How to Set Boundaries in the Office Without Being Rude

Search with Ctrl + F Last updated: 2022-08-14

Guest post by Heather Redding

Most of us spend the majority of our time each day at work.  The more passionate you are about your job, the more it will bleed into everything that you do. While it’s great to love your career, spending too much of your energy on your job could mean that you forget to look after the other areas of your life—like your relationships and health.

Creating boundaries at work is about knowing when to say no, and how to push back against other people who might try to take up too much of your schedule.  With boundaries, you can avoid the feeling of being stretched too thin at your office which eventually leads to burnout.  Don’t worry—you don’t need to be rude or unfriendly to put these boundaries in place. All you need is a strategy and the ability to stay firm when it comes to getting what you need.

#1 Know Your Values

Before you can begin establishing boundaries at work, you’ll need to know what needs to change. Think about the experience you currently have at work each day.  What restrictions or rules would you like to have in place to make you happier? Some of the boundaries that you set might require you to change your own behavior.  You might need to commit to turning your phone off when you leave the office so that you don’t get distracted by messages and work emails.

Other boundaries might require you to reach out to other members of staff and colleagues at your office. You may need to ask your team members to only send you emails during working hours and avoid trying to start a workplace conversation once you’ve clocked out. Knowing exactly what you need to ensure a good work/life balance will help you to put the right guidelines in place for a healthier work life.  Remember, you might find that other boundaries that you need to set will become more obvious over time. Be open to changing your strategy if necessary.

#2 Create Structure for Your Workday

One of the easiest ways to create more boundaries in your work life is to establish structure. If you know exactly what you’re going to be doing each day, you can share your schedule with your colleagues and make it less likely that they’ll eat up your time.  If your team members know that you focus on high-stress projects in the morning, they might wait until the afternoon to ask you something about their work.

Look at the schedule for your typical workday and ask yourself how you would organize your tasks in an ideal world.  What would you like to get done first? What times of day are you most productive?  Once you know what kind of structure will help you to produce the best results, share your requests with your colleagues and business leaders in a clear and concise way. Most of the time, they won’t mind adapting to suit your needs.

#3 Learn to Say No More Often

One of the toughest parts of establishing boundaries in any workplace is learning how to say no.  While we all know that we have our limits, it’s incredibly challenging to reject someone when they come to you asking for help. If you’re trying to impress your boss or be a more valuable part of your team, it can be difficult not to push yourself to go above and beyond what you’re reasonably capable of.  If you feel like just saying “no” outright is too rude or harsh, then you could consider explaining to your colleagues why you need to reject their request at this time—like having another project that you’re already working on that’s taking up all your time.

Alternatively, if your boss is asking for something, you could help them see how you taking on that extra work could mean lower quality of work in other parts of your job.  You don’t need to say no to everything, but the more you practice sticking by your guns, the easier it will be to maintain your boundaries and convince others to respect them.

#4 Make it Easier to Avoid Distractions

Distractions are poison to good boundaries.  

Open offices are still largely prevalent since they have been one of the biggest office design trends for some time now. If this is the case in your office too, you must find a way to drown out the noise.  Consider asking your boss whether there’s a private space that you can work in to help you maintain your focus.  You could invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones that you can put on when you need to concentrate. This will instantly show your team members that you’re not available to talk.

Remember to remove the noise in your digital life, too, by turning off the notifications from your Slack conversations or email inbox. Those can be just as distracting as real-life chatter.

#5 Be Prepared for Breached Boundaries

Finally, remember that it might take some time for people to get used to the boundaries that you set and learn how to respect them. Not everyone will be able to understand and embrace the limitations that you’ve laid out straight away.  When people try to fight back against your boundaries, stay calm, and explain your reasoning to them.

It’s important to stick by your guns at this stage. Don’t allow anyone to try to talk you into changing your stance, otherwise, you’re setting up an environment where your boundaries will simply be ignored.

Balancing Boundaries at Work

Often, working successfully in any office means figuring out how to balance your time effectively, while avoiding as many distractions as possible.

The sooner you learn to set boundaries to make your workday more efficient, the happier and more productive you’ll be. Creating boundaries isn’t rude or selfish; it’s the best way to become a better employee.

Heather Redding is a part-time assistant manager, solopreneur and writer based in Aurora, Illinois. She is also an avid reader and a tech enthusiast. When Heather is not working or writing, she enjoys her Kindle library and a hot coffee. Reach out to her on Twitter.