Setting clear expectations and communicating your boundaries at work empowers you to do what you do best. Boundaries allow you to build trust between team members and take an active role in creating a work environment that feels safe.
The advantages or benefits of setting boundaries at work aren’t just personal. Think about these benefits and then follow this outline to start setting and keeping boundaries that help you and the people you work with.
Advantages of setting boundaries at work
Setting boundaries requires you to communicate your needs as you manage expectations. That isn’t necessarily easy work. But it’s well worth it.
Setting boundaries at work:
- allows you to protect your time — for other work tasks and your life outside of work
- promotes realistic timelines of accomplishing work
- builds trust between you and those you work with
- keeps you focused on the most important tasks because you have the power to say no
- sets clear expectations for your job and what you actually do, helping to eliminate busywork and stress so that you’re more effective
- gives other people permission to set their own boundaries for happier, healthier work
Set and communicate boundaries
To start setting your boundaries, figure out what matters to you and think about how you perform your best.
Be deliberate and descriptive as you work out your desired boundaries. Write out your “job description.” Outline what you’re responsible for at work. Focus on the areas that you create the most impact so you can clearly communicate how you should be spending your time and efforts.
Think about what you do on a day-to-day basis and what you actually should be doing. It may be valuable to note how long you spend on certain tasks now and how you think your time should be spent. If needed, even refer back to the contract you signed with your company.
Once you feel confident in your job description, write out the boundaries to go along with what you need to do your job better. This is just for you to express your needs, so don’t hold back. Even write out situations when it would have been beneficial for a boundary to already be in place.
In this process, figure out what aspects of your job and how you work are non-negotiable. Again, refer to your contract if needed. Do you need to stop working every Wednesday at 4 PM? Will you never answer emails in the evenings? Are you saying no to future projects that deal with a certain topic or focus?
Communicate your boundaries
Now comes the hard part: putting your boundaries into action and communicating your needs.
In some circumstances this will require you to proactively sit down with your team or manager. For instance, if you wish to make an adjustment to your schedule or working hours, that likely needs to be discussed negotiated.
Of course not every boundary needs to be communicated in an ~official meeting. It can be as simple as saying no to certain requests, delegating tasks when realistic, and providing ideas or solutions for what can be done instead.
As situations arise where you need to communicate your boundaries, keep these points in mind.
Be clear and concise, coming prepared with alternatives and solutions as needed. If you’re proposing a boundary that will affect your coworkers or team — and plenty of boundaries will affect other people — provide a solution for how things can shift or explain how it shouldn’t negatively affect other people’s work.
Don’t be pressured to provide constant justification or alternatives. Obviously you want to collaborate on problem solving and be a team player. (Setting a boundary doesn’t mean you stop having other people’s backs.) But be upfront about expectations and negotiate together.
Compromise when appropriate and make sure everyone involved knows what you’ll do and when and why you’ll do it in a certain way. Managing expectations is ultimately what allows people to maintain their boundaries and communicate transparently.
Actively try to build compassion and trust with your team. You best protect your boundaries and help others protect their own when you’re an active participant in problem solving. Do your part to communicate what you need, letting others do the same.
Maintain your boundaries and help others do the same
Setting your boundaries at work is one thing. Maintaining your boundaries is another. You shouldn’t and “can’t expect others to hold your boundaries for you,” says Tina Gilbertson. Keeping your boundaries and expectations clear takes practice. So, keep practicing and communicating.
One simple strategy you can and should use to help maintain boundaries is creating clear agendas for meetings. This sets an example for respecting people’s time and energy at work.
Clearly outline what will be discussed, who needs to be there, and how long you want the conversation to go. By communicating this information in advance of the meeting, you keep yourself and others out of unnecessary meetings.
Your daily schedule can also be outlined in a similar way. Block out your time and share your calendar so others stay aware of your availability. If appropriate, set the expectation for your whole team to do the same.
The more you document your boundaries and record your expectations, the easier it will be for you to hold your boundaries. And those you work with should find it easier to respect what you need.