How To Set Boundaries At Work

Posted by on Nov 30, 2012 in Career Advice | 4 comments

Are your work days generally productive? Do you spend your work time getting done what you really need to get done? Do your customers and co-workers respect you? Do you feel happy at work? If you said no to any of these questions you may need to set boundaries at work.

How do I know? Years ago I had few boundaries at work (or at home, for that matter).  I said yes to every request. I avoided conflict at all costs. I tried to appease everyone around me and paid more attention to what other people thought of me than what I thought of myself.  I was unhappy, overworked, stressed, tired, and less reliable than I like to admit!  Living without boundaries just wasn’t working for me.

Setting boundaries clarifies expectations and builds trust. Boundaries are keys to time management and work-life balance.  Learning to set boundaries took years of practice and I’m still learning. I know I need to set healthy boundaries at work when I start to feel irritable, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Those feelings have been creeping up on me lately and I need to revisit my boundaries.

How to set boundaries at work

Know yourself

Before I can determine if I need to set boundaries, or what boundaries to set, I need to recognize I have a problem, that my life has temporarily become unmanageable. For me that means identifying that I feel irritable, frustrated, and overwhelmed.

Take ownership

As long as I blame other people’s behavior for my problems then I am a victim and my well-being is determined by everyone and everything around me.

When I take responsibility for my own well-being I discover I have choices. I am no longer a victim, I am an active participant in my own success. I decide how to respond, not react, to the situation. I can improve my situation by setting boundaries.

Determine what you are willing and able to do

I can only do my very best with the skills, talents, and tools that I possess today. I will consider my potential as well as my limitations to help me decide what I am truly willing and able to accomplish.

If I’m unable or unwilling to take on a task it is absolutely okay to decline or remove myself from the situation to take care of my mental, physical, and emotional needs. I might tell a boss or client I can’t work this weekend but I can put in an extra hour every day next week.

Define YOUR behavior, not anyone else’s

Setting boundaries is not about limiting anyone else’s behavior but, rather, defining my own. I don’t tell someone else what they can do, I tell them what I’m going to do.

Although I may be tempted to simply ignore an individual that interrupts me frequently, or even tell that person, “stop interrupting me!” but that’s not setting a boundary. Setting a healthy boundary might be to say,  “I’m going to turn off my phone and close my door for an hour of uninterrupted work.”

Be honest and don’t make excuses

I’m an honest person yet there are times I have been less-than-honest to avoid conflict with a client or co-worker. The problem with making excuses to to avoid conflict is I remove the opportunity to share mutual respect and trust with others.

Maybe there won’t be a conflict, and if there is, maybe I will handle it with dignity and grace. Instead of making excuses I will simply be honest about what I’m going to do.

Show kindness, respect, and compassion

Setting boundaries is hard. Sometimes people get upset. Sometimes I get upset! Sometimes I don’t like other people’s boundaries.

When setting boundaries, as with all things in life, it’s important to show kindness, respect, and compassion to myself and others. We’re all doing what we can with the tools we have. We all have days of suffering and pain. We all have days of irritability and unreasonableness. I need to be considerate when setting boundaries and not heap too much responsibility on myself or others.

Keep practicing!

Life is wonderful, perplexing, challenging, and growing! When I set out to set healthy boundaries I don’t always get it right the first time. I take a deep breath and try again.

setting boundariesImage courtesy of anemoneprojectors

I love your comments! Is setting boundaries challenging for you? Is there a boundary you’re going to establish today? What other tips help you set healthy boundaries?


  1. This topic has been a major problem in my life. My husband and I made the HUGE mistake of building our home next to his parents. We have lived here for 7 years. We haven’t had much of a relationship with his family for the past 5 years. My in-laws even lived with us for a few months while their house was getting finished. They moved in a few days after our first baby was born. I thought the conflict between his family and ours would destroy our marriage. We tried setting boundaries, writing letters, having discussions, and even going to a mediator. Nothing worked. Finally we decided to pull away completely. Even though we live next door, we do not attend family functions. My four year old doesn’t even know his grandparents. It has been difficult. I used to have nightmares of my in-laws attacking me. We have cried a lot and had marital arguments. However, keeping our distance seems to help. No contact brings peace. A wonderful book I read is called “Toxic In-laws – Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage by Susan Forward Ph.D. I have learned that I am still a good person even if my in-laws despise me. I am a good wife and mother and I can raise my children in a loving immediate family. My husband and I can focus on strengthening our family unit. We do not need to allow his family in to harm us. We are the parents and we have the right to set the boundaries for our family. Our marriage comes first. I always tell myself that I have gone through this pain for a reason. I hope it has taught me how to treat my children and their spouses in the future. I often think about the kind of mother-in-law and grandmother I want to be. Yes I mourn that my children do not have sweet grandparents that plan cute holiday events for them, get excited to attend their preschool graduations, and such. However, I realize my children are shielded from the hurt and manipulation that mostly made up my in-laws personality.

    • Thanks for your heartfelt comment, Tameka!

      Wow, that sounds like a really stressful situation. I’m glad to hear that you and your husband stuck together through this and made your family a priority. Unfortunately sometimes having no contact is the only option when dealing with a truly toxic relationship. While it’s painful to have no contact, it sounds like you’re doing the best you can for yourself and your family.

      I appreciate your comment and thank you for stopping by. Keep taking care of yourself and your family.

      Have a grateful day!


  2. Couldn’t agree more, Chrysta! Your first tip, “Know Yourself” is so, so valuable. Once I saw the pattern of my own propensities, talents, and natural communication style, that made the rest of the process so much easier. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned!

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Michelle!

      Knowing myself is always the first step for me. When I’m outward focused I find I struggle and suffer more. When I know myself first I can make choices that are good for me!

      Have a grateful day!


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