Imagine Health

Setting Boundaries in the Workplace

“Whatever you are willing to put up with, is exactly what you will have.” – Anonymous

Establishing boundaries between you and your work colleagues is vital for you to ensure your wellbeing and sense of respect. A boundary is a limit or a space that you put between yourself and another person. Boundaries can be established in almost any setting, so even if you are not currently working, this article may be of interest to those of you in college or in various social groups.

Why set boundaries?

  • Setting clear personal boundaries is a way to ensure that any relationship, whether in work or in your personal life, is mutually respectful, caring and supportive.
  • They make it clear to individuals around you what your limits are when it comes to certain behaviours and how you like to be treated as an individual.
  • They define how and what you communicate to others.

How to set boundaries

  • Communicate without blaming – Instead of saying “You always do this” or “You always make me feel like that” try to use “I” statements instead. “I” statements are things like “I feel hurt”, “I feel underappreciated”. By using “I” statements in your communication you are diminishing the blame that the other person instantly feels when you accuse them of doing things. Making them aware of how you feel is a much more effective way of communicating.
  • Speak honestly – Learn to communicate honestly and openly.
  • Set consequences – Boundaries inevitably come with a set of consequences. There is no point setting a boundary if you don’t follow through with what happens if someone breaks it. Setting clear consequences to broken boundaries and following through on them sends a clear message to those around you that your personal limits are not to be taken lightly.

Healthy v. Unhealthy Boundaries

A “healthy” workplace boundary reflects a distance between work and leisure. An “unhealthy” workplace boundary is when an individual finds themselves bringing their work issues home, letting work disrupt their weekends or leisure time. When it comes to work relationships with colleagues, a “healthy” boundary reflects a  colleague relationship that is based on open, effective communication and respect. Unhealthy boundaries between workplace colleagues would reflect instances where boundary lines are blurred. When this happens, individuals may become more intimate than professional colleagues are expected to be. Another example of blurred limits occurs when an individual is deeply hurt by the words or actions of another colleague and it impacts on their mood and behaviours outside of work.

Setting boundaries is a healthy way to protect yourself and make it clear to others how you expect to be treated. In the beginning it can be difficult to address setting boundaries.  Once you take the first step in setting them you will soon realise the benefits of having them in place.

Written by Nicola Keane, Assistant Psychologist