6 ways to set healthy boundaries at work

With smartphones at our fingertips, boundaries around the business are more blurred than ever. Applications like Slack and Gmail make us radically accessible, conference calls can happen at any time of the day, and laptops make it easier than ever to work on the weekends.

It’s no surprise, then, how stress begins piling up. Things happen at work that leave us feeling frustrated and burnt out. We find ourselves balancing clients who cancel at the last minute, working extended hours, and juggling others’ expectations that we are always available.

If you feel resentful, guilty, or angry about things that happen at work, chances are you have overcommitted yourself or allowed others to overcommit you.

Photo by Elisa Ventur

The key to overcoming that resentment and achieving work-life balance is:

» creating effective routines

» learning to set healthy boundaries

Boundaries are lines we set about our self-expectations, availability, and (physical, mental, and emotional) energy. Because boundaries protect our energy and focus, healthy boundaries also allow us to be more productive in the workplace.

We might think that setting boundaries pushes others away from us. However, setting boundaries can actually help us have better relationships with others in the workplace. Just like with our close personal relationships, establishing expectations and communicating your limits can prevent unnecessary conflicts down the road.

Feeling burned out at work? Try these strategies before you abandon the ship. You can leave your job, but if you don’t leave those unhealthy habits behind then you’ll be in a brand new job with the same old problems.

use these tips for setting boundaries in business

1. explore what you need

Identify where you feel guilt, resentment, or anger around work. Then figure out what you need instead.

» Maybe you feel anger towards a client who cancels on you at the last minute. Or who doesn’t respond to meeting requests in a timely manner.

The practical need here, for instance, is improved communication guidelines.

It’s not as simple as switching off the source of your guilt, resentment, or anger. Often it’s not about one person or thing in your work life. You have to examine the patterns that repeatedly lead you to these feelings and challenge yourself to break those patterns.

2. Start small, in low-risk situations

If you have gone your entire life living up to everyone else’s expectations and demands, setting boundaries can feel uncomfortable. Start by choosing an easy area, like hours you will check emails, to set a boundary.

3. Learn to say no

You might have trouble saying “no” to things because you feel obliged to impress clients or appear dependable. Be in tune with how a “yes” might lead to resentment, which damages your productivity in the long term. Remember, there are tactful and cooperative ways to say “no”:

» “Thank you, but this doesn’t work with my schedule. Here’s my availability later this week.”

establishing healthy boundaries demonstrates both strength and integrity.

4. Delegate and share the load

Not everything has to be on your plate. What responsibility can you pass onto others? Delegating can help you free up time or address those areas around work where you feel resentful.

5. Create structure for yourself

After you understand what you need and some ways of getting it, create a structure to help you maintain your desired outcome.

» Set formal policies around cancellation.

» Set “office hours” based on when you would like to be available. Not every working hour has to be an hour when you are at the beck and call of others.

» Whether you work from home or in an office, set up a structure (like closing the door or working with headphones on) where you can work undisturbed.

Protecting Your Peace & Productivity

6. Be consistent

Be as firm as possible with your new boundaries.

» If you only want to take calls on certain days, stick to booking calls on those days.

» Do you have days of the week you want to be free from work? Practice not working, and not thinking about work, when you are off the clock. If you schedule a vacation for yourself, stick to it.

» These are your rules. You get to decide where you allow exceptions.


Setting boundaries will look different for everyone. You might find that as you evolve into a different season of life or your work, your needs change. As your needs change, the boundaries you have around business will change too. Whatever form they take, though, they will remain an important part of your toolkit.

In the long run, boundaries can help reenergize you and the relationship you have with your work life, so don’t hesitate to implement them.

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