Professional Boundaries to Decrease Workplace Stress
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
Maintaining professional boundaries is a crucial part of decreasing workplace stress and preventing burnout.
Feeling burned out at work? If so, you are not alone.
A recent study by indeed found that up to 52% of workers are reporting experiencing some kind of burnout in the past year, with up to 67% noting that workplace burnout has increased in the past year.
Feeling burned out at work can cause us to feel stressed, can result in poor sleep, and lower productivity.
A big culprit for feeling overwhelmed and burned out is poor boundaries at work or difficulty setting boundaries at work.
Boundaries are difficult for many, but they are so important to maintain a level of work satisfaction and positive mood.
By setting boundaries, we build our confidence, decrease stress, and boost productivity. Sounds pretty good, right?
We do this by:
1) Understanding professional boundaries
2) Determining our professional boundaries
3) Communicating our boundaries effectively
Professional Boundaries: What Are They?
Professional boundaries refer to many different types of boundaries we set in the workplace to protect ourselves. This is going to be individual and focused on what you believe is best for you.
These may be physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, time boundaries, or other kinds of boundaries that protect us from high stress, agreeing to things that make us uncomfortable, overcommitting, and other things that may decrease our mood and productivity.
Consider the following boundaries to boost mood and productivity:
Physical boundaries refer to the physical space around you. This might include:
· Physical proximity to others in meetings
· Lending your physical items to others during work (e.g. documents, papers, work tools)
· How you greet others (e.g. handshake, hug)
· Your workspace set-up
· Making time for rest, eating, and sleeping
Time boundaries refer to how you spend your time and your work hours. This is often the area where people struggle the most, yet one of the most important boundaries since time is a precious commodity.
This may include:
· When you start and end work for the day
· Whether or not you check work emails outside of your business hours
· The notice that you need to attend a meeting
· The times that meetings are scheduled
· Working on weekends
· How you use your break time (e.g. alone, not doing work)
Emotional boundaries refer to how you interact with others and take care of yourself emotionally. These are important to avoid mental exhaustion. This might include:
· Communicating about how you would like to give and receive feedback
· Delegating work if there is too much work being given to you
· Finding balance in your work life to make sure that you are devoting some time to your emotional wellbeing
· Using your vacation time
· How you handle work conflicts with others
· Being comfortable with saying no to others (a hard one for many!)
· Leaving work at work mentally and not taking it home with you
Determine Your Professional Boundaries
Now that you’ve seen the different types of boundaries, determine the boundaries that apply to you in the different categories. Don’t worry about how you will communicate these quite yet. First, it is important for you to work out the details with yourself. Journaling is a great way to process your thoughts and ideas.
Busy professionals often find that maintaining boundaries with themselves is more difficult than setting them with others.
Therefore, it is crucial for you to first feel comfortable in the boundaries that you are setting for yourself and the reasons behind it. Maintaining these boundaries with yourself will take practice so you can get the benefits and also enforce them with others.
Once you feel comfortable with these boundaries and have assessed whether they are reasonable given your work environment and expectations of you, then it is important to be able to communicate these boundaries assertively and confidently.
Communicate Your Boundaries Effectively
Once you have decided your boundaries in the different areas, it is important for you to consider how and when you will communicate these.
A common mistake that people make is assuming that other people are familiar with their boundaries. Others are often not familiar with our boundaries, especially if we are establishing new ones.
Therefore, it is very important to have a conversation with the relevant stakeholders at your job so they are aware of your boundaries.
How to Communicate Them
This might be with specific individuals or in a bigger group meeting. Once you have decided upon your boundaries, it is time to then clearly communicate them to others. Some examples of what this may look like:
“To ensure that I am doing my job to the best ability, it will be important for me to take my 30-minute lunch away from my desk. I will respond to all e-mails or questions upon my return.”
“I am going on vacation next week. During this time, I will not be on my work e-mail. I will respond to all messages upon my return. If you need something urgently, please contact my colleague who can assist you.”
“I love new projects and opportunities. To ensure that I am completing my current projects to the best of my ability, I will need at least 2 weeks notice for all new projects in the future.”
As you can see from these examples, all of the communication in these scenarios is short, direct, and to the point. Try to keep your communication to a few sentences to make sure that you are getting your main point across.
Enforce Your Boundaries
Once you know you have clearly communicated your boundaries, it is also important to enforce them. When you are setting new boundaries, people may naturally try to push against them, whether they mean to or not.
If they do give you pushback or forget about your boundaries, it will be very important for you to assertively stand up for yourself and your boundaries.
Here are some examples of how you may stand up for your boundaries with the various scenarios shared above:
“As we discussed, I am unable to schedule meetings during my 30-minute lunch or do other kinds of work during this time. I would be happy to schedule a meeting for a different time.”
“I understand that this project is sensitive and on a deadline. I will make sure to prioritize the main tasks for completion before I leave on my vacation. During my vacation, my colleague has agreed to follow up on any questions or needs as I will not be able to respond or do work during my week away.”
“This new project sounds very interesting. To ensure that I am doing the best work on my current projects, I will not be able to take on this project as I have not received the two week notice that we discussed. I’d be happy to help in the future. Please make sure to give me two weeks notice so I can ensure that I have the proper time to work on an additional project.”
As you can see from these examples, the communication is once again direct, to the point, and kind. It’s important to keep in mind that boundaries without enforcement are not really boundaries.
Therefore, once you have set a boundary, it’s crucial to enforce it so others are aware of the boundaries that are important to you. This is also important for your own self-esteem, confidence, and stress levels.
Helpful Enforcement Reminders
Make sure that you are setting boundaries that you are willing to enforce and that are reasonable for you before you share them with others.
It’s also helpful to note that people may forget our boundaries or push back against them in the beginning. This is natural and common.
However, if you are finding that your boundaries are being consistently disregarded, questioned, or aggressively argued with, it’s important to evaluate your overall work environment and determine if it is a healthy environment for you.
If it is not a healthy environment, exploring new options may be necessary.
Poor boundaries in the workplace are one of the biggest reasons for high stress, burnout, and decreased productivity and efficiency.
Learning to set boundaries is one of the best ways to improve your mood, boost productivity, and feel confident in the workplace.
Consider the tips and examples shared today. Identify 1-2 boundaries that you would like to work on and can practice sharing with people in your workplace.
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----About Dr. Julia
Hi! I'm Dr. Julia. Health psychologist, stress and sleep expert, and creator of the Master Stress Method.
I have worked with thousands of individuals in major hospitals, university medical centers, and primary care settings to improve their stress levels, sleep, and overall emotional and physical well being.
My current focus is helping busy professionals prevent and manage the high stress that is getting in the way of their productivity, mood, sleep, and their ability to reach their full potential.
My 8-week, 1:1 coaching program has helped hundreds of stressed out, overwhelmed, and burned out clients significantly reduce their stress and anxiety, improve their sleep, and maximize their productivity, in just 8 short weeks.
I can't wait to help you stop the struggle with stress, for good. Let's chat :)