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Setting Boundaries in The Workplace: A Key to Minimising Stress

The term “boundaries” is everywhere. 

It’s used within the context of friendships, romantic relationships and even the workplace. 

With reports of increased employee stress and burnout, setting boundaries has become even more essential.  

A recent Glassdoor study found that 42% of UK employees felt emotionally drained from work. This not only impacts employees’ wellbeing but also incurs significant costs for organisations. Another study estimated that UK organisations faced over £700m of cost every year, because of employees calling in sick with signs of stress and exhaustion.  

In this article, we will delve into the benefits of setting boundaries, discuss different types of boundaries and offer guidance on how to establish them for long term success.

 Two women working happily together as they have set good workplace boundaries with each other

What are Workplace Boundaries? 

In today’s fast-paced digital workplace, it’s easy to feel uncertain about acceptable work behaviour and expectations. While some boundaries might be clear and straightforward, many others might not be.  

Establishing boundaries at work is about implementing healthy practices to protect yourself, help maximise your productivity, and maintain a good work-life balance. If you’re struggling with any of these, understanding the benefits of setting boundaries and how to establish them is crucial. 

Why is Setting Boundaries in the Workplace Important?  

Here are three key benefits of setting boundaries at work:    

1. To Improve Your Productivity 

Setting boundaries allows you to focus on your tasks without unnecessary distractions such as chatty colleagues or unnecessary meetings. By managing interruptions, you can ensure you have enough time and energy to complete your tasks, thus boosting your productivity. 

Want to improve your time management? You might be interested in our Top Six Time Management Tips for a More Productive Working Week

2. Balancing Your Workload 

Without clear boundaries, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by an excessive workload. By setting reasonable limits on how much work you take on and how quickly you’re allowing yourself respond to others’ requests, you can prevent unnecessary stress.

3. Maintain Your Personal Well-being 

Excessive workloads, an unhealthy work environment and chronic stress can lead to burnout in the long run. Boundary setting is therefore essential to prioritise your well-being.  

Read: 5 Top Tips for Maintaining Mental Health in the Public Sector

Overall, setting healthy boundaries in the workplace does not equate to being lazy and avoiding responsibilities. Instead, it’s empowering yourself by setting limits to maximise your productivity and well-being at work.  

4. Helps to Prevent Conflict

Clearly establishing your workplace boundaries can help prevent conflict and miscommunication amongst colleagues. Setting boundaries clarifies what is and isn't acceptable, making collaboration more positive and respectful, which helps to improve job satisfaction and productivity in the long run.

Read: From Tension to Resolution: A Guide on How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace

What Do Workplace Boundaries Look Like? 

They can take various forms, but let’s have a look at the most common ones: 

Communication and time boundaries can help foster healthy relationships between you and your colleagues. For example, if someone sends you a work-related text message outside your work hours, politely let them know that unless it’s urgent, you won’t be answering any work-related matters outside you designated work hours. 

Additionally, by implementing these boundaries, you can ensure a clear separation between your work from home and your personal life, promoting a healthier remote work experience.

Setting emotional boundaries can allow you to process the emotions you feel at work and increase your satisfaction with your workplace. An emotional boundary can be letting your manager know that you don’t appreciate the way they’re giving you feedback. Expressing your emotional needs will help build a healthier work environment and relationship with your colleagues.

Physical boundaries encompass respecting your body, personal space and preferences. These can include politely letting your colleague know that they’re invading your physical space or going for lunch by yourself.  

Priority and workload boundaries involve setting limits on the amount of work you take on, to prevent burnout and maximise your efficiency. If you’re asked to take on additional tasks, it is essential for you to be honest. Let your colleague or manager know that you can’t take on both tasks, and if you do, you will need additional time. 

Consider Implementing These Methods: 

1. Understand Your Worth 

Constantly questioning your worth may drive you to seek validation through work, potentially leading you to burn out. Additionally, by doing that, your managers will expect a certain level of output from you that will make refusing tasks harder.   

During work and when interacting with your colleagues, constantly remind yourself that your unique experiences, skills and expertise earned you your position. Acknowledge your achievements and what you can offer to boost your confidence. 

2. Communicate Clearly and Concisely Without Feeling Guilty

When establishing boundaries during conversations, do not apologise from the start as it might suggest that you’re expecting a “no” or it might make your message harder to understand. Remember that you have the right to set boundaries, to express your opinions and to be assertive.  

3. Manage Expectations 

It’s important to manage expectations by clearly communicating your boundaries to others, especially as tasks and projects may evolve over time. While changes to the baseline are acceptable, the expectations should be clear and mutually agreed on. Otherwise, it will cause stress for everyone involved.  

4. Identify Your Non-Negotiables 

Having a list of non-negotiables can be useful for work decisions. For example, when you agree to take on additional work, you need to consider what you’re sacrificing and what you’re gaining. Your non-negotiables can also simply be drinking enough water throughout the day or having enough time away from your screen. You can overlook these seemingly easy tasks during a busy day, but they contribute to your well-being.  

Looking to Develop Your Time Management Skills Within the Workplace?

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