UPDATED BY
Brennan Whitfield | Apr 26, 2023

Setting boundaries at work entails creating barriers to prevent intrusions and disruptions into an employee’s space and time, like when they step away from work at a set time every day. This becomes especially important for remote or hybrid employees.

If the boundary between your work and home life is becoming blurry, here’s how to properly set boundaries at work.

 

How to Set Boundaries at Work

How to Set Boundaries at Work

  • Communicate work and personal priorities.
  • Know and track your workload.
  • Designate specific times and hours for work.

 

Communicate Work and Personal Priorities

What kind of responsibilities do you have outside work? Are you a parent or caretaker, have specific personal health needs or maybe have another job to attend to? It’s paramount to understand your priorities both in the office and in your personal life, and to communicate the importance of these priorities to your employer.

According to Louis Efron, principal at consulting and services firm Gallup, one of the best times to establish that clear wall between your work and personal life is during your initial job interview. And for current employees, the onus is on both parties to communicate their scheduling needs.

“The perfect relationship is both the employee managing their time and the manager being intentional and thoughtful about their employee’s time,” Effron told Built In. “When that comes together, it usually works quite nice. But if one side isn’t doing it, then it usually ends up tipping the scales.”

 

Know and Track Your Workload

How long does it take to complete certain tasks? Is a typical workday filled with projects or are there windows of free time in between?

Employees can get a better sense of their needs by tracking and logging how much time they are spending on work during the day and how much on personal time, said Donna McCloskey, associate dean for undergraduate programs at the School of Business Administration at Widener University and author of Re-Defining Work-Life Boundaries: Individual, Organizational and National Policy Implications

Once you are aware of where work-life balance conflicts occur, you can discuss having more flexibility with your manager during those times of the day, McCloskey said.

 

Designate Specific Times and Hours for Work

Setting boundaries isn’t just about safeguarding personal time. It includes designating specific times at work to focus on certain projects or to get tasks accomplished. 

This can be done by setting specific working hours on your calendar and marking clear times for when you log on, log off or take breaks.

It’s similar to creating buckets or compartmentalization for our lives and the requests that are made of it, said Laurie Weingart, professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

Without setting boundaries at work, employees will be living an always-on or always-available lifestyle. This lifestyle can lead to higher stress, burnout, and lower job and life satisfaction, McCloskey said.

“From an employee perspective, it’s having the ability to separate work and home life,” Efron said. “It’s having that clear wall between the two.”

Leadership coach Woodrie Burich discusses the “power of work boundaries” at TEDxAnchorage. | Video: TEDx Talks

 

Types of Boundaries to Set at Work 

There are many types of boundaries that help employees separate their work and lives.

5 Types of Boundaries to Set at Work

  1. Physical boundaries
  2. Temporal boundaries
  3. Behavioral boundaries
  4. Communicative boundaries
  5. Type-of-work boundaries

 

PHYSICAL BOUNDARIES

A physical boundary refers to your personal space, like your office cubicle or desk. If you find a remote coworker frequently uses your cubicle and desk when in town without your permission, for example, they are crossing the physical boundaries of your space. Physical boundaries can also include the expectations you have of space around your body. This could include expressing a preference for shaking hands instead of hugging, according to an Indeed article, or even going to lunch on your own.

 

TEMPORAL BOUNDARIES

Temporal boundaries are often linked to a work schedule. For instance, if you have a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work schedule, your work time is between those hours and anything before or after that schedule is your personal time, McCloskey said. When at work, she puts a do-not-disturb notification on her phone so family and friends do not bother her. But when she is off work, her employer receives a different notification to show she is unavailable.

 

BEHAVIORAL BOUNDARIES

Behavioral boundaries separate work life and home life through, as the name implies, certain behaviors. Remote workers, for example, may change their clothes into more casual wear when they finish their workday, or cover their computer with a blanket or put it into a cabinet, McCloskey said.

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COMMUNICATIVE BOUNDARIES

Communicative boundaries include the various ways to convey when you are on the clock or not working. This information, according to McCloskey, can be communicated via icons used on instant messaging and collaboration platforms like Slack to automatic out-of-office email replies.

 

Type-of-Work Boundaries

Type-of-work boundaries reflect the specific tasks an employee is hired to perform. But often there is so much more additional work to be done — especially as companies downsize and the work of former colleagues is redistributed to others. A helpful way of thinking about which of these tasks to accept is to distinguish between promotable tasks and non-promotable tasks, said Weingart, who is also co-author of The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work

Non-promotable tasks, like setting up meetings or organizing birthday parties at work, are important tasks that need to get done but don’t advance careers. But promotable tasks, such as overseeing a new project, can lead to a promotion. 

For non-promotable tasks — which Weingart noted women tend to get asked to do more than men — she advised employees to set boundaries around what type of work they are willing to say “yes” or “no” to. She also suggested looping in managers and HR into these discussions to observe how non-promotable tasks are being distributed between genders.

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