The Benefit of Setting Boundaries At Work

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The Benefit of Setting Boundaries At Work

Burnout, stress, overwhelm, overworked.  Just a few of the side effects of having our boundaries at work crossed repeatedly.

What are boundaries

A boundary is a line or threshold or limit. Crossing the boundary is often spoken about as an infringement / breach / violation.

We have:-

  • socially or culturally accepted boundaries
  • organisational boundaries
  • personal or individual boundaries


Let’s look at individual boundaries

Here are some everyday ones:-

  • The food you eat
  • The company you keep
  • The environment you live / work in
  • Workload
  • Work Life balance
  • Answering emails on a weekend

I liken this to what am I saying yes to and what am I saying no to – typically at an unconscious level.

Let’s look at something mundane – meetings.  We have lots of these in business.  Do they start and finish on time?  Do you turn up and leave on time?  Now if your company cultural norm is that this doesn’t matter then no boundary has been crossed.  That said if your personal norm is that it’s not OK then you’ll feel different about this.

I’ve picked a mundane thing because in one sense the breaking of these boundaries isn’t necessarily going to cause major problems.  And it shows you how simple and subjective boundaries are.

Boundary transgressions though can have a knock on effect.

Now let’s pick something larger that, with enough violations, can lead to anxiety, fear, stress, ill health and burnout.


  • We take on a project and the scope creeps.
  • Agree service level agreements with clients and they expect or demand more.
  • We end up trying to please everyone by working longer, skipping lunch, grabbing take out on the way home for dinner and then wondering what happened to our work life balance as well as our health.


Boundary Dominos

No it’s not a new pizza choice.  It’s the result of 1 boundary being crossed after another and a sign that being flexible has gone too far.

Several years ago I would answer emails over the weekend and not because I had nothing better to do, but at the request of the sender at 4:55 pm Friday so they could still deliver on time.  On holiday I would respond to email as normal and take phone calls.  Then I realised I wasn’t valuing my holiday, so I’d say to clients when scheduling appointments, “I’m on holiday that week” and some would reply “well can we still do the call because this is important and I’m busy the following week”?

Feeling as if I were being inflexible, I’d say yes. I know, it’s a slap forehead with palm of hand moment.  Anyway not surprisingly I wondered why I was shattered and not loving what I did with quite the same vim and vigour.

Once I began to look at my ‘flexibility’ through a different lens, things shifted.  I asked myself “am I going on vacation or am I just working in a warmer, sunnier climate”, and things got clearer.  Now I’m not saying that I never relax this boundary, and more criteria have to be met for me to do so.

A classic one I see is from leaders on training courses.  Taking time away from the office there are things they still need to keep an eye on.  I’ve got clients who are pulled out of the course for 5 mins, an hour, it doesn’t matter.  They step out and miss out.  Choices we all make them.  Decisions are the norm for leaders.  However I repeatedly see poor business decisions being made as a result of not setting any boundaries or not enforcing the ones that are there.


Push back to go forward

We’re afraid if we push back, if we say no, if we maintain a boundary, that the client will go elsewhere, or the promotion will be given to someone else.  I can wholeheartedly say that the only clients, and even relationships, I’ve ever lost through upholding my boundaries were a blessing to myself and the business.  In the short term there might have been a cash flow shift.  However what I noticed was that these type of clients were replaced by ones who valued boundaries, theirs and mine.  Now there was a true partnership; respect was there for both parties.

When I allow someone to cross a boundary I let myself down, I put my value as being less than them or their needs and wants.  And so I ask myself, “why would I do this?”  “what do I think I will lose by not upholding my boundary?”  Very often the loss is an illusion or something temporary.  I guess another way of asking the question is “what will I experience as a result of ignoring this boundary?”

The answers to these questions give me perspective.  They help me check in, is this boundary healthy, or is it outdated, is there room for flexibility and under what criteria?  It allows me to make conscious choices and learn and refine.

The stark truth is we often co-create boundary violations.  Interesting thought isn’t it.

In my coaching and mentoring conversations with leaders boundaries come up – not as in “ooh I’m having a boundary issue here” but as I listen I can hear them.  We’re not usually taught how to set boundaries.  And as I said earlier boundaries are subjective.  The line to cross on subject A may not be the same line for you.  If you don’t know what my line is you won’t know you’ve crossed it, unless I tell you.  Once you know what the line is, then to cross it is a different conversation.


Time to Reflect

Sometimes we have to move the line on the boundary, that’s what reflection gives you.  And we’re lousy at taking the time for reflection.  Again we may be someone who has the intention for daily reflection and then let other stuff take it’s place.  Discipline is different to rigid.

You have value, your team has value and you can’t help them maintain healthy boundaries if you can’t.  If it’s time for you to shine the light on your boundaries and reflect on how they’re currently serving you a 1:1 coaching session can be a valuable investment.


Taking your reading into action

Take a few minutes to reflect on the day (or yesterday if it’s first thing).  What boundaries have you let slide and why?  From the food you eat… to the bad practices you’ve accepted….. to things you said yes to, and perhaps the answer should have been no.  Now decide which boundary is going to help you achieve your desired results and make the shifts.

And if you’d like some help with this get in touch.

2020-02-25T16:37:51+00:00By |Leadership, Podcast, Resilience|
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