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Understanding the Vitality of Workplace Boundaries

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Setting boundaries in the workplace could be just as important as setting boundaries in a healthy relationship at home.

It is said that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. For everyone else, it is estimated that they will work 90,000 hours over their lifetime. This means that you spend about a third of your life at work.

And the average American works 2012.4 hours per year. That's a lot of time with our colleagues!

I decided to research how to set boundaries at work and write this blog to help you set boundaries at work.

Set boundaries at work

First, let’s define the term “boundary.”

A personal boundary in terms of mental health and well-being is a limit that we set for ourselves to maintain our emotional, mental and physical well-being. A boundary is something we choose for ourselves, not a demand we make of others - more on this in the Examples of Work Boundaries section below.

Healthy boundaries are important because we all have different comfort levels and different needs. It is unfair and unrealistic to assume that another person inherently knows what that is for you. So it is our responsibility to understand what it takes to maintain our health in our interactions with others and to support this by setting boundaries. This is often as simple as knowing when to say yes and when to say no (and doing so).

Setting boundaries in the workplace can mean the difference between feeling satisfied and fulfilled and feeling overwhelmed and undervalued. While we occasionally work for someone who has high emotional intelligence and knows where to draw the line when asking too much of their team, it's more often the case that the harder you work, the more work you get .

Just like in our personal relationships, it is our responsibility to know and maintain our healthy boundaries at work. This can feel difficult - who wants to say no to their boss? - but in a healthy workplace culture, boundaries are understood and respected at all levels.

Employee satisfaction is closely related to the productivity and success of companies.

It's important to understand that healthy boundaries in the workplace also include setting boundaries with ourselves. These internal boundaries in the workplace allow us to have integrity, complete tasks, and keep our word. And they help us maintain a healthy level of distance from workplace criticism and the stress of others (and the behaviors that stress can cause).

Boundaries in the workplace often include our relationship to work-life balance. For some people, the challenge is setting boundaries with their colleagues. By letting others know when to step away from work.

For others, the challenge is setting a boundary with themselves by focusing their full attention on their personal life. Burnout is a real consequence of not managing this boundary effectively, whether with others or with yourself.

Now let's figure out how to set boundaries at work...

How to set boundaries at work

The first step in setting boundaries in the workplace is defining the boundaries you need. It may be easy to recognize some boundaries while more difficult to recognize others.

To examine your boundaries at work, pay close attention to when you feel frustrated, tense, angry, or dissatisfied when interacting with others, performing an activity, or responding in a certain way to a situation in your work environment. These feelings are a good sign that a boundary has been crossed.

Remember that healthy boundaries in the workplace should be flexible, not rigid. For example, it may happen that you are working on a few emails after dinner. It is healthy to know your needs and act accordingly.

The second step to setting healthy boundaries in the workplace is to communicate effectively. The purpose of a boundary is to create harmony, not to pit people against each other.

To help yourself and others achieve this goal, it is important to communicate your boundaries clearly, but with an authentic interest in understanding how the other person(s) perceive them. If you e.g. For example, if your workload requires you to set strict meeting attendance times, it is important to understand that this may be challenging for a colleague whose office hours are limited.

Open communication with the goal of finding a solution that is acceptable to everyone involved is important in maintaining a healthy boundary while understanding that being too rigid may not make sense for your role's goals. In this example, a solution might be for you to attend a meeting outside of scheduled times once a month, while your colleague attends virtually the rest of the time.

Expect to face resistance when you start setting boundaries at work (or at home). This is part of the process where people learn to accept the new structure you are introducing. Some colleagues will readily accept your boundaries, while others may be more responsive.

Firm, healthy boundaries at work are very important with colleagues who react strongly to your boundaries - that means they have crossed them or want to! Understand why the boundary is important to you and communicate this to your colleagues, taking a genuine interest in any challenges that may arise from their workload. If there are problems, you should find a solution that is fair to everyone involved.

Internal work boundaries should be easier to enforce, but this often takes time and commitment. Written warnings and rewards are good ways to create strong internal boundaries in the workplace.

Examples of work boundaries

Now let's look at 3 examples of work boundaries:


Your boss calls you after work to discuss ideas he had on the way home. This leaves you feeling upset and overwhelmed as you need to switch off from work and focus on your family. You may also feel like you have already spent an agreed amount of time on your work that day.

It's important to make it clear to your boss that taking calls after work has a negative impact on your personal life and stress levels, while also understanding his perspective that creative ideas for him emerged organically during the commute.

A solution might be to ask your boss to send an email instead of calling. Then you can schedule a time slot to give those emails your full attention each morning. A weekly meeting could also be scheduled to discuss ideas that you both think are important.


A colleague regularly complains to you about other team members and management. This makes you restless and nervous as you dislike gossip and feel fulfilled in your role.

Make it clear that you have decided to stop talking about others and to stop making negative comments in general. Your colleague will likely feel judged and react negatively. Have the conversation without judgment and openly.

Reassure him that you still support him and understand his feelings, but that you are committed to using positive language. Ask them if they would like to try to hold you accountable by pointing out when negative comments creep in.


You can't switch off from work and are constantly checking your phone for emails and messages. You feel burnt out, tense and unable to relax.

Recognize the first small step you can take to reduce your focus on work and bring your work-life balance back into a healthy range.

Devote an hour after you wake up and an hour before you go to bed to other things and consciously stop checking your phone during this time. Set a wallpaper with a quote or reminder to help you along the way, set automatic Do Not Disturb times, and reward yourself at the end of a successful week of work-life balance. The limit can be increased over time if necessary.

Setting boundaries at work is essential for well-being and productivity. Embrace strategies like clear communication and self-awareness to thrive. IceHrm supports a balanced workplace culture.

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