How to set healthy boundaries at work

13 September 2023
Megha Kadam Written by Megha Kadam
Megha Kadam

Megha Kadam

Megha Kadam is a freelance content writer who loves reading and writing on mental health,...

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Nilom Shah Reviewed by Nilom Shah
Nilom Shah

Nilom Shah

Nilom Shah, Counseling Psychologist Nilom B Shah is a Mental Health...

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Whether you work from home or from the office, setting boundaries at work can be challenging. Expectations can be overwhelming and without appropriate personal boundaries, relationships and performance can suffer. 

And this has led to quiet quitting.

The quiet quitting movement

“Before getting fully burnt out, I used to say ‘yes’ to every extra work. But it cost me mental and physical health issues. Now, I am a strict 9-5 and only do what is required. I don’t take any initiative to go above and beyond unless it benefits me.” (Reddit)

Do you, too, feel that as an employee? Then, you might be familiar with the term ‘quiet quitting.’ It means that employees do their job only to fulfill their responsibilities without investing themselves psychologically in work. 

As per a Business Standard report, work-from-home impacted mostly women as they faced many challenges and responsibilities while balancing work and life. Since then, employees started to prefer work conditions and pay over anything else. This phenomenon is more pronounced in Indian IT companies. 

MyndStories talked to Rashi Laskari, a Counseling Psychologist and Individual and Family Therapist, on how to achieve a balance between being a great employee and setting healthy boundaries to safeguard your personal space.

Is quiet quitting a good way to go about it? Rashi says, “Employees often disengage from their interest in work and reduce their productivity without expressing dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction means they show up physically but are mentally not invested in their tasks. Some see it as a way to cope with the stress or workplace dissatisfaction, but it is unhealthy for mental well-being.”

She adds, “Quiet quitting does not lead to any resolution, as the issues at work are not being addressed, which can lead to prolonged unhappiness. The continuous suppression of one’s feelings can also lead to more internal conflicts and emotional strain.

In addition, the employee pretends that everything is okay, but that’s not how they truly feel. This constant effort to maintain a facade adds to further stress. Instead of turning to quiet quitting, an employee should seek support and address the root cause of the workplace dissatisfaction.”

How to set physical, emotional, and mental boundaries

You’ll need to set strict physical, emotional, and mental boundaries for your personal space and mental stability. 

Physical boundaries

  • offer handshakes instead of hugs
  • turn off the camera during online meetings
  • setting a fixed time for lunch every day
  • not working on weekends
  • taking a vacation and sick days

Emotional boundaries

  • don’t get involved in your colleagues’ emotional outbursts and gossip
  • don’t consume other people’s bad mood, negative vibes, or mental frustrations
  • communicate about your preferred working and communication style
  • decide on boundaries you want to have with your colleagues in friendships or romantic relationships
  • don’t talk about your or other’s personal life

Mental boundaries 

  • stick to working hours
  • set specific times as per your suitability while working remotely
  • do-not-disturb and turn off notifications while doing deep work
  • taking a break after meetings

In Udemy’s 2019 work boundaries report, 51% of employees believe hugging is unprofessional and 37% of employees find some coworkers too informal at the workplace. 

Challenges in setting boundaries with remote work

It’s a myth that remote jobs give you work-life balance. People put more hours into remote work than in-office jobs for various reasons.

Blurred boundaries due to laptops and smartphones

Do you always check notifications even after office hours to never miss out on any important information? If you do, you’ve created blurred boundaries at the workplace.

Your commitment to work is understandable, but it’s important to draw the line. Replying to that one email can lead to more work discussions, and eventually you could be left with the feeling of being taken for granted. 

Pressure to be always on

Most employers expect their employees to be always available even after work hours or during weekends. Sure, there could be unexpected emergencies. However, it will be beneficial to have a defined boundary line conveyed to your boss to let them know that it’s a lot of pressure on you to always be on.

How to set healthy boundaries at work

Different time zones

Working in different time zones is another challenge where most employees fail to draw the line. If the time difference is more than 10 hours, there can be communication barriers, such as delayed information or misunderstanding among team members. 

Issues with scheduling meetings are common and so are hurdles with collaboration. This can sometimes make you end up following a weekday schedule on weekends. Hence, finding a time that works for both you and your client and sticking to it would be beneficial.

Lack of proper routine

Do you have a set routine in place for work? If not, your work hours can get stretched into your personal life, making you burn the midnight oil.

The danger of remote working is that you can end up working all the time, which can negatively impact your mental well-being. Set up a dedicated workspace and be mindful to limit your time. 

Deep breathing exercises help in signaling your body to stop working and diverting your mind to something else. You could also try using a timing tool to end one activity and move on to the next one. 

Most importantly, it becomes important to draw the line when your boss 

  • has unrealistic expectations
  • expects you to overwork
  • gives strict deadlines
  • has an ineffective communication process
  • tries to micromanage
  • displays unprofessional behavior

Consequences of lack of boundaries at work

Do you think a lack of boundaries will only create a work-life imbalance in your life? Well, we all know it can also have a more profound effect on your mental health. 

As mentioned in the U.S. Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health & Well-being guidelines, heavy workloads, long commutes, unpredictable schedules, limited autonomy, and long work hours can lead to stress in employees. 

Elevated stress hormones can cause sleep disruption and other mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, burnout, suicidal ideation, and substance misuse.

One 2020 study found that staff who had supervisors who expected them to respond to messages after work reported higher levels of psychological distress and emotional exhaustion, including headaches and back pain, than groups whose supervisors did not.

However, the onus doesn’t lie only on organizations to care for their employees’ mental health and well-being. Employees, too, need to speak up and establish certain set limits with their bosses and coworkers. 

How to establish boundaries with your boss

Rashi shares some tips on drawing the line if a lack of boundaries is costing you mental health at your workplace. 

How to set healthy boundaries at work

1. Communicate clearly

An open and respectful conversation with your boss about your working preferences, availability, and limits always helps. It would be helpful to let your boss know how you work best and what times are most productive for you.

For example, you might be more productive in the morning or late evening. You can set your working hours accordingly and inform your boss. Also, providing a realistic deadline based on your ability to complete the project can save you from unrealistic expectations. 

Moreover, it would help if you informed your boss about your other personal responsibilities in life. 

For example, if you’re unmarried, your boss might want to assign you extra work. In such a case, state firmly, “I am unmarried, but I stay with my parents and need to take care of them. Hence, I won’t be working extra hours or available to reply to any calls after 6 p.m.”

2. Avoid overworking

Set an end time for work each day to prevent burnout. Some employees love to extend work hours to show their dedication and commitment. But this attitude may backfire by decreasing your productivity. 

Don’t let your boundaries be too flexible. You might be tempted to accept paid overtime opportunities, for instance. Although, it’ll help you earn more money, ensure you’ve the energy to balance your work and personal life efficiently.

At work, if you are assigned a new task when you’re already burdened with work, ask your boss what needs to be prioritized first. Not everything in a project needs to be addressed immediately.

3. Prioritize self-care

Be clear about how you prioritize self-care for better performance. Taking regular breaks, engaging in physical activity, or participating in stress-reduction techniques can help you take a break from work and focus on self-care activities. 

For example, you can try meditation, journaling, exercise, or yoga. Try to give your self-care the same importance you give to your work. Whenever you feel overwhelmed due to work, try Mandala art, listen to soothing music, or go for a walk in nature to keep yourself mentally and emotionally stable. 

4. Use technology mindfully

Technology enables a constant influx of emails and messages. It would be beneficial to set expectations for response times and inform your coworkers about your availability.

Do turn off the email notifications on your phone and check your emails only at regular times. And let your boss know that you’ll respond only to urgent emails. 

You can also set an automatic away message while on vacation or sick leave. It will also help you send a clear message to your boss about your unavailability and strict boundaries. 

As Rashi says, setting boundaries is a proactive step toward preserving mental and emotional health. So, clearly communicate your needs and expectations for a more balanced and fulfilling work experience. Don’t hesitate to seek support from a professional if you still struggle to define and establish boundaries. 

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