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The Clinic on Dupont Toronto

Overworked and Underappreciated: How to Set Boundaries at the Office

office stress psychology blog

When we have boundaries in place that preserve a healthy work-life balance, our careers can bring us meaning, fulfillment and purpose. When we haven’t set these boundaries, or when they aren’t respected, both our performance at work and overall well-being are negatively affected. In mental health terms, boundaries are the limits we set that define how we expect to be treated. In professional settings, they protect us from becoming overworked, stressed, or put in positions that compromise our values. We often know intuitively when our boundaries have been violated—we may feel resentful at being exploited, guilty about not being able to meet a perceived expectation, or generally out of control or uncomfortable with a certain request, person or situation.
Although there may be factors outside of our control that necessitate more drastic changes (i.e. a toxic workplace culture or the unreasonable expectations of a difficult boss), in general when you set the precedent that you respect your own boundaries, others are more likely to follow suit.

There are a number of strategies that can help with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries at work:

  • Clarify your values and priorities: Acknowledging what’s most important to you both inside and outside the office will help you to visualize where your boundaries need to be. When there are too many competing priorities at work, identifying which are most imperative can ensure you’re able to set realistic expectations. Don’t forget to also recognize those priorities outside of work that are essential to your health and well-being (i.e. daily workouts, having dinner with family, etc).
  • Practice saying “no” to requests that violate your boundaries: In the moment, it’s easier to say “yes” to new projects, opportunities, or work demands, but if there isn’t the time or scope to complete these, it can lead to missed deadlines, poor work quality or an increase in stress and work/life imbalance/hard life transitions. Though people often worry about being perceived as selfish or uncooperative if they decline a request, it’s usually true that others respect those who clearly articulate which priorities they can responsibly commit to, and doing so can even strengthen trust in professional relationships.
  • Stay in bounds: If you’ve set a boundary with others, ensure that you’re sticking to it yourself. For example, if you’ve asserted that you aren’t available on Saturdays and then send or answer emails anyway, others will become accustomed to this and assume you weren’t serious about reserving that time away. Setting an out-of-office reply can be a good strategy to remind others when you’re unavailable.
  • Schedule, schedule, schedule: Blocking off time for each task or commitment gives you a realistic sense of what’s possible. Schedule in advance whatever you consider to be vital, both at work and outside of it, so that you can assess whether there is space for new requests without sacrificing any critical priorities.
  • Be assertive when others have crossed the line: When others violate our boundaries, it can lead to resentment and stress, especially when we don’t articulate this clearly in the moment. Learning how to be open and communicate assertively is something a qualified therapist can help with, as it’s a critical skill that’s essential to healthy relationships at work and at home.

By: Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D.


Adult psychology clinician

By: Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.

Posted June 04, 2019
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