How to Keep Your Boundaries at Work

If you’re like a lot of workers, you spend more of your waking hours in the office than you do in your own home -- and as such, you spend a lot of time among your co-workers, often leading to a poorly-balanced social life.

With the advent of smart phones, remote desktops and instant messaging, it’s also easier than ever to fall into the trap of spending way too much time thinking and stressing about work.

In spite of those tendencies, down time and boundaries are still really important. In the short term, research out of the University of Illinois has found that small breaks in the day can help improve your focus. Longer vacations, meanwhile, can help break the stress cycle that can affect your health.

Day to day, you also need to take steps to create boundaries at work, helping you maintain a better work-life balance and avoiding being the target of the office gossip cycle, among other benefits. Whether you’re struggling with in-your-face co-workers or too much time spent on the job, here are some ways to keep your boundaries at work.

Make your available hours known

Even if your job is normally a nine-to-five affair, lots of people spend evenings and weekends doing extra tasks -- answering emails from bosses, handling last-minute changes and the like. If you can’t get away with leaving work at work, let your co-workers know exactly when you’re available outside work. For example, you might let them know you’re willing to answer emails Saturday mornings only, but that Sundays are reserved for family time.

Likewise, set a schedule for interruptions and meetings at work. If you’re struggling with the co-workers who think it’s OK to pop into your cubicle any time they have a concern, post a set schedule of “office hours,” much the way college professors do. If you have a secretary or office assistant, enlist her help in keeping others away when it’s not your open office hours.

Nip a boundary problem in the bud right away

There’s no need to be rude, but if you have someone who’s crossing the line -- bothering you at the wrong times or trying to delve too deeply into your personal life -- let the person know calmly and respectfully that you’re not comfortable talking about the situation at work, or that you need to get back to work and you’ll be available later.

Don’t be the office socialite

Another big way colleagues cross the line: Fraternizing outside the office. Even if you don’t have any plans to date the cute new guy who just started at the office, attending every happy hour your office mates plan or constantly inviting co-workers over for drinks and dinner could put you in an uncomfortable situation in the future. It’s OK to socialize with your co-workers from time to time -- especially at a company-sponsored event -- but to ensure you have a good balance between home and work, foster your friendships with people outside work too.

Watch what you share on social media -- and who you friend or follow

You’ve probably heard the advice not to “friend” your boss, but you should also think carefully before you connect with co-workers. If your profiles are public, you most certainly shouldn’t be posting drunken or debaucherous photos online -- and even if they’re private to only your friends, those reputation-busters could get back to the wrong people if you start friending co-workers online.

Be respectful of people’s space

Another way people cross boundaries at work is through poor hygiene, strong odors and a generally unclean workspace. Don’t be that guy. Typically, one squirt of fragrance is more than enough, and in tight working quarters, it might be more than enough. Clean up your desk area at the end of each day to avoid annoying the more tidy co-workers among you. And if any of these sins of proximity are being committed by your co-workers, talk to them privately and let them know how it’s affecting your ability to work effectively.

From over-socializing and strong perfume to spending too much time on the job, setting and maintaining your boundaries can be a challenging course, but it doesn’t have to be an impossible one.


Image: iStock