New independent study shows Lyra is the only mental health solution to deliver proven savings to employers.
Learn more

Setting Boundaries at Work: A Key to Well-Being

In today’s fast-paced, interconnected world, the lines between personal and professional life can easily blur, leading to burnout, stress, and a lack of work-life balance. Setting boundaries at work is an essential step to protect your well-being while boosting your job satisfaction and success. Read on for how to set boundaries to better your work-life integration.

Why is setting boundaries at work important? 

Before we consider how we’re showing up as an employee, we must take care of the person who’s showing up to work. Work-life balance starts with prioritizing ourselves and what matters to us, and boundaries are key to supporting that practice.

If we’re a manager or leader, setting boundaries at work helps us show up for our teams in a way that’s resourceful, respectful, creative, and supportive. This helps us create workplace cultures that make people want to stick around. Setting boundaries gives you the space to take care of your mental health, which can in turn boost job satisfaction, morale, and a sense of unity. Here are some key benefits of boundaries at work.

Stress reduction

When you’ve set limits on the amount of work, type of tasks, and hours you take on, you can better manage your workload and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Increased productivity

By setting boundaries in the workplace, you can focus on tasks that align with your role and responsibilities. Boundaries allow you to prioritize work effectively, concentrate on essential tasks, and avoid getting sidetracked by distractions or non-essential requests.

Respect and professionalism

Clearly communicating your work boundaries shows professionalism and self-respect. It also encourages your colleagues to treat you with respect and acknowledge your needs and limitations, leading to healthier working relationships.

Work-life balance

Setting clear limits between work and personal life can help you avoid burnout and maintain your overall well-being. Without workplace boundaries, you might feel pressured to take on additional tasks or projects. This can contribute to lower performance and quality of work.

Personal growth

Setting boundaries requires self-awareness and assertiveness. Learning how to set boundaries at work can lead to personal growth as you become more confident in expressing your needs.

Mental well-being

Mental health at work is becoming a focus for more organizations and boundaries are essential for mental and emotional health. When we don’t have strong work boundaries, we can experience burnout, anxiety, and depression. 

Better conflict management

Setting boundaries at work can help prevent conflicts and misunderstandings. When everyone is clear about each other’s boundaries, it’s easier to collaborate effectively.

Maintaining focus on career goals

Setting boundaries helps you stay focused on your long-term career goals. By saying “no” to tasks or responsibilities that don’t align with your objectives, you can better prioritize opportunities that contribute to your professional growth.

Job satisfaction

Taking control of your time, energy, and personal space can boost your satisfaction and effectiveness at work.

What are the types of boundaries at work?

Interpersonal boundaries refer to the limits, rules, and guidelines set to define emotional, physical, and mental space. These limits determine how we interact with others, how much we’re willing to give or receive, and what behaviors we find acceptable. Interpersonal boundaries can be both explicit and implicit, and they play a crucial role in maintaining healthy and respectful relationships, whether in personal or professional settings. 

Mental boundaries

Mental boundaries protect your thoughts, beliefs, and values. They help you have a clear sense of self and set limits on what information and ideas you take in.

Examples of mental boundaries include:

  • Respecting your own opinions and not allowing others to pressure you into changing them
  • Choosing not to engage in discussions or debates that aren’t work-appropriate
  • Declining to participate in gossip or negative conversations about others
  • Determining your primary objective and giving yourself permission to not accomplish everything on the to-do list all at once

Physical boundaries

Physical boundaries protect your personal space and regulate physical contact with others. They also help you maintain physical autonomy and a sense of safety. Physical boundaries at work have become more muddled for those working from home but are still relevant. If you’re going to an external workplace, there’s an implicit boundary that’s created between work and home. Meanwhile, some of us are working where our family eats dinner or in the same room where we sleep. 

Examples of physical boundaries include:

  • Creating physical space at work by moving around where you take meetings, work in one room versus another, or have a folding screen to block out space
  • Dedicating a certain amount of time to work
  • Communicating your discomfort if someone stands too close or invades your personal space
  • Setting limits on hugging or touching and respecting others’ boundaries in this regard

Emotional boundaries

Emotional boundaries involve recognizing, understanding, and protecting your emotions. They allow you to differentiate between yours and others’ feelings so you can be empathetic without feeling overwhelmed by their emotional experiences.

Examples of emotional boundaries include:

  • Being honest with yourself and others about your feelings without feeling guilty or ashamed
  • Understanding that you’re not responsible for managing someone else’s emotions or fixing their problems
  • Limiting contact with people who consistently disregard your feelings or emotionally drain you
  • Taking time to eat, drink, sleep, and exercise
  • Asking for help or saying “no” to more work
  • Taking an intentional pause every day to notice, “How am I showing up to work today?” We’re not robots who come to work the same way every day. Be clear about who you are and how you can take care of yourself.

How to set boundaries at work

Setting boundaries at work can be challenging, but it’s essential for maintaining your well-being and productivity. Here are 10 actionable examples of how to set boundaries at work:

#1 Communicate clearly

Be open and direct about your work boundaries. Clearly state what you are and aren’t comfortable with.

Example: “I prefer not to be contacted during weekends, except for emergencies. Please reach out to me during working hours if you need anything.” It can also help to give explicit examples of what you mean by “emergencies” to help clarify any ambiguity. 

#2 Say “no”

It’s OK to decline additional tasks or projects when you’re already stretched thin. Prioritize your workload and politely decline when necessary. We all want to do a good job at work and feel that we’re contributing, but we can’t put our best foot forward if we’re not caring for ourselves. Sometimes that means considering and offering a thoughtful “no” in a moment when we might automatically or reflexively say “yes.”

Example: “I appreciate the opportunity, but my current workload won’t allow me to take on this project. Can we discuss it at a later time?”

#3 Set limits on overtime

Avoid overextending yourself by setting boundaries on working late or taking work home consistently. If you‘re requesting something or need to uphold a boundary, express this need politely.

Example: “I understand that X is important, and I’m tracking that. Is it possible to extend this deadline so that I can show up to both of these priorities in a way that feels productive? If shifting this deadline isn’t possible, what would you like me to de-prioritize at this time in order to meet this need?”

#4 Manage interruptions

Minimize interruptions by setting specific times for focused work and letting colleagues know when you’re unavailable. You can also block your calendar during those times so if colleagues attempt to schedule during those hours they’re notified that you are unavailable to collaborate.  

Example: “I have dedicated ‘focus time’ from 10 a.m. to noon daily. Please avoid scheduling meetings or interrupting during this period.”

#5 Use technology wisely

Set boundaries with digital communication tools. Avoid responding to work-related messages during your personal time, if possible.

Example: “I won’t be checking work emails after 7 p.m. If it’s urgent, please call or text me.” Again, it’s helpful to provide examples of what “urgent” means to you to clarify any potential confusion. 

#6 Delegate when possible

Monitor your workload and delegate tasks or responsibilities to others when appropriate.

Example: “I trust your expertise on this matter, so I’d like to delegate the task of coordinating the meeting to you.”

#7 Define acceptable behavior

Set boundaries for appropriate workplace behavior to maintain a respectful and comfortable environment.

Example: “Let’s keep our discussions professional and avoid making personal comments about each other.”

#8 Seek support

If you’re facing challenges or boundary violations at work, discuss them with your supervisor or HR team.

Example: “I’m finding it difficult to manage my workload effectively. Can we discuss strategies for how to set boundaries to maintain productivity?”

#9 Give yourself compassion

Create some space and time to check in with yourself every day before work to see how you’re feeling. What you need day-to-day might change. You may feel able to say “yes” to more work or an extra shift one week, but not the next, and that’s OK.

Example: Pause and check in with yourself before responding to a request. Don’t just automatically agree to it because it worked last week. Your capacity may be different this week. 

#10 Pay attention to cultural differences

For leadership, it’s important to recognize that boundaries can intersect with someone’s sense of identity and cultural affiliations. For example, somebody who identifies as belonging to a historically marginalized group might feel less empowered to create or uphold boundaries at work. People who hold more privilege in the workplace or who are in a position of power might be less practiced in offering flexibility to individuals who are requesting that a boundary be upheld. Investigating who we are at work from the standpoint of identity, power, and privilege can help to inform the way we build healthy boundaries at work.

Example: People in positions of power in the workplace might say to their employees, “I realize some folks have a hard time asking for what they need. Would it be helpful to check in periodically, to make sure you’re not feeling overwhelmed?”or “How can I empower you to ask for what you need when it comes to work-life balance?”

What are examples of unhealthy and healthy boundaries at work? 

Healthy boundaries are characterized by clear and respectful limits set to protect physical, emotional, and mental well-being that encourage trust and mutual respect. On the other hand, unhealthy boundaries often involve overstepping personal limits, leading to feelings of discomfort, resentment, and potential harm in both personal and professional interactions.

Examples of healthy boundaries at work include:

  • Sharing ideas and collaborating
  • Practicing healthy communication by expressing opinions respectfully and actively listening to others without interrupting
  • Being punctual for meetings and respecting others’ time by starting and ending meetings on time
  • Keeping conversations and interactions professional
  • Avoiding gossip or discussing inappropriate topics
  • Addressing conflicts in a constructive way, without resorting to personal attacks or holding grudges

Examples of unhealthy boundaries at work include:

  • Constantly monitoring and interfering with co-workers’ tasks or responsibilities, hindering their autonomy and productivity
  • Consistently working long hours and disregarding personal time, leading to burnout and reduced productivity
  • Invading co-workers’ personal space or prying into their personal lives without permission
  • Engaging in offensive, discriminatory, or sexually inappropriate conversations
  • Using aggressive or threatening language during conflicts or disagreements
  • Consistently arriving late to meetings, causing delays and disrespecting others’ time

Maintaining healthy boundaries in the workplace fosters a positive and productive environment where individuals feel respected, valued, and able to thrive professionally. Conversely, unhealthy boundaries at work can lead to conflicts, stress, and a toxic workplace culture. Being aware of these examples can help promote healthier relationships and interactions in the workplace.

How to handle boundary violations

When we feel our workplace boundaries being overstepped, the first thing to do is slow down. Often we don’t even realize until the boundary has been pushed well beyond our limit that it’s becoming uncomfortable. It’s important to recognize when our boundaries start to feel infringed upon so we don’t get to a point of panic and alarm.

Perhaps your manager is asking you to work an extra eight hours a week but you know that’s not possible. At what point do you start to notice your discomfort rising? How can you slow down? Acknowledge that sensation, investigate what it might be trying to tell you, and then make an informed choice about whether or not you want to uphold your boundary or find a way to create some compromise or flexibility. Reminding yourself that you have a choice can help correct unhealthy responses to boundary violations.

Clearly reinforce your boundaries. Politely but firmly restate your boundaries to the person, making sure they understand your limits.

Example: “I appreciate your interest in discussing personal matters, but I prefer to keep those conversations outside of work hours.”

Set consequences. Make it clear that there will be consequences if the person continues to ignore your work boundaries.

Example: “If you continue to call me during my lunch break, I’ll have to silence my phone to avoid interruptions.”

Limit your availability. If the person keeps intruding, reduce your availability or responsiveness to establish boundaries.

Example: Responding to non-urgent messages or emails only during designated hours.

Enlist support. Talk to a trusted colleague, supervisor, or HR representative about the situation for guidance and support.

Example: “I’m having trouble setting boundaries with a co-worker. Can you offer any advice on how to handle it?”

Document incidents. Keep a record of instances when your boundaries were disrespected, including dates and descriptions.

Example: Maintain a journal of each interaction that violated your boundaries in the workplace.

Avoid engaging in arguments. If the person becomes confrontational, avoid engaging in arguments or power struggles.

Example: Stepping away from a heated conversation to cool down before addressing the issue again.

Create a respectful work culture

There are two essential parts of setting boundaries at work: employees setting healthy boundaries and employers respecting those boundaries and creating an environment that encourages people to enforce their boundaries without negative consequences. When each party does their part, everyone—including the organization, thrives.

Get professional support with boundaries in the workplace.

You can get started today if your employer offers Lyra.

Sign up now
About the reviewer
Lauren Cunnningham

Dr. Cunningham has over a decade of clinical and administrative behavioral health experience. She received a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from Ball State University and has authored publications on crisis prevention in schools and sexism toward women in the military. Previously, she held several mental health-focused roles in the United States Air Force, receiving many honors including the Air Force Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service and the Air Force Achievement Medal. She also served as CEO of Blackbird Psychological Services, providing and supervising psychological evaluations for the Department of Defense and Veterans.

About the author
Lindsay Leopold, PCC

As Coach Learning and Development Lead at Lyra Health, Lindsay develops the curricula for Lyra's Mental Health Coaching Program. She delivers innovative, culturally responsive training in evidence-based models of care such as cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance commitment therapy to Lyra's global population of coaches. An ICF-certified coach with a PCC credential, Lindsay holds an MFA from DePaul University.

Clinically reviewed by
Lauren Cunnningham
22 of August 2023 - 11 min read
Mental health at work
Share this article
Stay in touch and get the latest blogs

Take your workforce to the next level