Setting boundaries at work could be just as important as having healthy relationship boundaries at home.

They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. For everyone else, it’s estimated that you’ll work 90,000 hours throughout your lifetime. That works out to spending about one-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 investigate how to set boundaries at work and write this blog to help you set boundaries at work.

boundaries at work

Setting Boundaries at Work

First, let’s define the term ‘boundary’.

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

Healthy boundaries are important because we all have different comfort levels and needs. It’s unfair and unrealistic to assume another person will innately know what those are for you. So, it’s our responsibility to understand what’s needed 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 at work can be the difference between feeling content and fulfilled and feeling overwhelmed and undervalued. Although we may occasionally work for someone who has high emotional intelligence and knows where to draw the line of asking too much from their team, it’s more common to find that the harder you work, the more work comes your way.

Just as in our personal relationships, it’s our responsibility to know and maintain our healthy boundaries at work. This can feel challenging – who likes to say no to their boss? – but in a healthy workplace culture, boundaries are understood and respected at all levels.

Employee happiness is significantly intertwined with the productivity and success of companies.


It’s important to understand that healthy boundaries at work include setting workplace boundaries with ourselves. These internal workplace boundaries allow us to have integrity, completing tasks and honoring our word. And helping us to maintain a healthy level of detachment from workplace criticism and the stress of others (and the behaviors stress can cause).

Workplace boundaries often include our relationship with work-life balance. For some people, the challenge is setting the boundary with colleagues. By letting others know when you need to turn your focus away from work.

For others, the challenge is setting an internal boundary with themselves by turning their attention fully onto their home life. Burnout is a real consequence of not managing this boundary effectively, whether it is with others or with ourselves.

Now, let’s find out how to set boundaries at work…

How to Set Boundaries at Work

The first step for setting boundaries at work is defining the boundaries you require. It may be simple to pinpoint some boundaries, and more challenging to recognize others.

To conduct a workplace boundaries ‘audit,’ mindfully observe when you feel frustrated, tense, resentful, or frustrated during your interactions with others, and when you are completing activities or responding in a certain way to a situation in your work environment. These emotions are a good signal that a boundary has been crossed.

Remember healthy workplace boundaries should be flexible, not rigid. For example, sometimes you might finish up some emails after dinner. It’s healthy to understand your needs and act accordingly.

The second step for setting healthy boundaries at work is to communicate effectively. The purpose of a boundary is to create harmony, not to put people at odds.

To help yourself and others obtain that goal, it’s important to communicate your boundaries clearly and firmly but with an authentic interest in understanding how it is perceived by the other person or people. For example, if you need to set strict hours for attending meetings due to your workload, it’s important to understand that may be challenging to a colleague whose office hours are limited.

Open communication with a focus on finding a solution that works for all parties is important in maintaining your healthy boundary while understanding thatbeing too rigid may not be practical for the objectives of your role. In this example, a resolution may be for you to attend a meeting outside the hours you’ve set once a month, and for your colleague to join virtually the rest of the time.

Expect some pushback when you begin setting boundaries at work (or at home). This is part of the process as people learn to accept the new structure you are implementing. Some colleagues will easily accept your boundaries, while others may be more reactive.

Firm, healthy boundaries at work are very important with colleagues who do react strongly to your boundaries — this means they were crossing them or want to! Understand why the boundary is important to you and communicate this to your colleagues with a genuine interest in any challenges that may present to their workload. Where challenges do exist, work to find a solution that suits all parties.

Internal work boundaries should be easier to enforce, but this often takes time and dedication to achieve. Writing reminders and giving yourself rewards are good ways to help you build strong internal workplace boundaries.

Work Boundaries Examples

Now, let’s consider 3 work boundaries examples:

The after work call

Your boss calls you after work hours to discuss ideas they’ve had on their commute home. This causes you to feel resentful and overwhelmed as you need to switch off from work and focus on your family. You may also feel you have dedicated an agreed amount of time to your job already that day.

It’s important to communicate clearly with your boss that taking work calls after hours negatively impacts your home life and your stress levels while understanding their perspective that creative ideas have organically flowed for them during their commute.

A solution could be to ask your boss to send an email instead of calling. Then you can allocate a time slot to give these emails your full attention each morning. A weekly meeting could also be scheduled to further discuss ideas that you both see value in.

The gossiping colleague

A colleague complains regularly to you about other team members and management. This makes you feel uncomfortable and nervous as you don’t enjoy gossip and feel fulfilled in your role.

Communicate firmly that you’ve decided to abstain from talking about others and speaking negatively in general. Your colleague is likely to feel judged and react negatively. Keep the discussion non-judgmental and open.

Assure them you still support them and understand their feelings, but you’ve committed to positive speech. Ask them if they’d like to try to keep you accountable by pointing out when negative speech creeps in.

The always turned on mind

You find yourself unable to switch off from work and are constantly checking your phone for emails and messages. You are feeling 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.

Dedicate one hour when you wake up and one hour before you go to bed to other things, and consciously stop checking your phone during that time. Set a lock screen wallpaper with a quote or reminder to help, set automatic do not disturb hours, and reward yourself at the end of a successful week of work-life balance. The boundary can be increased as necessary over time.

Why I Wrote This:

Ongig’s mission is to help create healthy, inclusive work environments through positive recruitment practices using tools like our Text Analyzer. Book a call or demo with us to find out more.


  2. 16 Ways To Set Boundaries at Work and Why It Matters (By Indeed Editorial Team)
  3. How to Define Healthy Boundaries at Work (by Melody Wilding)
  4. Boundaries & Relationships (James C. Strickland, Ph.D.)
  5. Why are Happy Employees More Productive in the Workplace (by Dr. Steve Aldana)
  6. 10 Timely Statistics About the Connection Between Employee Engagement and Wellness (by Naz Beheshti)

by in HR Content