20 Ways to Have Healthy Work Boundaries
Is the thought of going to work starting to fill you with dread? Do you find yourself calling out sick more often because you "just can't today"? Burnout from work often occurs due to having unhealthy professional boundaries. Taking on too much to the point of overextending yourself is not sustainable in the long-term. Below is a list of 20 ways to start implementing healthy professional boundaries. I encourage you to examine what areas might need to be addressed, create a plan, then execute.
First, evaluate how you’re feeling right now about work. Are you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or resentful? If yes, evaluate how you can protect and recover some of your time and energy. (I've written a previous blog post on ways to combat burnout.)
Cultivate a sense of awareness. Practicing mindfulness may help in this area by noticing what is within your capacity. It may also help you to mentally “turn off” work (or not ruminate on work) outside of work hours.
Establish a clear routine and structure with your work days and weeks.
Practice assertive communication with yourself and everyone around you. These might include colleagues, bosses, clients, stakeholders, etc. You might also include friends and family outside of work.
Grow comfortable with saying “no”. It’s a complete sentence itself, but practice reinforcing the importance of not taking on too much.
Evaluate your current workload and delegate as needed. This is especially important if you’re feeling overwhelmed and/or notice that the workload is not sustainable given current time, energy, and resources.
Keep professional relationships strictly professional. The occasional events outside of work will happen (such as a retirement party at a bar). However, avoid things like “friending” bosses or clients on social media or in real life. Blurry boundaries or dual relationships can quickly lead to problems.
Do not engage in gossip at work. Avoid oversharing personal details or discussing personal issues regarding others. It’s also okay to gently but firmly voice the boundary to a gossiper. (Example, “Let’s not talk about her when she’s not here.”)
Make it a point to use your PTO (Paid Time Off). You’ve earned your vacation and sick days. Please use them!
Proactively schedule time off to lessen burnout risk. I make it a point to do things like schedule one week off every 2-3 months (or 4-6 times per year). If I schedule an appointment that I know is going to exhaust me (such as a dental appointment), I sometimes try to schedule a half or full day off as a “health day”.
Do not neglect your overall health. Work should not come before dental, medical, or mental health appointments. Even a 6-month checkup at the dentist scheduled in the middle of a workday should not be missed. Take the time off of work for your health.
Do not check work emails or messages outside of work hours. Enough said.
Use technology to your advantage. If you use Slack or Gmail, establish out-of-office notifications so that these systems can communicate on your behalf that you are not working outside of your work hours.
If you’re salaried, do not work beyond your designated work hours. If your contract says 40 work hours per week, anything after that is unpaid volunteer work.
Do not purchase anything needed for work unless you will be reimbursed for it. Save work receipts and submit these for reimbursement. The occasional nice gestures (such as getting donuts for the office) should be given willingly because you want to without the expectation of payment (financial or otherwise).
Accept the discomfort (guilt, shame, etc.) that comes with boundary-setting. Unless your job description specifically states that you are getting paid to make everyone happy, just accept that it is okay to disappoint others.
Honor physical or material boundaries, whether you’re working from home or in the office. Do not “borrow” office supplies or go into someone’s office without clear permission. Assert this boundary for yourself if you need to (verbally and/or by posting a sign up).
Think before acting. This is a good one to practice when trying to respect the boundaries of others. When unsure, merely ask.
Use HR if a nonnegotiable boundary has been violated. You deserve to feel safe and comfortable at work. Any instances of harassment or bullying should be reported and addressed.
Accept the consequences of boundaries violations. If you overextend yourself, don’t be surprised when you feel exhausted or even resentful. If you stay at a job that is toxic, don’t expect for anything to change (except your own decision-making about staying/leaving).