Last updated:

November 6, 2023


 min read

Is Your Job Stressing You Out? Establishing Boundaries at Work Can Help

The growing WFH culture has blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives. Find out how to set boundaries at work and keep burnout at bay.

Reviewed by
Written by
Aadya Varma

How can establishing boundaries help? 

A lack of boundaries can result in you taking on extra work and subsequently losing out on time you could have devoted to something you actually love doing or something that helps you recharge. 

Having strict boundaries in place will allow you to avoid excessive stress and workplace anxiety. It will help you be more focused at work, have more time and energy to get things done, and spend more with your loved ones. This will improve your confidence,  productivity, and efficiency, securing you further against burnout.

Types of boundaries you can (and should) set 

Boundaries are context-dependent. They evolve and change as you evolve and change. So, before understanding how to establish boundaries, let us look at the three kinds of boundaries that should exist in your work life. 

1. Physical boundaries

Physical boundaries concern your personal space and the level of proximity you are comfortable with. Establishing physical boundaries could look something like:

  • Preferring handshakes over hugs.
  • Spending time alone during your breaks if you want to escape the chaos 
  • Not giving in to the compulsion to attend office parties after work hours. 
  • Taking sick days without feeling guilty about it. 

2. Mental boundaries

These involve your efforts to prevent your mental energy from being drained. You can establish mental boundaries by:

  • Expecting the organisation to respect your work hours.
  • Declining meetings which do not concern you.
  • Not engaging in office gossip.
  • Asking colleagues not to vent their personal problems to you.

3. Emotional boundaries

While emotional boundaries can be tough to identify, it is essential that you set them. By setting emotional boundaries, you are not only preserving your emotional energy but also not allowing someone else's bad day to affect yours. Here’s what emotional boundaries can look like: 

  • Be upfront when it comes to communication, especially about how you like to give and receive feedback. 
  • Create a schedule that prioritises your work-life balance.
  • Don’t take your workplace frustration home and vice versa.

Now, let’s go through some strategies that can help you establish these boundaries.

Strategies to establish boundaries at work 

1. Assess your worth

Many of us tend to underestimate what we are capable of bringing to the table. This compels us to go to great lengths to prove our skillset to our colleagues as well as ourselves. But in the process, we tend to head toward burnout. The more we do, the further away 'being enough' feels. Time and again, it is important to remind yourself that you are valuable to your team, even though certain situations don’t allow you to realise that at times. The combination of your experiences, skills, expertise, energy, insights, and perspectives has a unique value, and only you can offer that! 

2. Manage and negotiate expectations

Before you begin working for an organisation, ensure you are thorough with what your role entails. When expectations aren’t clearly defined or agreed upon, it can cause unnecessary stress. If some pointers on the job description sound vague, don't hesitate to check with the employer multiple times. And if they refuse to offer you clarifications, that is a huge red flag, and the workplace might not be respectful of your boundaries.

3. Conduct a ‘Boundary Audit’

Boundary auditing makes you aware of the people and situations causing you stress and anxiety at work. If you notice yourself feeling angry, resentful or guilty, that’s a strong sign that you may need to reset a boundary or communicate it more clearly. Start noting down these situations and revisit this list from time to time to reassess your boundaries.

4. Take time to respond

One trick that can stop you from agreeing to yet another project is the art of pausing. For instance, the next time your boss asks you to make a last-minute presentation, mentally hit the pause button before responding. This will let you check in with yourself to determine whether or not you actually want to take it up and what is really guiding your decision. If you can't pause, you can buy yourself time by saying something like, “That might work. Let me just check my schedule and get back to you.”

5. Practice saying “No”

The best way to consciously develop the habit of saying no is to choose easy, low-risk situations for you to decline. For example, you can say no when someone is trying to sell you something even though you don't really need it. 

Go into a room by yourself, shut the door and say no out loud ten times. While this might sound a little irrational initially, it helps build your “no” muscle.

6. Prepare for pushback

Once you start establishing healthy boundaries, you can expect some people to react negatively or coldly. This is a sign that setting the boundary is necessary and your efforts aren’t going in vain. It might be helpful to visualise your boundaries getting crossed and imagine how you'll address those situations. That way, when a moment like that arises, you can handle it rationally, not emotionally.

Need help?

Clear physical, mental, and emotional boundaries at work can multiply your productivity and job satisfaction. While the process might not be easy at first, with consistent efforts, the results can be life-changing. 

Remember, you don't have to do all of it alone; professional guidance can go a long way! Click the link below to connect with trusted, non-judgmental psychologists who can help you with all your concerns at work.