How to Set Boundaries at Work

Posted by Julia McVeigh on

Work can be all encompassing. After all, many of spend at least forty hours a week physically in an office, not to mention time outside our workplace fielding early morning emails, traveling to off-site conferences and burning the midnight oil. Given Americans are basically obsessed with working – we’re second only to the Koreans in number of hours logged and take far less vacation time than our European counterparts – it can be hard to be the boundary-setting outlier. But difficult as it may seem, creating boundaries is incredibly important not simply for your mental health, but for your professional success, too. After all, no one does her best work when she is overextended, overtired and simply overwhelmed.


Ahead, we’re sharing some of our favorite ways to set these all-important office boundaries. Read on.


Create and respect routines, rituals and schedules.

We’re firm believers of creating healthy routines here at BHH and this concept is certainly applicable to your professional life. The first and most important office-related ritual is establishing a regular arrival and departure time. Of course, there will be instances where this schedule needs to be flexible – allowing for unexpected projects or last-minute late nights, but generally speaking you should be adhering to an established arrival and departure time about 70-80% of the time. Doing so will not only firmly establish healthy limits, it will enable you to schedule regular wellness-promoting rituals in other areas of your life, such as a standing 7pm yoga class post-work or a morning run. 


Learn to say “no.”

One of the most important things I’ve learned in my professional life is that saying “no” can sometimes help your career. That’s because if you truly cannot assume an assignment or task, you shouldn’t set yourself up for failure by agreeing to take it on. Furthermore, when you are overburdened at work, you can start to feel a little bitter. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there, and we all know when we’ve bitten off more than we can chew and truly pay the (stressful) consequences as a result. So, instead of always being a “yes” man or woman, seek to be candid and honest with your colleagues about your ability to manage your workload. If something is too much, let them know and proactively suggest alternative solutions. Trust me: Everyone will be more appreciative in the long run.


Be vocal.

Along those lines, being communicative at work is incredibly important if you are seeking to set boundaries. For example, if you have a very important dinner approaching in a week, tell your team ahead of time that you need to leave the office by 5pm. Continually communicate your schedule and you’ll find that those “last-minute” projects won’t be hitting your plate just as you’re trying to get out the door.


Power down.

I have a friend who works as an Investment Banker and she is the most plugged-in person I know. Even at dinners she is shooting off emails and responding to work-related texts, all while profusely apologizing. While I can sympathize with her hectic schedule, I know that some of the problem is truly of her own making: She doesn’t know how to power down. Resultantly, her teammates have come to expect her as “always on” – a vicious cycle if you’re trying to escape work for a bit. With that said, creating boundaries is important when it comes to work – turn off your phone at dinner, avoid logging into email late at night and generally try and create space between your office and your out-of-office life. While it might seem hard at first, your non-responses will let people know that it’s better to reach you not at 10pm.


Know when professional stops and personal begins.

This one is really tricky. Let me caveat that I firmly believe you can create lifelong, best friendships at work. Those are a whole separate entity. What I’m talking about, here, are those colleagues with whom you are friendly. With those individuals, it’s really important to know the limits of regular friendship versus work friendship. Always ensure you are acting with a level of appropriateness and understand that sharing deeply personal information is usually not a wise choice. Furthermore, creating social plans with colleagues after work can be a really great team-building exercise, but ensure you’re making time to see your real friends, too. After all, gossiping about your boss might be cathartic, but it doesn’t compare to a real heart-to-heart with your BFF.

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