Learn how to set boundaries at work, what it means, and how it helps maintain a healthy work-life balance. Plus, discover the types of boundaries.
As an Independent, falling into the trap of working 24/7 or taking on too many tasks at once is all too easy. Many freelancers find themselves struggling to hit deadlines, allowing clients to take over their personal lives. But is it a healthy way of living? Not quite –– you need boundaries to maintain a work-life balance.
In this guide, we'll explore work boundaries with examples and learn why they’re important. We’ll also explain different types of boundaries and how to set boundaries at work to help you maintain a productive, healthy, and balanced lifestyle.
What are boundaries, and why are they important? 🤔
Boundaries are guidelines or limits you set for yourself that pertain to your personal space, interactions, and scope of work. Generally, companies establish boundaries (think code of conduct) in the form of systems that each employee should follow.
Setting boundaries has several benefits, such as:
- Reasonable workload: By only accepting work you can do, you can maintain a manageable workload.
- Improved productivity: You can devote your full attention to each task with a manageable workload and by setting a clear limit.
- Reduced chances of burnout: With boundaries in place, you can reduce work-related stress and symptoms of burnout, as you'll have a healthy work-life balance, clear work expectations, and a generally improved well-being.
- Professional growth: Boundaries can foster professional development by ensuring you have the time and energy to pursue growth opportunities.
Types of workplace boundaries 🧑💼
Workplace boundaries are an umbrella term for many types of boundaries. Here are four common types:
- Physical boundaries: This relates to physical interactions between you and other employees and helps create a harassment-free workplace.
- Emotional boundaries: At work, this relates to how you communicate with others and vice versa. It eliminates verbal abuse, bullying, or aggressive language. It also refers to respecting people's emotional needs.
- Mental boundaries: This relates to protecting employees’ mental health (which is part of the nonnegotiables) through paid time off, relaxation, and family time. It's about respecting the need for time away from work and the ability to pursue interests or family commitments.
- Time boundaries: This relates to how long you're expected to work and when.
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8 ways to set boundaries at work 📝
Setting boundaries isn't just about saying no; it's also about creating a sustainable work environment that fosters growth and well-being. Here’s how to work on boundaries:
1. Delegate tasks 🕸️
You can't and shouldn't do everything, even if you have the skill. If your workload continually increases, ask coworkers or a supervisor for help. Naturally, this doesn't mean avoiding all responsibility and dumping all tasks on everyone else. Also, avoid delegating tasks to people if you're unsure whether they can complete them, as this will lead to an all-around loss of productivity.
2. Communicate 🗣️
Often, it's easier to be proactive rather than reactive, and this is no more true for setting boundaries. Rather than waiting until the nth minute, communicate ahead of time. Healthy communication is essential for teamwork and creating a more beneficial work relationship with your manager or client. Plus, if someone knows your boundaries, they're less likely to waste time trying to push them unknowingly.
3. Set priorities ⭐
To set boundaries, you must know what's important to you, both in a personal and professional capacity. That means knowing what you’re willing to compromise and what lines you won't cross. For example, if you have children, you’ll naturally prioritize them over work, so communicate with your boss that you're unavailable in the evenings since you have parental responsibilities.
4. Seek advice 🤓
You're not liable to face every challenge alone. As such, if you need help completing a task or communicating with a client, ask your supervisor or colleagues for advice. Joining online forums and getting recommendations from other professionals is another way to learn how to create a healthy work-life balance by setting boundaries.
5. Invest time in yourself 🧘
Taking time to relax, unwind, and recharge is a must. You need to develop your personal life and relationships, which can't happen if you work 24/7. Similarly, if you have paid leave, take advantage of that. Take a vacation, or do something different from your regular routine.
6. Know your workload 🚜
Understand how much time you need for specific tasks or how many you can do a day to develop a rational schedule. If you know how much work you can or need to do, you can turn down additional work more easily and provide a good reason.
7. Be mindful 🤓
Often, many people don't recognize when they're stressed or near burnout. Developing emotional intelligence skills starts by paying close attention to how certain things make you feel, and this goes a long way in establishing boundaries, especially when it comes to work. Your emotions may be related to something at home, not work — practicing mindfulness will help identify and address this.
8. Be honest 👏
Finally, setting boundaries is all about being honest about how you feel and what you think. If you're concerned about your work (it's too much or you don't feel skilled enough to do it), let your supervisor know. If a colleague distracts you and causes delays, tell them. You'd be surprised how accommodating people actually are if you're honest.
Tips to protect your boundaries when working at home 🥽
Setting boundaries when working from home is just as crucial as working on-site or fully employed. Here are a few tips to help you establish a healthy work-life balance through boundaries when working remotely:
- Turn off work devices: When you're done working for the day, turn off the devices and applications you use when working. Just like at an on-site job, when you go home for the day, work hours are over. This includes replying to emails and Slack messages.
- Create and stick to a schedule: Define your working hours to enforce boundaries. It can be easy to work well into the night, even if you've worked all day, simply because work occurs at home. Other examples of overstepping boundaries at work include attending meetings scheduled after your working hours or colleagues requesting you to take over their projects.
- Take a break: Just because you work from home doesn't mean you can’t take a break. Respect your time and mental boundaries, and have a lunch break once every day –– and not at your workstation. Take a walk, spend some time on a hobby, or get a coffee at your favorite cafe.
- Communicate honestly: If you’re wondering how to set boundaries at work with your boss, the answer is crystal-clear communication. Always tell them about what you feel and if anything’s bothering you.
- Refuse work when you must: While freelance life can be unpredictable, you don't need to accept all work coming your way — especially if you're feeling overworked and stressed. Chances are it’ll lead to burnout, so know when to say when.
Find work with Contra 💸
Remember, setting boundaries is about carving a path to success and well-being on your own terms. And what better way to start than by joining Contra for Independents? Here, you can promote and manage your services commission-free and on your own terms. Upgrade to Contra Pro to land remote opportunities faster and take your freelance career to new heights.