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How to set boundaries at work

Have you ever been asked to work beyond the standard office working hours? Or perhaps had your personal values being compromised in some way, say by non-consensual touch or unsolicited advice? You’re not alone. Research shows that the workplace is fraught with questionable behaviours and crossed boundaries. The good news is that you can learn how to set boundaries with coworkers at work, and this Pacific Prime UK article will walk you through a step-by-step process.

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Step 1: Define a ‘boundary’ and know its importance

Definitions are always a good place to begin. After all, how can you begin setting boundaries at work if you don’t know what a boundary is or why it’s important. Put simply, boundaries are the guidelines and rules that you create to identify reasonable and permissible ways for others to behave towards you and how you will respond when someone violates those defined limits.

Boundaries can be physical and tangible. These involve your body, personal space, and privacy. For instance, you may feel uncomfortable sharing a hotel room with a coworker on a business trip. But crucially, boundaries can also be emotional and intangible, and involve separating your feelings from another person’s feelings such as if you are uncomfortable gossiping with your coworkers.

It’s really important to set healthy boundaries, both in your personal and work life. This is due to the fact that boundaries are there to protect you, whether this is by:

  • Clarifying what is and isn’t your responsibility
  • Enabling you to focus on yourself and live up to your values
  • Preserving your physical and emotional energy

Step 2: Reflect on your values: Are there limits or no-go zones?

Frank Sonnenberg, the author of the book ‘Listen to your conscience: That’s why you have one’, said:

“Remain true to your values. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

From your culture and religion to personality and experience, everyone has a set of values they follow – albeit, some more strictly than others. To set your boundaries, you’ll need to identify what your values are. If you’ve got clearly defined values – such as not drinking alcohol, then setting boundaries might be easier. If not, you’ll need to figure out your values.

Consider your feelings as they can tell you a lot about your values

Pay attention to how you react to different situations. Are there particular things that you think you can tolerate and accept, but that makes you feel uncomfortable, resentful, or guilty? Use these feelings as a guide to set your boundaries. It’s important to remember that your feelings are your own, and even if they aren’t the same as your family, friends, or coworkers, that’s perfectly okay.

Boundaries: When to say yes?

That being said, don’t use feelings as an excuse. If you’re not doing something at work because it makes you uncomfortable, such as public speaking in front of a large crowd, it may not necessarily be related to your values. Rather, it could be something for you to work on, push yourself, and grow as a person. Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule for when to say yes, as each person’s situation is different.

Step 3: Give yourself permission to set boundaries

As we’re now facing a global economic recession, triggered by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are going to go bust, and with it – jobs. In this situation, you may feel grateful for the job, and less inclined to set boundaries. Again, this is a personal decision and no one knows your situation better than you.

However, you should know that the biggest obstacle to setting boundaries is usually your feelings of fear, guilt, self-doubt, etc. For example, you may feel like you don’t deserve the job in the first place, let alone to dictate your boundaries. This is known as ‘imposter syndrome’. When these feelings surface, you need to remind yourself that you do have the right to set boundaries, and give yourself the permission to do so.

Step 4: Communicate boundaries clearly

Now we get to the part where we actually establish a boundary by communicating it to relevant parties. You could arrange a meeting with your manager, lay your limits up front, and give actionable solutions (if any). For example, if you’re struggling with maintaining a good work-life balance due to having to answer work calls from colleagues at odd hours, you should clearly tell them the hours you will be available for work-related conversations.

Try to avoid declining unreasonable requests with vague statements like you’re stressed or you’ve got too much on your plate. This makes you seem like you’re whining, which may come across as self-centered and unprofessional. Rather, seek to understand why the request was made in the first place, establish your position with concrete examples, and make it relevant to the other party.

Side note: Setting boundaries for work-life balance is a massive problem – one that is exacerbated by the “always on” culture. This is a by-product of the technological era and smartphones, which enables you to be connected to colleagues and work matters even if you’re not physically in the office. We talk about this phenomenon at length in our inaugural Global Employee Benefits Trends Report 2020.

Step 5: Flag up a boundary violation immediately

Even after you’ve set your boundaries and communicated them clearly, there are chances that your boundaries will be violated from time to time. While you may feel upset about the violation and want to dwell on the feelings, it’s best not to leave it for days or weeks before you bring it up, as doing so can cause your complaint to lose its power. The better approach is to address it as soon as possible.

Depending on the nature of the boundary violation, there may be different ways to flag it up. For example, sexual harassment at work may warrant reporting the incident to HR. In fact, your employer may also have guidance on this. On the other hand, if your colleague invites you to gossip, you can simply and politely tell them in the moment that you don’t want to get involved.

Get in touch with Pacific Prime UK today!

Feelings of discomfort, resentment, or guilt that come up when a boundary is violated can be incredibly damaging to your mental health and wellbeing. Given the mind-body connection, mental health concerns can also spill over into physical health problems. If your company has corporate health insurance or employee benefit plans, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), you should take advantage of these.

But whether or not your employer provides health insurance, you can also get in touch with Pacific Prime UK. We take into account your unique needs and budgets, and help you find the best-value solution. From basic plans to comprehensive plans, our health plans are highly personalizable, and we can also help you secure international health plans that cover you worldwide.

Contact us to learn more!

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Content Creator at Pacific Prime UK
Suphanida aims to demystify the world of insurance by creating informative and engaging content. As a wordsmith, she spends the majority of her day writing and editing website content, blog posts, in-depth guides, and more.

Outside of work, Suphanida enjoys travelling to new places and immersing herself in different cultures.