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How to Set Boundaries at Work: 5 Strategies to Try

Even if you love what you do, your work isn’t all that defines who you are as a person.

Yet throughout the pandemic, millions of people have become burnt out from their jobs, leading to an unhealthy lack of work-life balance.

For remote workers, constant pressure to be ‘plugged in’ 24/7 contributed to some of this.

At the same time, those working in person have contended with continuous changes and a culture prioritizing profits over people.

And while many of these problems are systemic in nature, learning how to better navigate the systems we work in can help us cultivate a healthier work-life balance. 

That leads us straight to today’s topic: learning how to set (and stick to) healthy boundaries at work. 

How to set boundaries at work in 2022

Whether you and your colleagues are still working remotely or commuting to a physical office every day, setting physical, mental, and emotional boundaries for yourself is crucial to protecting your health and wellbeing. 

If you find yourself feeling burnt out, it’s worth taking the time to set clear limits. Here are some of our favorite strategies to use as a jumping off point. 

african american man working on computer with female in the background on the phone displaying theneed for work-life boundaries

Recognize your priorities

Before starting a conversation with your manager or peers, it’s essential to think about your physical, mental, and emotional priorities.

Most of us have families, friends, hobbies, and other pursuits more important to us than work.

Is your priority to spend more intentional time within these other areas of your life?

Asking questions like these is important for narrowing down your real priorities, which can help guide you when thinking about boundaries. 

It’s also worth thinking about your priorities when it comes to your career.

Are you happy where you are in your role or looking to climb the ranks?

Being mindful of this can help you set limits that align with your work goals. 

Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’

So often, we say ‘yes’ to things without even thinking about them.

It can feel like the correct answer, especially when trying to get ahead in our careers, even when we’re already stretched thin.

But when we say ‘yes’ to everything, we end up saying ‘no’ to ourselves and our already established priorities.

According to former hostage negotiator turned businessman Christopher Voss, a simple way to respond to someone asking for something outside of your available bandwidth is to ask, “How am I supposed to do this?”

The key is asking in a way that’s not accusatory but curious. You want the other party to consider the work you already have on your plate. 

If you are in a position to, learning how to delegate tasks can also be an effective way of saying ‘no’.

When asked to do something outside your scope of work, ask yourself if there’s someone better equipped to handle the job. 

Set clear working hours (with time for breaks)

When the line between home and office is blurred, it becomes easy to let work take over your life.

According to a survey of remote workers by Robert Half, 70% reported working on weekends, and 45% said they worked longer than 40 hours per week.

Not only are most people not getting compensated for those extra hours, but it’s also simply not sustainable to work like this in the long term. 

Fortunately, an easy way to set boundaries in this regard is to make sure your working hours are reflected clearly on your digital calendar.

Working from 8:30 – 5? Make sure your calendar reflects that, and don’t feel bad declining meetings that fall outside those hours.

It’s also important to set aside time for breaks or deep focus. Blocking out this time on your calendar makes it clear to others that they should not book time with you or expect an immediate response.

Don’t let apologies creep in

Even when we feel fully prepared to set a boundary at work, we can slip into an apologetic tone of voice once the conversation has started.

You probably know the tone I’m talking about, the kind that says things like, “Sorry to bother you,” or “I feel like this might be a good idea if possible”.

The problem with this is it already makes it sound like we’re expecting a ‘no’. 

Instead, try to speak or write as clearly and honestly as possible.

Everyone deserves to have their boundaries respected, and it’s natural and healthy to set those limits in the first place.

Rather than coming off as apologetic, speak with clear intent, and you can expect others to do the same.

Take time off

Taking time off or a vacation seems like a no-brainer, but for many Americans, it’s anxiety-inducing to ask for a day off.

People are afraid they’ll be seen as a slacker or be passed over for a promotion. But what we often fail to realize is that time off isn’t a nice-to-have, but an essential – not only for our health but for our quality of work too.

And while a vacation won’t completely cure severe burnout or other long-term issues, a few days off can be a great reset if you’re feeling overwhelmed. 

Instead of waiting to take a mental health day when you’re already stretched thin, strive to plan out your time-off in advance.

Not only will this give you something to look forward to, but scheduling vacations in advance is also a great way to ensure you actually use up those much-needed days off.

And when your vacation does roll around, make sure you’re using it to rest, relax, and catch up with the people and things you enjoy.

Next: 7 Ways to Achieve a More Balanced Life

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