This Is How You Can Set Boundaries With Your Boss to Prevent Burnout

It's not worth working in a toxic work culture in the middle of a pandemic.

It’s normal for your job to be stressful at times. However, if your work schedule is consistently filled with tasks that are outside of your job description, you receive work emails after you leave for the day, and/or you’re at the constant whim of your superior’s needs, then you might need to talk to your boss about setting better work boundaries.

According to Dr. Myra Altman, psychologist and VP of clinical care at mental wellness platform Modern Health, having strong boundaries—especially at work—is imperative to our mental health. “Particularly during COVID-19, when many of us are working from home [and] the lines between work and life are more blurry than ever,” she tells HelloGiggles. “When we feel like we are always on, we don’t get downtime to focus on other areas of our lives that we care about, or to just rest, which is really important for our well-being.”  

Whether you’re working from home or you’re an essential worker who is having issues with a particular superior and want to know how to set boundaries, we connected with a few career experts to find out how you can talk to your boss about defining and setting boundaries once and for all.

HG: Why are boundaries important to have at work? 

“Especially during the time of coronavirus, the demands on our time have increased, and they are causing us a lot of stress. By setting boundaries, you are being clear about how much energy you have and what your capabilities are. When you set limitations on your time demands, you can prevent that feeling of exhaustion and burnout. This is especially important because when you return to work after having time away, your focus, productivity, and motivation will be much higher, and you will set yourself up for success.”

— Dr. Sonia Ashok, physician, happiness at work coach, and founder of Connective Coalition

HG: Which boundaries are essential to have at work? 

“Knowing your own personal values is always key when establishing your boundaries. This includes knowing what is important to you at work. For example:

  • Know the hours you’re willing to work and be comfortable saying ‘no’ when asked otherwise.
  • Use the time off that is given to you.
  • Commit to work-life balance.
  • Allow yourself to delegate workload and not be responsible for everything.
  • Say ‘no’ to projects when you’re already at capacity.
  • Keep your relationships professional.”

— Jana Morrin, CEO and cofounder of Speakfully, an HR- and employee-aiding platform that exists to serve those experiencing workplace mistreatment

setting boundaries at work

HG: What are examples of toxic boundaries with bosses? 

“Bad and toxic boundaries with bosses come in all shapes and sizes. But a few examples of what those could be:

  • Not respecting work hours by texting, emailing, and/or calling you and expecting a response 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Giving unrealistic or impossible expectations for your role or a project you’re working on.
  • Micromanaging every task that you’re working on, leaving no autonomy to do your work.
  • Making you feel bad or guilty for wanting to take your paid time off.
  • Making inappropriate comments that go outside of the professional relationship.”

— Morrin

HG: What can you do when your boundaries have been violated? 

“It’s important to acknowledge [with your boss] when your boundaries have been violated, particularly if it’s a pattern. Psychological flexibility is really important for mental health and to not hold too rigidly to boundaries. [For instance,] if you end up staying later a day or two, it’s okay to not beat yourself up about it. If it starts to become a trend, check in with yourself to understand why, i.e. are you having a hard time standing up for the boundary? [Or] is your employer ignoring the boundary? And then take whatever next steps make sense. This might mean intentionally turning your computer off if you find you will check email regardless, or it might mean a follow-up conversation with your boss.”

— Dr. Altman

HG: How do you broach the subject of boundaries to your boss? 

“Establish open communication with your boss. When you have mutual trust, you will feel more comfortable having these discussions, and your boss will be more receptive to your needs. [They] will also know that your requests are genuine and not simply making excuses for not getting your work done or being lazy. Set up a time to speak candidly about what you are working on, what your time demands are outside of work or on other projects, and where you may have some flexibility.” 

— Dr. Ashok

“At the end of the day, no one should have to have a conversation about boundaries with their boss. We’d all like to hope that people in managerial roles know how to effectively maintain boundaries, but that’s not always the case. Establishing boundaries as soon as possible will allow both parties to be able to reflect on the boundary that was crossed and be able to understand both sides.

“Understandably, this conversation is not always easy to bring up. Consider baking it into another meeting or conversation you’re having with your boss so the topic is not just about boundaries. That might relieve some of the anxiety that comes with it and allow it to flow into the conversation more naturally.”

— Morrin

HG: What should you do when a boss keeps violating your boundaries? 

“Write these experiences down from the start. Be detailed. You may think that you’ll never need to go back to it or need it at all. And maybe you won’t. But if you ever do need it, you’ll have it to look back on. This will allow you to see a pattern and bring it to your HR team if and when you feel ready to tell them.”

— Morrin

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