Setting Boundaries

Finding Ways to Separate Work From Self

Alicja Carter
July 20, 2023 / 5 mins read

For many of us, setting boundaries at work is a process. Personally, my process started with experiencing a number of consequences from not having limits. These manifested in the form of severe migraines, increased alcohol consumption, an uneventful social life, pressure in my chest, and immediate feelings of dread and resentment when I opened my eyes in the morning. It was only after getting fired from a previous job, that I finally surrendered and admitted I could not be the end all do all. I walked around in a daze for the following three weeks, trying to uncover who I was outside of keeping others happy and getting the job done. Even though my previous employer had much to be desired, it was me who ignored the red flags, avoided asking for help, and refused to walk away. I was going to take me with me wherever I went next and would eventually drive myself into the ground again.

I had to reprioritize my values. I decided to put my mental, emotional, and physical wellness at the top and made a promise never to sacrifice it again…for anyone. I still valued harmony and progress, but no longer at my own expense. Whether I believed it or not, I had to act as if I deserved care, too. I had to keep a hold of the tools and teachings that I kept passing along to everyone else. I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable and ask for what I needed to be okay.

Setting boundaries at work is challenging.

  • Helping and producing makes you feel good about yourself and gives you a sense of purpose.
  • You are excited about your work and get great satisfaction and enjoyment from it. The more the better!
  • Others are working just as hard and need a break, too. Setting a boundary may mean that the work doesn’t get done, or worse yet, others have to pick up your slack.
  • Saying “no” or asking for what you need may cause others to be irritated or upset with you.
  • You have been ignored, reprimanded, teased, or fired from previous employment when you advocated for yourself.
  • Asking for help and support makes you feel like a burden on others.

Setting boundaries at work is doable.

Boundaries can look different for everyone and can change as needed. Here are a few examples of what boundaries could look/sound like at work. Of course these may all be easier said than done, but it doesn’t mean these steps are impossible or unnecessary. They just might take some time and support.

  • Set and stick to your working hours, even if you’re working from home. Consider putting a message at the bottom of your email that reminds people when you will be available to answer emails.
  • Get out of your own head and work with your manager to get clarity on organizational, team, and individual priorities — then prioritize, ruthlessly. And remember, not everything is a priority. Next time you need to create some space in your calendar, consider saying, “Thanks for thinking of me for this project. Unfortunately, I just don’t have the capacity to take it on right now. I’m happy to help in the future, but I’ll need more notice to fit it into my schedule.”
  • Remember that your co-workers’ feelings, attitudes, and behaviors may not require your input or energy. You are welcome to allow them to ride their own wave. If it begins to affect you, you are within your rights to have a conversation with them or notify your supervisor.

Setting boundaries at work is necessary.

  • Setting boundaries with your colleagues and encouraging them to do it with you can enhance your understanding and connection with one another, lead to more realistic goal setting, and increase your sense of work satisfaction.
  • Defining and maintaining your personal boundaries ensures that you will be cared for. Oftentimes we over help and over produce in hopes that this outpouring will fill our cups. We hope that the people we care for will be sure to care for us in return. The money we make will relieve our fears of the future. Our many achievements will prove us worthy. However, all we are doing is teaching people that we are always available to give and all we need from them is to take…and we are left feeling empty. Rather than giving our energy away to external things hoping that it will come back to us, let’s just start with us. Let’s put first things first and ensure that we are cared for. Then we can evaluate how much is left to give and who is deserving to receive it.

If you or someone you know needs recovery support, please reach out to Gateway at 273-1170 x0. We are excited to be a part of your journey.