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Have you ever received that dreaded work email at 11pm on a Friday night and felt anxious all weekend? Or received work calls to your personal phone over the weekend and had to sacrifice time for yourself or your family? Or perhaps you’ve struggled to say no to extra work or participating in conversations that make you feel uncomfortable?

A lot of the things that tire us out mentally and emotionally at work are the result of poor boundaries. Now boundaries can be tricky to implement if you’re not used to doing it but having strong and healthy boundaries at work is essential to helping you avoid burnout, achieve work-life balance and stay productive in the workplace.

Know your own boundaries first

Boundaries are guidelines and limits we set for ourselves around what we feel comfortable, how we expect to be treated, and what’s not appropriate. To understand how to set professional boundaries you first need to be familiar with what your own personal boundaries are. Examples might include your personal expectation and needs for work/life balance, physical contact, verbal interactions i.e. what language are you comfortable being around, how do you like to be spoken to etc.

In a work setting it’s imperative you have a sound understanding of what your own boundaries are, and sometimes this takes a little bit of work to figure out. A good place to start is to reflect on relationships and workplaces where you have felt respected, safe and comfortable, and to identify the types of behaviours and expectations that were in that space.

Take your time to notice how you feel in different scenarios, for example working with a colleague, speaking to a supervisor, interacting with friends. Notice the things that make you feel uncomfortable - these are some boundaries you can start to set.

Communicate early and respectfully

If you’re not used to setting boundaries and being assertive it can be a bit daunting to start creating them, especially in the workplace.

If it feels overwhelming, start small. Good examples are saying no if you are asked to do something that is outside of your job description or scope of practice, or that you don’t have capacity to take on. Another good example is being upfront about when your team can expect a response from you via email, and when you’re happy to be contacted by phone.

For example if you work a 9-5 job saying “to protect my personal space and wellbeing I won’t answer emails after 6pm, and please don’t contact me via my personal phone number on weekends” will establish when and how your colleagues can contact you.

The best way to be comfortable and set strong boundaries without causing conflict is to speak up as early as possible, and as respectfully as possible. Not everyone has the same boundaries so it’s important that you are able to explain what you’re comfortable with, what you’re not comfortable with and why.

Maintain professional relationships

While it’s always nice to have close relationships with the people you work with, and we all know the value of having a work confidante, it’s important to be responsible with who you create close relationships with.

Be mindful of how much personal information you share and if it’s appropriate. Things like office politics and after work drinks can be attractive, and while there is definitely space for socialising with colleagues, getting too loose lipped or having one too many drinks can have implications on your work relationships and ability to maintain professional boundaries during work hours.

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