 is. It is also helpful to visualise your boundaries getting crossed and imagine how you will address such situations. That way, when a moment like that arises you will be able to handle it rationally rather than emotionally.

Employees who are happiest and most productive are those who set boundaries. People who set limits gain respect because they show respect for themselves.

If you would like to read more on setting boundaries in the workplace or friendships/relationships take a look at Boundaries by Dr, Henry Cloud and DR. John Townsend.



Sifiso Dingani is a Talent Management Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone +263 4 481946-48/ 481950/ 2900276/ 2900966 or cell number +26377 551 7211 or email sifiso@ipcconsultants.com or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com

Sifiso Dingani
This article was written by Sifiso a Guest at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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