Written by Samantha Wall, LCSW
Setting boundaries can be really hard if you are a helper, a people pleaser, or even just a hard worker. Personal boundaries are “…limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships.” (uhs.berkeley.edu). A person with healthy boundaries can say no to others when they need to or want to, and is comfortable opening up to intimacy and close relationships. This week, I am going to talk about setting boundaries at work to support our mental health.
A few weeks ago, I watched a video discussing how employers cause burnout in employees by always asking the same people to cover shifts because “other employees are unreliable”. I am sure that you all get asked to cover shifts and have felt like you had to say yes even if you didn’t want to. There also may be some feelings of guilt because you know how it feels to be short staffed and it’s ‘just part of the job’ sometimes to be overworked. This is an important area where boundaries can be helpful. No matter the job or task, it is important to establish your boundaries so you know when it is time to say no or push back at work.
The first step in establishing/defining boundaries in your professional setting: asking yourself questions such as, do you text back on your days off? Do you want to work at a place where you are required to text back or answer calls on your days off? When is it important to say no at work? What boundaries are important for me to set? Did you notice times you felt frustrated, anxious, or overworked? Notice these feelings and think about if a boundary or parameter could help decrease them. Think about what it could look like to not take on that extra shift or extra task. Acknowledging your limits is important to learning how to set work boundaries. When you work in a profession where you care for others, it is really easy to put their needs above your own. It is important to acknowledge that you have limits too. We all have limits emotionally, physically, and mentally. Figuring out what these limits are can help you create effective and helpful boundaries. One way to figure out your limits is to think about them on a spectrum. In therapy, scaling is a way to check in on how overwhelmed you are in the moment and assess what your need is based on the intensity of your emotions. Scaling emotions from 1 to 10, with 1 being no distress and 10 being the worst distress you have ever felt, is a way to assess when you have reached your limit. If your supervisor or coworker asking you to complete a task puts you at an 8 on the distress scale, think about why it does and what you need to calm down. If you need to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water or a snack before moving on, give your body what it needs.
After you define your work boundaries, the next step is communicating those boundaries with others. Say what you need to the people that need to know and don’t over explain why you need it. An example of setting a boundary to a coworker could be, “I cannot take on that task today. I have a lot of tasks I am already doing.” No need for a follow up or explanation. It will be difficult at first, and will feel weird if you are a person that struggles with setting boundaries. It is OKAY to struggle with this. Notice how you are feeling throughout your job, and this will tell you when you need to set a boundary and when you don’t. If it doesn’t bother you to take on an extra task, there is no need to set a boundary. A personal example I have is when my supervisor discussed me supervising interns. My response to her was, “I would love to if I do not have a full caseload of clients. I don’t feel I would be able to support the interns and my clients if I have a full caseload.” I set my boundary, and provided a simple explanation as to why I was setting the boundary.
The last part of the visual will be discussed more in depth in the next blog: setting consequences when boundaries are not respected or followed.
Questions to think about when setting work boundaries:
- Is this part of my job?
- Do I have the capacity for something extra today?
- Where am I at on a scale of 1 to 10?
- What do I need to support my physical, emotional, and mental needs in a job?