How to Set Boundaries at Work like a Boss
For you, a 9-5 workday was never the goal. You pursued an alternative lifestyle, knowing you’d be giving up the traditional cycle of a Monday – Friday grind, followed by letting loose on the weekend. What you didn’t bank on was how your work and home life started to blur together.
Client texts and phone calls after hours, bosses calling during your “vacation” asking you to cover shifts and the frequent back and forth to conventions that left you feeling jet-lagged and on the verge of burnout.
While the constant barrage of requests for your attention and time felt like a reflection of your success in the beginning, it’s devolved into feelings of resentment, loss of control, and overwhelm.
You’re ready to make a change.
If you want to set boundaries like a boss at work, you need to make well thought out decisions about how you spend your time. By using the eight steps below to uncover your limits, communicate them, and follow-through, you’ll be on your way to real transformation.
The reasoning behind setting boundaries in your life
Before you dive into how you picture your new balanced life, it’s essential to understand the reasons behind why you need to set boundaries. You may encounter some push back in the areas of your life where you start setting up new roadblocks. It can be difficult to stand your ground if you’re unsure why you made these new decisions in the first place.
Here are three powerful reasons to set boundaries:
You feel empowered to choose yourself
It’s easy to take on other people’s feelings, ideas, values, and thoughts without acknowledging your own.
Let’s say you have a client that continually calls outside of business hours. They tell you it’s because it’s the “only time that works for them.” When you decide that your “out of shop” hours will now be spent offline, it can be an uncomfortable conversation to have. You’ll need to step outside the situation first and decide what’s in your best interest. The moment you let yourself get entangled in other people’s circumstances, it can become stressful, draining, and overwhelming.
When you set boundaries using your feelings as a starting point, you start to live for yourself. You’re more connected and more in control of your work. You’ll find that you’re able to be in relationships that are balanced and equal because you’re standing up for yourself.
You teach others how to treat you
When you set boundaries, you find the confidence to tell an unhealthy personality that you’ll no longer tolerate their behavior. Through your actions, you can also train those around you to treat you the way you deserve to be treated.
Here’s a scenario you might find familiar: you have a co-worker who’s always “borrowing” from your station when you’re not around. There are promises that they’ll “get you back next time” or “it won’t happen again”—but it always does. Instead of doing something to break the cycle (setting a boundary) you’ve just sat back and played the nice guy. For your co-worker to show you respect, you need to teach them how to treat you.
Finally, in the most dramatic situation, you’re able to leave a toxic environment that isn’t healthily serving you.
You can say “yes” to new opportunities
When you set boundaries, you’re able to say “no” to the client that’s continually showing up 30 minutes late to their appointment (if at all). This allows you to say “yes” to taking on new challenges (that guest spot you’ve been eyeing) without getting locked into feelings of guilt or just plain missing out.
Now that you have a better understanding of the “why” behind setting boundaries, let’s look at the “how.”
Every aspect of your life can benefit from setting boundaries; today, let’s explore how to set boundaries in the workplace.
Let’s have a peek at the most effective way to take back control over your life while you’re at work.
The first step to setting healthy boundaries is resetting the ones you may have already created.
If up to this point your clients have been able to call you at any hour, any day of the week – you need to train them to follow a schedule that feels right to you. Same goes for the boss who speaks to you with disrespect. However, it will be challenging to stroll into work one day and flip a switch for change with this person while avoiding a complete blow up. Instead, you need a plan that’ll get you from where you are now to where you’d like to be – with the lowest body count.
Here are a few pointers to make the transition a smooth one:
- Be consistent with your new boundaries
- Keep them clear & simple
- Stay calm when explaining your limits & when facing push-back
- Be flexible with compromise (as long as it still feels right)
Once you’ve established clear boundaries, your network will begin to give you more respect. In some situations this may be the first time you can be yourself, ask for what you want without the fear of judgment.
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork for how you’d like to be treated at work, it’s time to establish critical boundaries in those working relationships. This applies to how you interact with co-workers, clients, and bosses.
Eight ways you can set boundaries at work like a boss
1. How do you start to set personal boundaries? Uncover your core values
The first step to setting your boundaries is by uncovering your values. Once you’ve determined what they are, you’ll be able to outline the steps you need to take to ensure they meet your needs.
As an example, your family time may be priority number one to you. So, because you want time off to be with them, you’ll create strict boundaries around being available at all hours or picking up shifts on days off.
Don’t blow through this first step. It may have been a long time since you thought about what your core values are and how you’d like to integrate them into your life.
2. Take the time to establish your limits
Do you know your limits? Or are you caving to what people around you are doing?
It’s important to get super clear about what your limits are, whether that be emotional, physical, or mental. Pay attention to all of it.
What are you able to handle before you become stressed, overwhelmed, and drained of energy? All these feelings help you understand what your limits are.
A great example of this is taking on extra hours or more clients. Overtime is wonderful. It’s usually better pay, makes you look like a hard worker in the eyes of your boss and builds up your client list. But after a while (if you’re not careful) it can lead to burnout. You need to understand your limits and choose for yourself what the optimal work-life balance is for your healthiest life.
3. How do you set boundaries without being mean? Communicate clearly.
Setting healthy boundaries at work isn’t meant to be a punishment to your co-workers, clients, or your boss—they’re meant to be mutually beneficial. After all, you won’t be your best self if you’re exhausted, resentful, or burned out. When you start to communicate your boundaries, make sure you do it clearly and without aggression.
For example, if you’ve added an up-front deposit to your services because you’re tired of losing money on no-show clients, make it a point to verbally tell your existing clients why they’ll see this change going forward.
If you receive push-back, don’t get defensive. It’s essential to understand the other person’s needs and perspective. Listen with an open mind and communicate the reason for your new boundary.
4. Learn the value in saying ‘no’
The pressure to please exists throughout society—not just in the workplace. If you aim to please, it’s easy to find yourself in a situation when you feel like your only option is “yes.” You continue to add more and more to your plate, but maintaining this standard can only lead to unhappiness and regret.
Take the time to understand how saying “no” could impact you positively. Would you have more time to focus on the parts of your career you love the most? Or maybe it would open up new opportunities for you. One of the best reasons to say no, is getting the chance to say yes to something else.
Once you’ve determined your boundaries around your “hard-nos,” communicate them to everyone at your workplace. Maybe this means you’ll no longer be checking your Inbox on Monday because you’ll now be offline (give an alternate response time), or you’ll no longer be taking men’s haircuts because you’ve decided to specialize in women only (provide old clients with a new stylist referral).
5. Find the compromise in your set boundaries
You’ve all seen the screaming child in the checkout line after his mom told him “no”—well, it’s doubtful your workplace will mutate into a pack of tantrum-having toddlers—but no one loves hearing “no.”
If you’re not psyched about how your new boundaries will go over at work (or with clients), you can reposition your “no’s” as an opportunity to find a solution.
Keep an eye out for positive ways to compromise. For example, if your boss has scheduled a staff meeting on your day off—let them know you already have plans, but you’d be happy to come in first thing on you’re next working day, so you’re all caught up. Show you’re part of the team, but stick to your guns with your boundaries.
6. Reinforce your boundaries in the moment
Setting boundaries is simple—on paper. You can write them down or ponder on them, dreaming about the difference they’ll make in how confident you feel. Reinforcing them can feel like a whole other ballgame.
But without reinforcement in the moment, or close to it, your boundary loses all its power. So, as hard as it may be, you need to put the kibosh on the boundary-breaking situation immediately.
For instance, if you’re chatting with your coworker and the conversation devolves into gossip—and you’ve decided you want no part in a toxic workplace—you’re going to have to let them know, in the moment, that you’re out.
7. How do you set healthy boundaries with family? Put down the iPhone.
If you want to find out how to set healthy boundaries at home, you need to have a hard look at your tech and communication habits.
Work-life balance can appear out of reach when “work” is only ever a few inches away. Out of habit, the first thing you do when you wake up is reach for your phone. You check for any new appointment alerts and get going, but for the rest of the day (until your head hits that pillow) there’s no disconnection from the messages and communications.
So, ask yourself: What’s driving you to stay connected? If you disconnect, what are you afraid of missing out on? Or does being connected 24/7 make you feel successful?
Once you answer those questions, have a peek at your answers. What’s motivating you to stay plugged in? You can later use those motivations to set up boundaries that’ll allow you to replenish yourself when you’re at home.
Your ultimate goal: when you leave work, unplug.
To achieve a healthy work-life balance, you need to be as committed to the “life” part as you are to the “work.” This means that, just as you focus on work when you’re working, you need to focus on being present when you’re not at the shop—this could mean not checking your emails during dinner or letting client calls go to voicemail if you’re in the middle of your family/friend time.
8. Visualize the boundary-breakers
Change is scary, and for some, that means reacting negatively. After you’ve established healthy boundaries, you can expect there will be those who get angry when you have to set them straight for crossing them.
Don’t get frustrated or view push-back as setbacks, instead use these opportunities to see if you can improve on your communication, your boundary-setting or to reevaluate your relationships.
Take the time to anticipate any situations where a client, co-worker, or boss may cross your boundaries and imagine how you’d handle the situation. The more you’re able to visualize the scenario and walk-through the thoughts and feelings, the less likely you’ll be to over-react.
Are you ready to set boundaries in all parts of your life?
Your career may never revolve around a structured 9-5 workday, but that’s not the type of lifestyle you want anyway.
If you’re ready to make the change, it’s well within your power to achieve a healthy balance between work and life
To set boundaries like a boss, you need to make careful decisions about how you choose to spend your time. By using the eight above mentioned steps to find your limits you’ll be on your way to a harmonious life.
Do you struggle to set boundaries? Let us know in the comments.