7 Practical Tips to Set Better Work Life Boundaries

As young professionals, both knowing our limits and defining our work boundaries are so important. Clear work life boundaries can help us be successful in our current roles without compromising our work life balance. 

Below, I unpack 7 steps to reclaim your work life balance by setting clear workplace boundaries with yourself, your team, and your boss. At the end of the day, we can’t do it all, nor should we try.

These 7 practical tips for setting work boundaries come from my experiences balancing work and school in undergrad, teaching responsibilities as an English Teacher, and 3 years as a business consultant in corporate America. During my last year of corporate consulting, I was also enrolled full-time in a PhD program.

Juggling school and work as well as work and a personal life required setting clear boundaries early and being open to adjust them given the demands of the week. This article will help you reach your work and personal goals while maintaining time for yourself and the important relationships and commitments in your life.

Cropped image of happy young beautiful woman businessman posing outdoors outside walking chatting by mobile phone drinking coffee.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read the full disclosure for more information.

Setting Work Life Boundaries

What are healthy boundaries at work?

Healthy boundaries at work allow you to have a well-rounded, balanced life. Your work life boundaries should give you the mental capacity and energy to take care of yourself, pursue your passions, and meet social commitments in your personal time. 

On the other hand, a lack of boundaries will likely lead to burn out, lower work productivity, and long hours. 

But not all workplace boundaries work for all jobs. What are healthy work-life boundaries for some may be ineffective for others. It all depends on your job responsibilities, the work culture at your company, and your work style.

What are some examples of professional boundaries?

Some examples of professional boundaries are:

  • Not taking calls after a certain time
  • Having blocks of time that are “no meeting zones”
  • Not discussing certain topics (age, politics, salaries, etc.)
  • Asking for people to communicate via email and company IM instead of text and phone
  • Only working late a certain number of nights a week
  • Dedicating time away from work for your physical health and mental health
  • Having other team members send you work or their contributions in a timely manner

Perhaps some of these are healthy work boundaries you’ve already set in place. Others you may really want to add to your own boundaries. We talk about how to set different types of boundaries with the tips and strategies below.

1. Choose Reasonable & Realistic Work Life Boundaries

Workplace boundaries should be meaningful to you, your work, and your company. There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach. 

But here are a few tips for how to set boundaries at work and choose the right ones:

  • Don’t just have workplace boundaries to have them – every work boundary you have should have a motive or reason why it exists.
  • Think about the parts of your job or work life balance that irk you. Ask yourself why. Here are some examples.
    • I’m always doing presentations late at night
      • Why? Because I don’t get the slides until late afternoon
    • I never have enough time to eat lunch
      • Why? Because I always have meetings during lunch
  • Brainstorm boundaries that would help combat those problems. Here are some examples of clear boundaries for the problems above.
    • I’m always doing presentations late at night
      • Boundary: Tell the team to get me the latest slides by noon or I will use the previous rendition.
    • I never have enough time to eat lunch
      • Boundary: Block off time on my calendar for lunch, so that I have at least 30 minutes for lunch everyday and turn off work devices. 
  • Be realistic. Your boundaries should have some wiggle room or they will fail often. (More on that in a later section.)

When choosing the right boundaries, another strategy is to discuss the workplace boundaries with your manager or a trusted mentor at your company. They can give you feedback to let you know if your boundaries are realistic given the company culture.

2. Workplace Boundaries Require Clear Communication

Now that you’ve got workplace boundaries, it’s time to share them with the teams and people you work with. 

How do you politely set boundaries?

When talking to your team, make the conversation less about you and more about the impact to your work, your project, and the team. Think about your workplace boundaries as ways to increase personal productivity and your team’s productivity. 

For example, let’s say you are always doing the presentations late at night because you don’t receive content until late afternoon. The boundary you are proposing is that your colleagues send you their content before noon.

  • Instead of saying, “You guys always send things to me late, so I have to spend my whole evening on my computer instead of relaxing…”
  • How about, “I’ve noticed that the quality of our presentations is better when we all have time to do a final review. Why don’t we have a team rule where all the content is sent to me by noon. That way I can compile it before the end of the day and we can all review it?”

The difference between these two approaches is that you’re focusing on how the behavior impacts the quality of the work and how that reflects on the team. 

3. Enforce Your Workplace Boundaries and Say No

Now that you have workplace boundaries and you’ve communicated them to your team, the next step is to put them in place and stand by them. Otherwise, your new workplace boundaries are likely to be forgotten or ignored. 

When other people push your boundaries, you’ve got to push back.

How do you enforce boundaries at work?

To enforce boundaries at work, you must first clearly communicate them. It’s also helpful to get team confirmation and agreement on those workplace boundaries. At the close of the conversation, reiterate what was agreed upon or send out an email with a list of the new boundaries.

Second, you enforce boundaries at work by following them yourself. 

If, for example, you’ve asked everyone not to schedule meetings during your lunch break, then make sure you’re not doing the same to others. 

Lastly, you have to learn to say no. If you receive a meeting invite for your lunch time, then decline and reply with a restatement of your boundaries. 

When your boss asks you to stay up late for the status report again, mention the boundaries that you agreed on and say no, it will get done first thing in the morning though.

It can be scary to say no to our boss or our coworkers. We want to be well-liked and a team player. But, assuming your workplace boundaries are reasonable and consistent with the work and office culture, they should be respected. 

When you say no, offer other solutions that work within your workplace boundaries. 

4. Determine the Exceptions on Your Own 

At a leadership talk, one of my company’s executives discussed healthy work-life balance. She mentioned the time boundaries she’d put in place so that she could attend all her children’s performances and sport games. 

After that, she said that every rule has exceptions, but the exception should be your choice and no one else’s.

The best workplace boundaries are soft boundaries because there will eventually be an emergency or a tight deadline where there is no other option than to break a workplace boundary.

That’s okay. As long as it’s not the norm. All exceptions to your workplace boundaries should be exceptions, rare and determined by you. 

Perfect work-life balance is not achievable or realistic. But having healthier work-life balance is.

5. The “New Person” Still Needs a Personal Life

As young professionals, we are often the youngest in the room. So, it’s important to have clear expectations from your boss as to your role on the team or on a project. 

You don’t have to get stuck with all the grunt work just because you’re a young professional nor be expected to work longer hours. Other people don’t have a right to push their work off onto you just because you’re the “new kid on the block.” 

We should all have free time for our personal lives and mental distance from our jobs (i.e. hours of the day where we don’t have to think about work).

When your private life is taking a hit because team members ask you to do things outside of work hours, I encourage you to strive for better balance. Establish clear responsibilities with your boss about your role on the project. 

That way, you can be dedicated to your work tasks during work hours. You also will have your manager’s support when you turn down extra work. Hopefully, this peace of mind allows you to fully enjoy your leisure time after office hours. 

Additionally, you’ll be able to spot unreasonable requests when they reach you because you understand what fits in your job description. This is the best way to develop a daily routine and habit for getting your work done and enjoying personal time. 

6. Collaborate with Your Team on Interpersonal Boundaries

In addition to workplace boundaries that guide how you work and when you work, consider setting boundaries at work for your team, too. 

Team boundaries will guide how you work with your team, how your team works together, and how your team interacts with you. 

You might start the conversation by asking them what workplace boundaries they have or what they do to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Some of the answers may surprise you, and some you might make your own workplace boundaries. 

Use this time to transition into what boundaries you want to have with your coworkers. Here are a couple of discussion points for the team’s ways of working:

  • During what specific times should we expect responses from a work email?
  • How will we cover for our teammates if they have sick days?
  • What do we need from each other to allow us to do our best work?
  • How far in advance should we schedule vacation time? How can we make sure everyone can use their vacation days?
  • When should we use text messages vs. a phone call vs. email?
  • How can we respect each other’s personal space and dedicated workspace?

7. Setting Boundaries with Difficult Coworkers

Lastly, at some point, we all deal with difficult coworkers who push our workplace boundaries. Here are some ways you can set boundaries with them, too.

How do you set boundaries with a difficult coworker?

  • Start by doing some research.
    • Ask your mentor and your manager about your workplace boundaries and if they are reasonable given the work culture. 
    • Troubleshoot ways to approach your coworker and put these workplace boundaries in place. 
  • Second, approach the setting of workplace boundaries from the team angle.
    • Instead of having a one-on-one conversation with the difficult coworker, schedule a meeting with the whole team to discuss work boundaries. 
    • Nowadays, you can do it under the guise that the pandemic has changed your ways of working, thus your team should find a way to adapt. 
    • In this conversation, set team boundaries that will include this difficult coworker.
  • Third, enforce your boundaries and stick to them.
    • The best teacher is experience. After setting boundaries with a difficult co-worker, follow through with them. 
    • You don’t have to do it in a rude or impolite way. In fact, make sure to be polite, but more than that, be consistent
    • If they’re taking advantage of your “exceptions” then stop granting them exceptions. 
    • For instance, if your boundary is needing a 48-hour lead time and you receive something late, then send a polite email saying that you can’t meet that timeline. To cover your trail, CC your manager and reiterate the workplace boundary you’ve set in place.
  • Lastly, ask for intervention from human resources or your team lead / manager.
    • If you’re constantly having trouble setting boundaries with a difficult coworker, ask for help. 
    • Make sure to have everything clearly documented in case of questions, and ask them help you resolve the issue. 
    • See how to ask for help at work for more strategies on how to approach this.

Escalation may seem like taking it too far, but workplace boundaries are for your overall well-being as an employee and a whole person. It’s a serious matter that warrants the escalation because it affects your ability to do your job. 

When it comes to physical boundaries and emotional boundaries being violated, it’s even more important that human resources be involved. Then, they can take the appropriate legal and disciplinary action, if necessary.

Woman's hands writing on her laptop at home. Concept of setting workplace boundaries to increase productivity at home.

Setting Work Life Boundaries for Better Balance

To wrap up, here’s a personal story about how I chose to set work life boundaries for a healthier work-life balance.

When we all became remote workers in 2020, my boss started calling me at random times throughout the day and in the evening to chat. 

While well-intentioned, her short updates quickly turned into hour-long calls. They began eating into my work time and my home time in the evening. 

So, I set workplace boundaries in place to resolve the conflict. 

As soon as she called, I would answer and tell her how much time I had to talk. That made it easier for me to end the conversation before it went on too long. If she called me after I’d shut down for the night, I would let the phone ring. 

I know it sounds crazy not to pick up when your boss calls. But I realized that if it were something urgent, she would text me or leave a voicemail. Otherwise, it could wait until the morning. And with that, I got my evenings back. 

So, while it can be scary to have these tough conversations about setting work life boundaries, they lead to better work life balance and wellbeing for you as a young professional.

What are your professional workplace boundaries?

Leave me a comment below!

Don’t miss this! More posts about Working and the Young Professional Lifestyle:

Join our Email List!

Hey there! You don’t have to navigate the adulting struggle on your own. Here at Kara J Lovett Co., we want to support you while you’re figuring things out and getting it together.

That’s why we’ve made the “Getting It Together Guide”: 25 pages of support, encouragement, practical tips, prayers, devotionals, and resources for the adulting struggle.

mock up of pages in the getting it together guide

Subscribe to our site for access to the guide, regular post updates, fun freebies, and printables! Or find out more about our premium Getting it Together Guide here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top