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The Importance of Boundaries in the Workplace - WinShape Teams

The Importance of Boundaries and 3 Tips to Set Them

March 14, 2023
Lead Self
Nathaniel Gaydosik

Setting boundaries is an essential aspect of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, protecting your time and energy, and improving relationships in the workplace. However, it can be challenging to set them, especially in a professional setting where you may feel pressure to always be available and to prioritize the needs of others above your own.  

In this article, we’ll explore the importance of setting boundaries in the workplace. We will provide tips for how to effectively communicate and establish boundaries with coworkers and superiors.  

 

The Importance of Boundaries at Work  

According to psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Scott, “setting boundaries in the workplace is crucial for maintaining one’s mental and emotional well-being.” When you don’t set them, you can quickly become overwhelmed with work, leading to burnout and a decrease in job satisfaction. Dr. Lisa Firestone similarly emphasizes that setting boundaries in the workplace is crucial for protecting oneself from toxic coworkers, excessive workloads, and burnout.  

According to Brené Brown, a renowned researcher, and author on topics such as vulnerability, shame, and empathy, “Boundaries are essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible.” In our workplace, however, we are sharing a lot of property, and so boundaries must be negotiated with our team and leaders to create an environment that is best for everyone involved. Just like we would have to negotiate boundaries and norms with a roommate, spouse, or family member, we must co-create them with our teammates as well.  

Setting boundaries should be a priority for individuals and leaders, as it is important for our own well-being and the health of the organizational culture. Dr. Michelle McQuaid, a positive psychologist, notes that clear and effective boundaries lead to better communication, less conflict, and improved relationships between coworkers. It creates a culture of care for ourselves and for our team, which ultimately creates better results.   

The Importance of Boundaries at Work - WinShape Teams

How to Negotiate Boundaries in the Workplace  

Pay Attention, first, to feelings of burnout, overexertion, or frustration.

These may point to an area of our work where a boundary could be helpful. Dr. Henry Cloud reminds us that “when we can’t set limits and boundaries with others, we give away our power, our dignity, and our self-respect.” We have been chosen to do a job on our team, and if we can’t safeguard our time and energy to accomplish our professional responsibilities, we may need to evaluate our limits. 

Consider these types of boundaries: time, space, and conversation topics or types of interactions.

When negotiating limits, we can look to the tools we have at our disposal to help us. For our time, we can reference our job description and the established expectations as well as our workload. At WinShape Teams, we established meeting norms as a resource to protect and honor our team’s time. By having these conversations and clarifying boundaries around meetings, it is now safe for anyone to honor their family or life commitments and communicate with the attendees and leave a meeting that is irrelevant to them or going over the scheduled time.    

In a shared working space, discussing desired norms as a team or with a supervisor can help us establish helpful boundaries that protect our working spaces.  

When it comes to our personal preferences around conversations and topics, the responsibility falls on us to decide what we are willing to tolerate and what is important enough to address. If there are topics that we really don’t want to discuss, we can calmly change the subject or make a statement such as “I’d rather not discuss this topic.” If they insist on discussing it, the boundary may have to become firmer: “If you are going to continue discussing this, I am going to leave the room.” Establishing and defending these boundaries protect ourselves, our coworkers, and our culture.   

  

Consider boundaries a gate.

Remember that you have the right to protect your time, energy, and resources. Just like my property has an edge and at that edge, I have a fence with a gate, boundaries are a fence with a gate as well. However, as we work on a team, our boundaries likely always require gate-keeping conversations. In these conversations, we decide what we can offer and what our teammate needs.  

If we are in a shared working space and have our headphones on to indicate focus time and someone interrupts focused headphone time, we can negotiate our time by clarifying: “Is this a 60-second question? I can give you a minute now or 30 minutes later.” We defend our boundaries by gate-keeping, giving grace, and serving our teammates appropriately.   

Be consistent and follow through on the guidelines you have established. If a teammate crosses the line, it is important to address the issue in a direct and non-confrontational manner. Additionally, it may be necessary to re-evaluate your boundaries if they are not working and adjust as needed.  

  

Be Clear, Kind, and Direct.

Career coach and owner of Work It Daily, J.T. O’Donnell, says that when communicating boundaries, it is important to be specific, direct, and non-confrontational. This will help to avoid misunderstandings and ensure that your teammates understand what is expected of them. Additionally, O’Donnell suggests using “I” statements instead of “you” statements, as this can help to avoid sounding accusatory or confrontational. Like the above examples…  

TRY changing this statement:   

You go away! You are bothering me when I am trying to focus.”   

to an “I” statement like,  

“Hey! Thanks for stopping by; I have my headphones on because I need some time to focus; can we connect in an hour?”

In this situation, you become the owner of responsibility, and you are proposing a solution while caring for your needs and the needs of your colleague. This is how you can negotiate a boundary, gate-keep, and be clear and kind to your teammates, while encouraging respect for one another.   

For some of us, boundary setting is difficult and scary. For others, we over-use boundaries and push people away. Striking a healthy balance with our team is crucial for our relational and professional success. When we co-create and negotiate limits for our team, it makes us all stronger and healthier. 

Dr. Henry Cloud reminds us that “having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A lack of thereof opens the door to chaos, disappointment, and suffering.” Limit unnecessary frustration by talking about boundaries with your team today! 

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Work with a Coach to Help You Set and Maintain Healthy Boundaries

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