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Today we are talking about tips for setting boundaries at work. Understanding why and how to set boundaries at work is important for your career happiness and success.

We’ll be reviewing specific tips to help ensure you are setting successful boundaries, that you are selecting the right boundaries and defending those boundaries with your colleagues.

You most likely know the value of setting boundaries in the workplace, but understanding how to establish and implement those boundaries is what’s going to help you create a better work/life balance.


In This Episode of The Career Rx You’ll Learn:

  1. Why setting boundaries at work is needed
  2. The benefits of setting boundaries in the workplace
  3. How to set boundaries with 6 secrets for success


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Hey there friends! Welcome to The Career Prescription (aka The Career Rx). I’m your host Marjorie Stiegler.

In today’s episode, we are talking about the secrets for setting boundaries at work.

We’re talking about:

  • Why setting boundaries is such an important topic
  • Specific about tips to help ensure you set successful boundaries
  • Making sure you select the right boundaries and that you defend them in the right way

In a recent blog post (5 Worthless Pieces of Career Advice & What To Do Instead) I talk about setting boundaries. I received a lot of emails in response to this post, which inspired this episode.

As mentioned in that post, I share that it’s not helpful advice to just tell someone they should set boundaries.

Why? Because most people know they should set boundaries. They just don’t know how to set boundaries.


What Are Workplace Boundaries?

Woman on laptop

Boundaries are simple limits. They are rules that set expectations of behavior.

They help people to know what behavior they can expect from us and they help us to know what behavior to expect from other people or they help us know what we will accept from other people.

Today we’re focusing on boundaries at work, but you can and should incorporate healthy boundaries into your personal life as well.

Are you setting boundaries with your colleagues at work? Find out why this is so important and how you can establish these boundaries. #careertips Click To Tweet


Why In Today’s World Do We Need Boundaries In The Workplace?


Well, first of all, modern technology enables a 24/7 work life. Theoretically, you could be immediately available all the time and never have any unplugged time to decompress, to be able to just be by yourself or to be free from that expectation that people might want to reach you.

Whether that’s your own anxiety about whether people can reach you or whether people really do have an expectation of reaching you, both of these are pretty stressful.

Being available at all times is a totally unreasonable and unsustainable expectation. However, with modern technology, we are contactable everywhere and many of us now have our work devices integrated with our personal devices.

So it can be very tricky to be able to actually turn off work-related electronics. So that’s the sort of modern technology situation that we have.

Also, if you’re a physician listening to this podcast you know medicine is a 24/7, every single day of the year responsibility. It’s very high stakes. There are true emergencies. Patients, you know, have their, their lives and limbs depending upon your ability to be available.

And of course, healthcare is a big team sport, so it’s not just about you but it’s about everybody else. Even if you work in an acute care setting and work all kinds of hours, it’s totally unreasonable and unrealistic to be available at all times. A physician or a clinician should be available, but it does not always, always need to be you.

We scoff at the idea of nights and holidays and weekends because we don’t have those on a regular basis. Be that as it may, you still deserve protected time that is just for you and there is a way to establish it.


Setting Boundaries With The Healthcare Culture


Healthcare has this culture, right? This revolves around the idea that the patient always comes first. We’re taught that from day one that the patient comes first and obviously the patient is a priority.

However, this doesn’t mean:

  • You as the physician or clinician come last.
  • That in order to put your patients first, you are always last.

This is a recipe for burnout and then you’re not going to be able to do a good job by those patients.

It is therefore in everyone’s best interest to ensure healthcare professionals have the tools they need to avoid and manage burnout. This is where setting boundaries comes in.


The Benefits of Setting Effective Boundaries At Work


So what does it do for us to have boundaries?

Boundaries help us to reduce our stress and help to preserve physical and emotional energy. Setting boundaries also allows us to live our values, to identify our personal standards and our personal limits.

Boundaries also help us to increase our sense of control, making us feel we have more control.

By exercising our decisions and, and focusing on the deliberateness of our boundaries helps us feel more in control. It helps us to feel control that we have always had, but just didn’t really realize we had.

Now you’ve heard the saying, you teach people how to treat you.

You teach people how to treat you by what you tolerate… The kind of behavior and the kind of speech you tolerate from other people.

What you tolerate, what you reinforce, what you call out and how consistent you are about it. People need to know what you say you mean.


Why Do People Have A Hard Time Setting Limits And Establishing Boundaries At Work?


This is the case for many people, especially for ‘people pleasers’, but a lot of people are also afraid because they don’t want to jeopardize relationships.

People don’t like friction in their relationships. You want to have good working relationships at work and you certainly want to feel like your position at work is safe. So, you don’t want to be seen as lazy, as someone who’s not a team player or lacking dedication.

This is an unfair view and I think it’s one that a lot of us are concerned other people will have, but that they really don’t.

The reality is if you have healthy, reasonable boundaries it actually boosts your productivity, protects your health and earns you respect.

Boundaries at work can help you be seen as a leader, an independent thinker and somebody with principle. You have actions and you do them because they’re based on your principles and values rather than just arbitrary rules.

I will mention, by the way, just for the record that I do think it’s really important to be dependable.


Balancing Boundaries & Commitments


I do think it’s really important to follow through on commitments, be a team player and be the person who steps up to help when you can.

But I want you to keep perspective.

The reality is that there is no amount of niceness, helpfulness, thoughtfulness and extra mildness that is going to please everybody.

You don’t want to be the person that everyone knows, never says no. If your colleagues think you never say no, they’re going to be coming to you for things and you may feel you’re being taken advantage of.


How To Set Boundaries At Work: 6 Secrets For Success

How To Set Boundaries At Work. Listen to the podcast - The Career Rx.


1. Choose Realistic Boundaries

This is often overlooked because a lot of people don’t give very careful thought to setting boundaries.

So, think about what’s reasonable and realistic – not only for your own needs but also for the nature of your work.

  • What is the context of the environment in which you practice?
  • Are there cultural norms?
  • What is everybody else doing?
  • What’s in your contract?

These are some very practical things you’ll want to give attention to when you’re thinking about whether or not the boundary is reasonable.

I want you to think big. Push those boundaries. However, if you’re pushing it way over the edge, then you may be seen as high maintenance or someone who is sort of that diva who needs some special rules.

So be reasonable.

  • Be realistic about what is likely to give you the most bang for your buck in terms of what would give you that stress reduction, that autonomy or that protected time to be most productive.
  • Do what you need, but also do it with your eyes open about how kind of far on the fringe you are and how to go about implementing those boundaries.
  • If there’s something that you’d love to do, but you’re contractually obligated to do something else, that’s not the boundary for you. I don’t recommend that you start there.

Not setting realistic boundaries is one of the reasons people fail, as they try to set rules and limits that are inconsistent with the operating model and where they work.


2. Set Principled Boundaries.

What do I mean by this? You’ve got to know the why behind what you want.

What is the principle that’s guiding what you want?

This is really helpful to operationalize your boundaries. It’s also very helpful in case you are in long-term employment or work situation and you’re trying to figure out if the grass is truly greener or somewhere else.

If you understand the why, then you will be able to see whether that boundary could be successful in a different setting or whether it can be just as effective even if it looks a little bit different.

This is where it’s really helpful to have done some introspection and some personal work on identifying your values.

Side Note: This was a Twitter event that we did some months ago. The #TrueValuesChallenge where we ask people to vote among one or two or sometimes three values that are all really very appealing and easy to endorse, but that we asked to force rank and pick one over another.

This will help you do some introspection and help you determine what is the most important value to you. Not the value you think you’re supposed to hold.

If you have a strong anchor and a value in the principal, then you’re likely to be able to honor that with some boundaries that could be in different forms.

Example of Setting Principled Boundaries:

This example is values-based.

Everyone hates it when someone says, “well, that’s not my job” or “that’s not in my job description.”

Why? Because that sounds like a person is a complainer who doesn’t want to help out. They don’t want to roll up their sleeves, they don’t want to get stuff done. They’re not a doer. Right?

That’s what that sounds like, but perhaps what that person means is that they’re consistently being asked to do a scope of work that’s outside of what they were hired for or outside of the compensation package they have.

If you’re constantly asked to take on responsibilities that clearly justify a different compensation or title, but you aren’t being offered appropriate compensation, then that’s an issue rooted in fairness and inequity, right? Those are values.

This is different than just saying “that’s not in my job description.”

If a person literally feels it’s not their job description and they don’t want to lift a finger to go the extra mile, that’s different. Those kinds of boundaries are much, much harder to set because they don’t fly, right? This is not a principled value and may even be hard for you to justify even to yourself.

So, I recommend really making sure that you have principled values and principled boundaries based on those values.


3. How Do You Establish Boundaries At Work?

Are you going to announce that you have a new boundary?

If you’re not brand new on the job, it can be hard to make a shift from what you are normally doing, how you would typically respond to a new way of working or a new expectation.

Are you going to have to explicitly announce that you’re making a change? You might.

And if so, what language are you going to choose?

Maybe your new boundary is something that you can foster just by your own behavior. Or maybe it’s something that requires an agreement and acknowledgement from others.

There are two separate decisions to make:

  1. How you are going to start changing your behavior
  2. What you are going to say to establish the new boundary

Only you can choose what’s right for you, your own comfort and your workplace culture. Only you know, if you think it will be helpful for other people to understand more about your why or if you want to just leave it in a nebulous way – that’s entirely up to you.


4. Do Not Break Your Own Rules!

It’s important to define emergencies and exceptions because there will be some. You don’t want to be breaking your own rules, so it helps to have that thought out as well.

There may be some unforeseen things that come up and you may need to be a little bit flexible, but generally speaking, once you have set a boundary, it’s really, really important to hold firm.

The fastest path to boundary erosion is when we start making exceptions.

Once you start making exceptions, people start to realize that this is negotiable for you, that it’s not actually a boundary and that there’s bargaining to be had and that begins to erode your boundaries.

So very often we are our own worst enemy when it comes to defending our boundaries. We stop behaving in the way that we said we were going to behave and then the boundary we set is totally powerless. This leads to people not taking you seriously.


5. Avoid Justifying Your Boundary On A Personal Level

Quite simply you do not need to justify your boundary to colleagues, nor should you justify your boundaries on a personal level.

For example: You do not need to be “too stressed” or have extenuating circumstances outside of work to have boundaries. Having boundaries is not a shortcoming of yours, so you don’t need to give an excuse like saying, “being plugged in all the time makes me just crazy and frazzled.

That makes it sound like it’s somehow your fault or your problem that you’re unable to rise to the challenge of being plugged in all the time and that’s just not the case. Instead, focus on the fact that it’s an unreasonable expectation for you to be immediately available to do everything that’s asked of you all the time.

Setting boundaries with your colleagues doesn’t make you weak.


6. Have A Protocol For Boundary Violations

Does that sound official and harsh? It may, but it’s important.

It’s going to happen. People are going to violate the boundaries that you have set and you need to be ready to handle them.

For example: If your boundary is that you’re not answering work email on the weekend and you get an email from your boss that comes in on a Sunday afternoon, what are you going to do? Are you going to respond right away or are you going to respond and remind your boss that you’re not supposed to be able to be reached? (I would say if you do respond on the weekend, you are not standing by your boundary).

So, you decide how you want to respond.

  • Maybe you’ll respond on Monday with an apology that you couldn’t be reached.
  • Or you’ll respond without an apology on Monday.
  • You may want to reinforce your boundary as part of your communication. Example: “Hi, it’s Monday. I’m getting back to you. By the way, I don’t check my email on the weekends.”

There is no right or wrong here.

If people are overstepping your boundaries at work there are different ways to approach the situation, so it’s important to decide in advance how you’ll respond or act.

This is important so you don’t feel that a person isn’t respecting your boundaries and then you respond in an irrational way.

Side Note: Just because you don’t want to check your email on the weekend doesn’t mean your boss or my colleagues don’t want to work on the weekends. So, if they choose to write it’s really up to you to not check your email.

Don’t internalize or over-interpret that they sent you an email and that they expected a response. Now, if they said “how come it took you so long to get back to me” then you may need to explicitly reinforce that boundary, but don’t internalize it.

Once you have some thought out protocols for how you are going to respond – if at all – when your boundaries are violated. Sometimes the best response is really to do nothing at all. Just to stick with the expected behavior.

It’s not really the words, it’s the behavior that teaches other people how to treat us and what to expect from us.


Establishing Control with Boundaries In The Workplace


Setting boundaries and sticking to them is also exercising our own choices that teach us that we really do have control.

We can hold ourselves to a reasonable standard, even if it does not please every single person on the planet. We will still be valued, trusted and respected.

If we have these boundaries, we will be able to be healthy, to be focused, productive and to give our very best contribution to our work.

So, go out there and set your boundaries well!

Please be sure to subscribe and leave me a review on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast or whatever podcast player you’re using to listen and be sure to send me your questions so I can answer them and give you a shout out on future episodes.

Bye for now,



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