An overwhelmed woman puts her head down on her desk representing setting boundaries at work

Here’s a dirty little secret that every career coach and career counselor knows: When people are burnt out, hating their jobs, or just feeling like they can’t get ahead, it’s often because they aren’t skilled at setting boundaries at work.

When you lack healthy work boundaries, either because you don’t know how to set them, or because you’re in a work culture that discourages having boundaries, you can’t perform at your best. You are bound to feel exhausted and overwhelmed, or intruded upon by coworkers whose expectations feel inappropriate. 

Not having good boundaries at work makes it more difficult for you to shut off, recharge, and maintain a personal life that’s separate from your career. And when you can’t do that, professional success becomes harder to achieve.

Especially now that so many of us are working from home, setting healthy work boundaries is key to keeping yourself healthy and your career moving forward. This article will help you recognize the kinds of boundaries you need (because there are many varieties, which we’ll discuss), and the best way to set those boundaries, depending on your particular situation. 

If you’d rather listen, I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on setting boundaries at work. You can find it in the player below, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Unhealthy Work Boundaries

First, let’s talk about what it looks like when you don’t have healthy boundaries at work. 

Maybe your boss calls you at 11pm on a Tuesday because they have some non-emergency feedback on your project. Maybe you’re in a toxic workplace with coworkers who gossip about each others’ personal lives. Maybe the entire company culture is one where roles and responsibilities are ill-defined, creating power struggles, confusion, and some people feeling overburdened while others aren’t pulling their weight. 

The difference between healthy work boundaries and unhealthy work boundaries is relative. If you’re a brain surgeon, it doesn’t mean that you’re in a workplace with unhealthy boundaries when you get called in on your day off. It’s just part of your job. For that reason, it’s smart to think about work-life boundaries before you choose your career

The same goes when you’re looking for a job — If healthy work boundaries are important to you, ask some questions during the interview process about how often people at the company work overtime, what the expectations are for the role, and whether or not you need to be available to answer messages outside of working hours. If your curiosity turns them off, good! This probably isn’t the job for you.

Of course, sometimes unhealthy work boundaries don’t have anything to do with the workplace itself, and everything to do with your own ability to set healthy boundaries, with yourself and others. When you struggle with people-pleasing, perfectionism, or low-self-esteem, it can feel like unfair expectations are coming from everyone else, when they’re actually something you’re imposing on yourself. Getting better at setting boundaries in relationships will help you feel calm and in control, rather than overwhelmed and resentful. 

How to Set Boundaries at Work

The key to setting boundaries at work is tailoring your approach to different situations. The process looks different for setting boundaries with your boss than it does with your coworkers, and different in a healthy workplace than in a toxic one. 

Here are a few workplace boundary-setting scenarios and some tips for handling each:

How to Set Boundaries with Coworkers

There are a couple “types” of coworker that people tend to struggle setting boundaries with. 

The first we’ll call the intrusive coworker. They may share way too much information about their personal lives, ask you questions that feel inappropriate, or just expect more attention from you then you’re comfortable giving. 

Here’s how you can set boundaries with an intrusive coworker: First, have some empathy for them. They are almost certainly not being intrusive on purpose; they have a different sense of what feels normal and appropriate, and that’s okay. It just means that, in order to have a positive working relationship with them, you have to be thoughtful about how you engage.

Think about the relationship that you would like to have with this coworker: I’m guessing it’s one that’s polite and supportive, but limited. Then, continue to be warm, encouraging, and gratifying when you’re having that kind of relationship… and less so when you’re not. Learn “the art of the pivot” to steer away from topics that are too personal for you. If all else fails, you can just say, “Okay, I need to get back to work now.” 

The key to managing an intrusive coworker relationship is releasing control over how they feel and what they think of you — which is actually a huge component of having healthy boundaries. You get to choose how you want to participate in this relationship, and they get to choose how they manage their feelings about that. 

The second “flavor” of coworker who can be difficult to set boundaries with is the coworker who puts their work onto you, to the point where you’re feeling overwhelmed and resentful. Sometimes this happens because the person just feels entitled to delegate their workload to their peers. Other times, it’s because there’s a lack of clarity coming from the top about who should be doing what. 

If you have a coworker who seems to expect you to do their work, you can set boundaries with them by deciding for yourself when you are willing to help them, how much time (if any) you can give, and communicating those limits clearly. Be crystal clear that you are helping them with their work — not performing a task that is your responsibility. Here’s a response template you can use: “Hi [difficult coworker]. I would be happy to help you with your project if you need some support. I am available to help for 30 minutes tomorrow at 4pm.” 

Of course, you can also decide that you aren’t willing to take any time away from your own work to help with theirs – that’s also valid.

When you begin to set these boundaries, you may discover that the root issue is some basic confusion over how you should be working together, or who is responsible for what. They may genuinely believe that what they’re asking you to do is part of your job, not theirs. In that case, ask your manager for some clarity, and if you have a trusting, comfortable relationship with your manager, you can share that the confusion around responsibilities is creating stress at work for you. 

How to Set Boundaries with Your Boss

Setting boundaries with your boss can be tricky, especially if you aren’t lucky enough to have a good boss. An effective leader wants their people to have healthy boundaries, if for no other reason than to prevent them from leaving their jobs, or at least getting so burned out that they’re no longer productive. But not every boss has that mindset about boundaries, and you have to tailor your approach to the boss that you have. 

Many people need support setting boundaries around their workloads. This can be a sign that you’re not communicating about what’s on your plate or how long things take. It may be that your boss doesn’t understand that they’re asking you to do something that takes three hours, on a day when you already have eight hours of work to complete. Start by communicating about your workload and asking for your boss’s help in getting your priorities organized, and consider cutting back on meetings if those are feeling like a waste.  

When you start having these conversations about your workload, you might discover that your boss expects you to be working more than your agreed-upon hours, or to be doing your work on a timeline that isn’t feasible for you (or both). If they say you’re spending too long on certain tasks, be open to that feedback — it may in fact be the case, especially if you struggle with perfectionism. If that’s not what’s going on, you’ll have to decide whether you want to continue striving to meet their expectations, or move on. 

Setting Boundaries at work When Your Job Keeps Growing

Sometimes, hardworking go-getters find that the better they are at their jobs, the more responsibilities get heaped upon them. You may have started out with a clear and reasonable job description, and ended up taking on so many additional tasks that you no longer have clarity about where your focus should be. 

It can be hard to find the balance between having a can-do attitude at work, and allowing the scope of your role to grow until you’re stretched too thin to be effective. If this is what’s happening, you have an opportunity to turn it into a positive thing. 

Have a conversation with your boss about how your role has evolved since you started, and request an updated job description that reflects what you’re doing now. You can also request a promotion and/or a raise at this point — when you’re exceeding expectations, that should benefit you as well as the company. 

If it would make sense to add a junior person to your team, communicate about that as well. Managers don’t always know who needs resources and support unless they’re hearing about it. 

How to Set Boundaries with Yourself at Work

Often, the healthy work boundaries you really need to set are with yourself. 

When you don’t have good internal boundaries around work, it can show up in a few ways. If you are a bit of a people pleaser, it can feel like everyone is putting unreasonable expectations on you, when the problem is really your fear of letting other people down. If you can face that fear, setting boundaries at work will become much easier for you, and you’ll also get to stop worrying so much about what other people think. 

If perfectionism is a problem in your life, that can lead to some boundary issues. You may feel like you “have to” go overboard, when doing a good-enough job would be better. The reasons for perfectionism vary from person to person, ranging from anxiety, to low self-esteem, to having your identity wrapped up in your work. Getting support from a good career counselor can help you get to the root cause of your perfectionism so you can feel better about yourself, and be more successful in your career. 

You may also have, as many people do, unrealistic expectations for relationships at work. Sometimes work becomes a place where people unconsciously seek love and approval — and feel hurt and resentful when their coworkers don’t respond how they want them to. Getting clear about the emotional boundaries that are healthy and appropriate for your work relationships, and then setting those boundaries with yourself, will make a huge difference in how you feel.  

Finally, sometimes you need to set boundaries around your own work-life balance. There are many people who come to career coaching feeling burned out and hating their jobs, and when they tap into that, they discover that they have chosen to over-index their professional lives at the expense of their personal lives. They may be checking work emails outside of working hours or putting in extra hours on the weekend, even though no one expects them to do so. Other times, the issue is that they’re just not treating their personal lives and relationships with the same attention they’ve given their careers. 

If this is the case for you, make the choice now to start setting boundaries around your time and energy, and to stop neglecting your life outside of work. That will allow both your personal and professional lives to flourish. 

Support for Setting Boundaries at Work

I hope you found this article helpful. If you haven’t already listened to this episode of the podcast, check it out — it’s an even deeper dive into healthy work boundaries and how you can achieve both balance and success in your career. 

You are more than just your job, and you deserve to have a working life where that’s honored and respected. If you would like some support in achieving that from a career counselor on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation


Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more practical guidance on having positive relationships at work and achieving your career goals, check out my “Professional Growth” collection of articles and podcasts. It’s all there for you!

Music in this episode is by Palace with their song “Bitter.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to if further questions are prompted.

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Setting Boundaries at Work

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. If you’ve been feeling over your job, burned out, stressed, overwhelmed, or like you just can’t get ahead, consider that it may be less about the job itself and more about your internal ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries at work. Learning how to know and communicate your limits in effective ways can restore your enjoyment of your career. And that’s what you’ll be learning how to do on today’s show.

Today’s mood music comes from the band Palace with the song Bitter. And I chose this selection for us today because without the ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries, particularly at work, it is inevitable that you will begin to feel bitter, resentful, stressed, overwhelmed, or like your job is even feeling intolerable to you. And when you know, many times people can believe that the only solution to this problem is to quit their job.

They assume that the problem is with the environment they’re in, or perhaps the career path itself. And you know that by making a pivot or finding a different environment, they will have a different experience. And while it is true that certain environments are healthier than others, and sometimes we absolutely do go down one career path only to discover that it isn’t really a great fit for us and it’s time to do something different, completely valid, it is also very worthwhile to not assume that it’s just that we’re in the wrong environment all the time.

We also have lots of opportunity for growth and empowerment when we consider what we are doing that can also be contributing to the experience that we’re having. And so the purpose of today’s show is to explore one of the biggest growth opportunities for many of us when it comes to our job, which is learning how to figure out what our boundaries are what they should be when it comes to all kinds of different aspects of work, because learning how to do that effectively and with confidence can transform the way a career or a job feels, even if you don’t necessarily change your circumstances.

I hope that this topic will be valuable for you. This one is going to be actionable, we’re going to be talking about a lot of different things, how to set boundaries with coworkers, how to set boundaries with your boss, how to also set boundaries with yourself or when it comes to your job. And I hope that by learning about these things, it gives you some direction and things to consider that you can begin applying in your career ASAP.

I offer this because, you know on the show, we talk about love, happiness, and success. And you know, I think that sometimes our career domain can be thought of as a separate thing, right? You know, we think of love as being relationships and happiness, as being how we feel on the inside, and success is about our achievement, our attainment. Did we create a career that we enjoy and feel good about? Are we earning enough money do we feel like we’re creating a life that we want to be and that we feel happy about? And all of those things are very worthwhile. 

I think an underrecognized thing is the extent to which our professional lives are sources — rich, powerful sources — of growth, and personal evolution, and our ability to have healthy, happy relationships with other people and with ourselves. But when you consider the amount of time and energy that we spend on the job, and how much of ourselves go into it, our personalities, our way of being, the way we talk to ourselves, the way we relate to others, like all of those very personal facets are very much active when we are in our professional roles.

By considering the kind of experience that you’re having on the job, it illuminates all of these very powerful personal growth opportunities. And the wonderful thing is that when you do this work related to your career, those rewards are yours to keep and bring home with you. You know, learning how to understand your boundaries and communicate more effectively in your professional role has direct positive results, and you’re being able to do this and your relationships as well. So there’s nothing to lose by exploring this.

The other reason that I wanted to create this podcast for you is that, in my experience, because truthfully, most career counselors and career coaches are very, very specific. You know, they are all about career exploration, like, what do I want to be when I grow up? And about job attainment, so interviewing skills, let’s write you a resume all of this. And they sometimes I think, frequently, just by virtue of their training most career counselors or career coaches, they’re not therapists, right?

They have a background in HR, or can be even self-taught in careers go out and hang a shingle, and they are fabulous at helping you develop career skills like resume writing, or how to interview or even getting clear about what kind of career path you would like to pursue. But there is a very special breed of career counselors who are licensed therapists that also have specialized training and experience in career counseling and professional development. Those are very, very rare.

Whenever I find one, I’m like, “Hey, do you want to join our practice?” Because they’re just so special. But they’re really able to do the kind of deep dive that we’ll be talking about on today’s show, which is understanding this very interesting intersection of career like what, what we do occupationally, but how it impacts us on deeper emotional levels. How it is connected with our whole life satisfaction, but also how our career paths offer us these very powerful opportunities to grow.

Without this kind of exploration, it can be very easy to start bouncing around from job to job like, people who make the mistake of thinking, “If I find the right person to be in a relationship with then I will have a completely different experience.” So that when they encounter like a rough patch in a relationship, they think, erroneously, “Oh, well, we’re not compatible, this person is not the right fit for me. So I’m going to break up with them and see who else I can find.” And again sometimes that’s true, can be absolutely valid.

If people are just cycling through short-term relationship after short-term relationship, they may not be asking themselves the right questions, which is, “Is there something about the way that I am showing up in relationships or the way that I am relating to others that could also be impacting or creating these outcomes that I’m experiencing?” And so we can easily see that when it comes to relationships, it’s very wise to consider personal growth work and like, “what am I doing that is impacting this?”

It is less obvious many times when we consider careers, you know? It’s like, “Well, if I’m not having a good time at this job, it’s because I’m in the wrong job.” And sometimes even well-meaning career counselors can collude with you in that, like, “Yes, this is the wrong job, let’s find you a new one.” And just keep going and going and going rather than doing that deep dive into what about your way of being is contributing to your experience of stress or unhappiness in your job? And particularly when you’re noticing patterns?

If this isn’t the first time you felt this way? Sure, maybe you’re you know, choosing one difficult situation after another but more likely it is pointing to or suggesting that there’s an opportunity for you to think about, “Hmm, maybe the way I’m relating to my professional life is also contributing to this outcome.” So this is very deep and important personal growth work. And I just wanted to say that out loud to frame what we’re going to be talking about today.

As we do this, I want you to be thinking about not just you know, the career or professional life aspects of it, but thinking about more globally your patterns in life and how perhaps, this boundaries discussion is showing up on the job. But you know, as you think about it more like I’d also probably do some of these things with my friends or with my partner like, I can see the patterns here in my own life so that you understand the significance of doing this work, and that it helps you kind of connect your own dots. You know what I mean?

Okay, so diving into this topic. Oh, and before we do, I do want to mention, I’m going to be talking about a number of related articles and podcasts that are also in this domain the intersection of professional success and personal growth and happiness. And you can find links to everything that I’m discussing on my website at Go to the blog and podcast page, so, and when you do, tap on the Success Collection.

Now we’ll put you into all of the success-related content collections that I’ve developed for you, including things like emotional wellness at work, career clarity, holistic life design, emotional intelligence, it’s something that we’re going to be talking about today as well. So if you go there, you’ll have access to all of the articles I’ll be sharing, referencing, and also on Spotify playlists that I have put together for you to just kind of work through and continue this path of growth that we’ll be starting today.

Let’s talk about this concept of how to set boundaries at work and why it matters so much. So when you’re feeling burnt out, or resentful, like, you just don’t even want to do it anymore, feeling overwhelmed, it is often because yeah, maybe there are pressures and demands that are coming at you externally, as they always will. But being able to cope with that, and a healthy way and have a good experience at your job is often determined by how well you’re able to recognize the need for boundaries, and then set them effectively. 

Because when you lack healthy work boundaries either because you really don’t know what your limits are or this is a possibility, if you are in a work culture that discourages having boundaries, and that is also true, but we’re gonna talk about the difference there. But whenever either of those two things are happening, it becomes very, very difficult to perform at your best. And it also starts to take a toll emotionally, truly, I mean, you’ll start to feel exhausted, overwhelmed, burned out, or really, like intruded upon by coworkers, or supervisors, bosses, whose expectations of you feel inappropriate.

Not being able to have good boundaries at work makes it more difficult in the rest of your life as well. Like it begins to seep over into your personal life. It can be harder to shut off, recharge, or maintain a personal life that feels separate from your career. There’s like this bleed. And when you can’t do that, professional success becomes harder to achieve because you become very depleted. And it also I think, begins to impact a broader version of success, which is not just tied to your job or your earning potential it is. “Am I living the kind of life that I fundamentally want to live? Am I happy? I mean, like when I look at my life as a whole?”

Now, not having boundaries at work can begin to impact everything. Especially now, I think that so many of us are working from home still, right? Setting healthy work boundaries is really key to keeping yourself healthy and also your career feeling sustainable, and like it’s moving forward. And so recognizing the different kinds of boundaries you need because there are many varieties of this, which we’ll be discussing. And then also the best way to set those boundaries depending on the particular situation is the path to correcting this.

First of all, let’s just talk about, I think, common experiences that many people have, when work boundaries are not healthy, when they’re really out of balance and taking a toll, it can look like a few different things. I mean, maybe you’re in a situation where a boss is calling you at 11 o’clock at night, on a Tuesday or even worse on a Friday because they have some feedback on your project or there’s something going on and they will when your help with or they didn’t have time to call you earlier and they’re calling you now.

That obviously is a major intrusion on your personal life. You might even be asleep at that point. And how do you deal with that though? Right? And especially you know that there’s a power dynamic there, I mean, the struggle can be real.

Another way that workplace boundaries begin to feel toxic, honestly, is if you have co-workers who are gossipy or inserting themselves into personal realms in ways that do not feel safe or appropriate, and figuring out how to set limits with people like that while also maintaining relatively positive relationships professionally can be a real dilemma.

It may also be that the entire company culture is one where roles and responsibilities are not well-defined. And this creates power struggles or confusion, some people feeling overburdened while other people aren’t pulling their weight. And that is a recipe for dysfunction but also a lot of resentment, particularly if a lot of the load is going on your capable shoulders. I mean, that’s a common experience. And it is really difficult to reshuffle that when it starts to happen.

It’s also you know, the difference between healthy work boundaries and unhealthy work boundaries can be relative, right, and it looks different for different kinds of occupations. So, for example, if you are a brain surgeon or ER doctor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in a workplace with unhealthy boundaries when you get called in on your day off. Like that could be just part of the job.

But if you are in an earlier phase of career exploration, maybe you’re a younger person trying to figure out what to do with your life on a macro level, or if you’re considering a career pivot, it can be really important smart to think about, what are the norms? And what are the expectations that are attached to particular kinds of professions, around boundaries, in particular, like work-life boundaries, before you choose a career?

If you know that it’s difficult for you to set boundaries or that you tend to feel like unhappy or resentful when there’s a bomb that gets dropped into the middle of your life, or when there’s an expectation that your career should take precedence over plans or other personal things that you might have if you would like to be a doctor, that is fine. And consider dermatology school rather than trauma surgery training, you know what I mean? So just be using some of that self-awareness, pre-loading that as you’re going into a career.

If you are in a career where it is normal, valid and expected that there is going to be some of that crossover into your life, changing your narrative around why that makes sense and bringing that empowerment back to, yes, I signed up for a career where this is part of my role may not change what is happening. Yeah, you’re still going to get called in on a Sunday. And bringing that back to “I signed up for this, I don’t have to do this, if I don’t want to I could change my career paths” and big picture, “I enjoy what I’m doing to a greater degree than I love being able to have an entire Sunday without somebody doing a cannonball into the middle of my football game or whatever,” can help change some of that emotionally.

Some of this is contextual, for the career path itself. And another thing that’s kind of related is as you are seeking a job, so maybe you have defined your career path, you know what it is that you want to do, but it can be an extremely important professional skill to assess workplace culture as you are researching different companies that you would like to be part of, and also through the interview process.

If you know that healthy work boundaries are very important for you and are going to have a big impact on your life, it is extremely wise to be asking questions during this interview process around things like how often people at the company are asked to work overtime or at irregular work hours, and what the expectations are for that role and things like you know, it could be kind of subtle like, but whether or not you need to be available to answer messages outside of working hours.

If you have opportunities to talk to other, like, maybe not the team that is interviewing you, but even like through LinkedIn, just kind of backchannels to connect with some people in informal interviewing, like, “Hey, thinking about this role at your company, curious to know your experiences when it comes to stuff like this.” But it’s also absolutely okay to be asking those kinds of empowered questions in an interview. Because while you certainly don’t want to be coming across as entitled or not committed to pulling your weight in a role, if people are kind of like, “No, I don’t know,” by the fact that you are asking some of those questions, that is an indication that your boundaries could actually be disrespected at that company. 

If the fact that you’re asking and considering, like whether or not your working hours will be honored most of the time, if that makes the interviewing team uncomfortable, you have all the information you need about what to expect. And if you don’t get that job because of asking, it’s probably for the best because you wouldn’t have been happy there, right? It probably wouldn’t be the job for you.

The job itself, the career path itself can absolutely impact the way that boundaries be. The systemic pressures coming at you can absolutely be externally defined. And so to be proactively assessing some of that coming in can help you make informed decisions before getting into a situation that is really going to be pushing your boundaries in ways that are uncomfortable for you.

And that is one thing to think about, but most of the time, the reason why people struggle with boundaries at their job has less about the external circumstance or workplace culture and more about their own ability to set healthy boundaries with yourself and with others. This is like a professional skill that everybody needs to develop is how to set healthy boundaries at work. It’s tied to emotional intelligence skills, and just general you know, personal wellness skills.

 I would say virtually everybody isn’t challenged to do this important kind of personal growth work until they are in a work situation that requires it because their choices are either do this very important personal growth work to start feeling better again, or leave the job. Because if they don’t do this, the growth work, the job feels legitimately unsustainable, like people can’t cannot keep doing this because it really just starts to feel so bad. So very, very important to do. 

This can be attached to a lot of different things. It can be attached to people skills and relationship management, which we’ll be talking about. But also internal things like people-pleasing perfectionism, or even low self-esteem. And so while it feels like unfair expectations may be coming at you from other people and that that can be true, and we’ll talk about how to manage that, but it’s also very wise to think about whether or not these expectations are things that you’re imposing on yourself, and that you are imagining that people expect of you when it is not actually true, it’s more your own mental narrative.

Getting better at setting boundaries, and all of these kinds of relationships, including the relationship you’re having with yourself, will help you feel a lot calmer and more in control rather than overwhelmed and stressful.

First of all, let’s talk about how to manage some boundaries, that are more relational boundaries, because this is very much a thing and it is an important part of this boundary-setting skill set. So the process will look a little different for how to set boundaries with a boss or a supervisor than it does with your co-workers. And it is also different in a system that is fundamentally healthy and has opportunities for growth rather than a really legitimately toxic workplace culture and sometimes that can be a little hard to figure out what it is that you’re really dealing with. 

Here’s the thing, any kind of healthy system, whether it is a relational system or an organizational system, will have a fairly high degree of flexibility. And it will be receptive and open to change. So in a fundamentally unhealthy and toxic relationship whether if it is a personal relationship or professional relationship, it is going to be defined by a lot of rigidity and resistance to change so that if you try to create positive change, it will either not work or you’ll get a lot of negative pushback, like intense pushback.

On the other hand, if it is a fundamentally healthy relationship that is capable of growth, there is going to be this receptiveness, like people can take it in. And there’s a responsiveness to when you begin to exert your autonomy are healthy boundaries, it will sort of yield in healthy-feeling ways and you’ll be able to create positive change in the system. And so I just bring this up because your ability to attempt to change, like do the things that would create positive change in a healthy relationship, that is part of how you assess what it is that you’re dealing with.

Before you can really decide what kind of system you’re in, the assessment process requires you to try things. And so I just want you to keep that in mind as we’re talking through this because if you’re thinking, “Oh, nope, that’ll never work,” that could be true. And is that also potentially a self-limiting mindset that might not be true? So you know, what, like, what happens if you try and you may be pleasantly surprised, potentially? 

Okay, and if what you anticipate to be true, actually is true. That’s also fantastic information because then you can make reality-based decisions on what that means for you. Okay, so when it comes to setting boundaries with co-workers, there are a couple of types of coworkers that people tend to struggle setting boundaries with, and I’m sure that some of these feel familiar to you.

The first is what I think of as the intrusive co-worker, right? Like, this person may share way too much information about their personal lives or asks you questions that feel inappropriate for you know, work safe play setting, or maybe even just expect like more attention from you, then you feel like you have the time or energy to give them like a fluff them up. So when it comes to setting boundaries with this type of co-worker, the first thing I would suggest is to have some empathy for them.

I mean, almost certainly, they’re not being intrusive on purpose, right? They just maybe have a different sense of what feels normal or appropriate or they desire a different kind of relationship with you. Like maybe they’re kind of lonely, and they view their professional home as an opportunity to develop personal relationships. And frankly, I mean, many people make friends at work. And so maybe they’re trying to do that with you. But their interest in doing that is just different than your interest is in doing that. But it doesn’t mean you know that they’re necessarily like bad people, right?

I think understanding that and having compassion for it will help you be able to manage that relationship more effectively, in a positive way. But it also does require being thoughtful about how you engage with them. So the first thing I’d ask you to consider is just to think about the kind of relationship that you would like to have with this co-worker. So just do some journaling about it. And maybe I’m guessing it’s one that is just polite and supportive and appropriate but also limited.

I’d be thinking about like so what, what is like in the okay kind of relationship that I want to have with this person line and what is outside of that line. And then once you have that defined for yourself, then you can continue to be warm and encouraging and appropriate and gratifying when you are having the kind of relationship interactions that you want to have. And less warm and gratifying when you’re not.

That can sometimes require learning the art of the pivot to steer away from topics that feel too personal for you. Or if all else fails, you can say, “Alright, now good talking to you. I need to get back to work now.” Or I mean, even just little phrases like “Oh my gosh, that’s such a long story. I wouldn’t bore you with all the details. Anyway, I have to get ready for this meeting at two.” You know, I mean, just like practice that just begin practicing saying that. And if you’re doing it consistently and not indulging or participating in things that feel like too much you’ll kind of extinguish that behavior with that coworker after a while.

Really, the key to managing this kind of intrusive coworker relationship is also getting comfortable with the idea that they’re allowed to feel uncomfortable, and you’re releasing control or feeling like you have to manage how they feel, or getting too concerned with what they think of you. And both of these internal skills are actually a huge component of having healthy boundaries. So you get to choose how you want to participate in this relationship and they get to choose how they feel about that. 

Releasing that because you know, the other side, if you really need everybody to feel good about you and to like you a whole lot, it’s going to compel you to participate in the kinds of relationships that other people want to have with you at the expense of your own boundaries. So the faster that you can get comfortable with other people being allowed to have their own feelings, is one of the key components to being able to create healthy boundaries in this area. 

Now another kind of difficult co-worker that can be challenging to set healthy boundaries with is the kind of co-worker who puts their work on to you to the point where you’re feeling overwhelmed, resentful, starting to feel better about it. And there can be different reasons why this happens. I mean, sometimes it really is, because this person feels entitled to delegate their workload onto their peers and that certainly needs to be managed. But other times, it could be because there’s a lack of clarity coming from the top about who should be doing what.

You can especially see this kind of dynamic in small companies, where maybe there is a lot of bleed when it comes to roles like that, who’s doing what can be kind of fuzzy. And certain personalities can really take advantage of that. If there is a co-worker who is actually excellent at setting their own boundaries and having narrow definitions of what they will and won’t do, they may be very comfortable with putting everything else onto other people in ways that do not feel good for those other people.

If you have a co worker who seems to expect you to do their work, you can set boundaries with them by deciding for yourself in advance, when you’re willing to help them and how much time if any, you can devote to that. And then communicating those limits really clearly like being crystal clear that you are helping them with their work, not performing a task that’s your responsibility can be really helpful.

Saying something like “Hello, difficult coworker, I would be happy to help you with your project if you need some support, and I’m helpful, I can help you for 30 minutes tomorrow at four, at the end of my workday when I’m done with my stuff. And then I can help you with your stuff.” But actually be using words like “your project,” “your work,” “if you need some help doing your thing,” like everything that you just said right there is reflecting the fact that this is actually their job. 

If you do help them, it is because of a desire to assist them rather than accepting what they are trying to hand you potentially, which is that “Oh, okay, this is my problem, this is my job.” And it’s also okay to say or decide that you can’t take any time away from your own work to help them with theirs. And that is valid. And if that continues happening, it could also be an opportunity to get leadership involved. Because when you begin to set those boundaries, you might discover that the root issue is some basic confusion over how you should be working together or who is responsible for what.

This person may not be entitled or you know, knowing that they’re asking you to do their job, they might actually be legitimately confused or unclear about who is responsible for what they might really believe that what they’re asking you to do is part of your job and not theirs. So if that is the case, it’s really important to get leadership involved. So asking your manager for some clarity, “Hey we have this project and you know, Shannon and I wanted to just sit down with you to get clear on which of us was responsible for what portion of this thing.” 

Because it is actually not your job necessarily to be making those calls and figuring those things out. That is actually the job description of a manager or of a leader is to provide that clarity for you. And so ideally, you have a trusting and comfortable relationship with your manager or you can talk about that confusion around roles and responsibilities and talk about how it may be creating stress for you and your co-worker. I mean, ideally, you and your co-worker could go have that conversation with your boss together to hash this out, and be able to create healthy and clear boundaries for each of you going forward.

Now, of course, it is often necessary and important to be able to set boundaries with your boss too. And setting boundaries with your boss can be definitely tricky, especially if you aren’t lucky enough to have a good boss who is emotionally intelligent, relational, who’s an effective communicator. But always, an effective leader really wants their workers to have healthy boundaries.

I mean, they understand the importance of a healthy, sustainable organizational culture, if for no other reason, to prevent people from leaving their jobs or getting burned out, or maintaining productivity. So maybe they’re not like super soft, squishy relational people, but they can also understand the connection between people being fundamentally well in their roles and not having a very high turnover rate. Right. So there’s a bottom line piece of this for organizations too.

But it is also true that not every boss has an appropriate mindset about boundaries. And you need to understand what it is that you’re working with so that you can tailor this approach to the boss you have, to a degree. But it’s also true that many people, I mean many workers do need support from leadership around setting boundaries with their workloads. And this is a very appropriate conversation to be having with your manager. And so if you feel like you can set boundaries, and there’s all kinds of stuff and things coming at you, it could be a sign that you’re not communicating about what’s on your plate, or how long things take.

For example, it may be that your boss legitimately does not understand that the thing they’re asking you to do is something that actually takes three hours. And maybe they’re asking you to do this thing on a day that you already have eight hours of work planned. So you know, it can be easy for somebody to just toss on the “Oh, like, hey, can you get that thing over to Joe?”, not realizing that that requires research and a write-up and like figuring some things out.

They really might not know that. And they may not have a really granular understanding of everything that you’re doing day to day. So communication is really key here and to start by communicating about your workload, what it actually is, and then also asking for their assistance and leadership and getting your priorities organized. So you could even say, “I totally hear you, you’d like me to get this thing over to so and so. Can I just show you, okay, so here’s my calendar. And you can see that I have between now and the end of the week, like 18 hours that I am sitting in meetings, and here are the chunks of time that I had planned to do deeper work.”

“And these are the things that you asked me to do next week. And that’s last week, rather. And this is when I have those things scheduled. And so I’m so happy to get that report to so-and-so, but I would love for you to help me prioritize what I need to be doing because there’s not enough margin in my time right now to do all of these things. So what should I let go of so that I can prioritize this thing that you’re asking me for?”

Because many times when you know, a boss could look at your schedule and be like, “Oh, whoa, yeah. Okay, I can see that. And you know what, that report thing that I asked you about? What if that would be okay to do that next week, honestly, because the things that you have on your plate currently, are actually the priorities.” But just to have a very, like, clear conversation about that.

I will also say, and this is something that we’ve noticed in my organization and had to do some growth work around, is that it can be very, very easy for there to be meetings on top of meetings and meetings about meetings and meetings that we plan to have meetings for projects that require more meetings and like, oh my gosh. And you know, I think that there’s also more and more awareness and organizational psychology that just meetings can be such a waste of everybody’s time and energy.

“You know, it’s really okay to be having those kinds of conversations with your boss because they’re probably feeling In the same way, like I have all this time scheduled with these other people. And is it necessary for this to be a meeting? Is this something that we could just hash out with a couple of emails? Or could we consolidate some of these or most of the time at these meetings, I’m just kind of sitting there, I don’t really have anything to contribute, how vital do you feel it is for me to be sitting there rather than just have access to the notes afterwards like if I need to know something?”

Open the door to that conversation. And again, a reflection of organizational health is flexibility, it is responsiveness, or at least consideration of the things that you’re saying. So it should be safe to at least float those conversations and manage up. I will refer you back to a podcast that I recorded a while ago on this topic of managing up that might help you have more ideas about how to have those conversations.

The other thing too is that as you have these open conversations with your boss or your supervisor, you might discover and your boss might discover that to get your work done, it requires more hours than you signed up for when you began this role, or to be doing your work on a timeline that is really not feasible. And it could also be that they might give you some feedback that you’re actually spending too long on certain tasks that are not worth all of the time and the effort that you’re putting into them. And that’s okay, too.

It is also important for you to be flexible, and receptive. If somebody’s saying, “You know what, I see that you have 15 hours blocked for this one project. And this is actually a much lower priority than XYZ. So you know, put in three hours, and it does not need to be perfectly perfect, do a basic outline, that’s fine. I would much rather have your valuable time and energy on these activities.”

That would be really a better use for everybody if you were to do that so that you can maybe shift your mindset or assumptions about what you should be working on so that it is more in alignment with the reality of what is actually valuable to the organization rather than you’re making assumptions about what that is. And through those conversations, it may also become apparent that you are spending more time on different kinds of tasks or projects than is really warranted or that other people might spend on that time. And that can really be worth reflection and exploration.

It is not uncommon at all for high-functioning, overachieving people to have very high standards for their own work and even some perfectionistic tendencies. And so to have open conversations with that about how you tend to operate with your boss, can be really empowering. I mean, I personally, as a supervisor have had that conversation with many of the people that work for me when I realized that they’re imposing these standards on themselves that after a certain point, it doesn’t generate higher value work.

Having to get comfortable with the idea of things being good enough, you are hitting the standards, helping your boss define for you what those standards should be. But then also setting those internal boundaries where you’re actually able to say, “This is probably good enough, could I spend four more hours moving things around on these slides or changing the colors of my PowerPoint presentations or rewriting something?” Yes, you totally could. Is it necessary? No. Is anybody going to notice much if you did spend six more hours? No, so just stop.

Because if you can’t, like set boundaries with yourself in those moments, it is really going to contribute to this amount of stress and exhaustion and overwhelm that you experience internally. But that is very much self-imposed and is not coming from anybody else. So that can be an important point of self-awareness and difficult to ferret out. Having courageous conversations with your boss or employer can give you some of that feedback.

If you’re getting that feedback from your employer like that, you’re spending way too much time on this and it’s still difficult for you to do, that would be something really important to discuss with a career counselor who is also a therapist who can help you unpack that. Like okay, what is that about? Where’s that coming from? What are some internal skills and strategies that you can use to be able to set those healthy boundaries with yourself?

But of course, too, if you tried to have those conversations with your employer, and over the course of that you are realizing that they have legitimately unrealistic expectations of you that if you were to do everything well enough, like not some kind of perfectionistic, unattainable idea, but well enough on the timeline that they want in the way that they want that it would actually require you to work 90 hours a week or whatever.

If they like, “Yeah, so what big deal,” and that is not something that you want to do. You know, that is also more information where you could say, “Okay, I have really worked hard to change myself and change this system, and it is not going to change. So what does that mean for me?” And that turns into a different conversation.

Now, you may also run into a different kind of boundary-setting situation on the job. And that is one thing that happens when your role expands, when your job keeps growing. And this is also very common, it can happen at companies that are growing. Like maybe you joined a small to medium-sized company three years ago, and it is doing well and now what is a medium, getting into largeish territory organization. There’s a ton of organizational shifting and changing that happens with companies who are in development. So just be aware of that.

It’s also true that just very hardworking, conscientious go-getters, yeah, sometimes find that better and better they get at their jobs, the more responsibilities get heaped upon them, because people perceive you as being competent, trustworthy, you have high follow through, and that maybe you began this role with very clear and reasonable job descriptions, but then ended up taking on additional tasks over time, so that there’s been like, scope creep. And maybe now you are no longer fully clear about where your focus should be.

That’s very real, and it can be hard to find that balance between having this like, go-getting can-do attitude at work, but also then allowing the scope of your role to grow and grow until you are stretched so thin, that you’re not having a good time, you’re really stressed out, and you’re also not that effective anymore. So if that is what is happening at your work, this can be it’s such a positive thing and amazing opportunity for you. 

Here’s how. Again, it goes back to having a really positive and supportive relationship with your boss, and just to have a conversation with them about the fact that your role has evolved since you first began. You can ask for an updated job description that is reflective of what you’re doing now. And honestly, I mean, in a healthy organization, that should be something that is discussed proactively, periodically, like at least every year or two.

You can also if you know, according to that job description, you’re actually really operating at a much higher level than you were when you first started. Beautiful opportunity to request a promotion and or raise, particularly if you are exceeding expectations and doing more than you were a year or three ago. I mean, particularly for your supervisor or boss to be able to see that really clearly and think, “Wow, you are really operating at a very high level, you’re doing all of these things, you’re providing this much more benefit to the organization.” And yeah, so when you’re asking for a promotion or a raise, there’s a very clear and legitimate basis for that.

 Another opportunity here though, is that if you have moved into a more senior role butt are still doing all of the things you used to do, and then more of the things that would be asked for a senior role, you can ask for help, for additional resources, like just bring this to your boss and think you know, “Would it makes sense for us to add maybe a junior person to this team, or I think I might need an assistant or could we find even a part-time person or an intern that I could transfer some of these tasks that I had been doing? You know, I don’t necessarily need to be doing those things specifically.”

Ask for resources and communicate about what you need. But to be coming into these meetings with ideas and clarity can be so helpful for your boss because if it’s just like coming in and like “I have too much to do,” so it is so helpful and healthy for an organization, particularly one that has a culture of valuing and appreciating your ideas when you come in with solutions, which is also so empowering for you. Because then you also feel like not just are you able to set boundaries, but you also have agency and you have, you’re respected and valued enough to be able to provide input into the situation and that you’re co-creating your professional experience, as opposed to feeling disempowered or controlled.

Lots of opportunity to develop really fantastic relationships with leadership. And again, if as you’re listening to this, you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I could never have that conversation with my boss.” First of all, is that your mindset? What happens if you try? Like, just go in and in a really calm way, in an organized way and say, “Hey I’ve been thinking, and here’s what I need would like to show you about what’s been happening.”

If you try to have that conversation and there is defensiveness, or anger or pushback inflexibility, people are not even remotely receptive to what you’re saying, then you have that information, but it is reality-based information, because you actually tried to have that conversation, as opposed to assuming that it is impossible. Consider the possibility that the assumption that it is impossible is actually part of what makes it difficult for you to set healthy boundaries is that mindset, you are projecting that belief onto others, maybe it was actually true with your mom, and that it’s not actually true with your boss.

We carry our automatic assumptions about what we can expect from other people into our professional lives. And you would be amazed how much family dynamic stuff can show up for all of us on the job when you consider that a boss is in an adult life, your authority figure in many real ways. So what could you be projecting emotionally on to your boss, their personality, how they’re going to react to you, how they think, how they feel? “Oh, yeah, that is actually kind of a lot like my critical big sister.”

There’s a lot to unpack for many people. And again, connecting with a career counselor who is a licensed therapist can help you understand a lot of what’s going on inside of you that may be contributing to the difficulty in feeling like you can set healthy boundaries at work. And in this domain, things like having a tendency to be a people-pleaser, or having feelings like everybody has unreasonable expectations of you, it could be that there’s stuff that you’re carrying around perfectionism, again, as we talked about, or like letting other people down. And so there may be very emotional components to what is really going on with work. 

Even if you want people to like you, or if you worry a lot about what other people will think of you, it can show up in how you feel on the job and make it very difficult to set these boundaries, things like low self-esteem, or if you were trained from early childhood that love and affection are linked to your ability to perform and achieve and get all the gold stars, it might be very difficult for you to set boundaries on the job. But this is where it goes deep, right?

This is that real personal growth work opportunity. Because if this is true for you, these things are not just happening at work, right? There can be a lot of like identity things wrapped up in this. And so getting support from a good career counselor, who is a licensed therapist can help you do this deep dive and get into the root causes of this, that you’re carrying with you into all kinds of different situations.

And that if you quit this job and find a new job, you will be doing the same things in this new environment if you don’t take the time and the energy to invest in this kind of self-awareness and very intentionally shifting your own inner narrative and mindset and relational patterns. You will just take this with you and recreate this dynamic over and over again.

So it’s very, very worthwhile work to do and you may discover that you have unrealistic expectations of yourself or that you’re subconsciously seeking love and approval from your boss in ways that causes you to twist yourself into pretzels that nobody else expects to do. So all kinds of stuff can be in here.

But getting clear about these emotional patterns will help you create these emotional boundaries that are healthy and appropriate for you on the job. And it will support your mental and emotional well-being and every part of your life, but it will also really contribute to your job satisfaction, you know?

When you can unwind some of that and come into your work in a different way and feel empowered to know what your boundaries are, manage relationships effectively to be able to set a maintain those boundaries. And also like, manage those internal boundaries, like understanding when it’s your own stuff, rather than externally imposed things happening, you are going to feel so much calmer, you will experience so much less stress and really start being more effective at work and start enjoying it more. And there are very few downsides.

If you try to do this growth work on your own, you will, that is yours to keep. Nobody can take that away from you. And if you try to do the work of creating more positive boundaries in this organization, either it will work and things will be better or if you get tons of pushback, and there’s a lot of negativity and you know, inflexibility and rigidity, again, you have all the information that you need. You know that you did everything that you could, you really tried in a positive way, and that you practiced trying that.

If you do shift into a new position in a healthier organization, and attempt those things again in the future, by definition, that healthier organization will be much more responsive and you will be able to create a more positive work experience for yourself.

Okay, we talked about so many things. Holy moly, I hope that this episode was helpful for you. Thank you as always for listening. And again, so many more resources for you. I have written articles on work-life balance and managing stress and perfectionism and people-pleasing and so many things. And I have other amazing career coaches on my team. And you know, career coaches and counselors who are licensed mental health professionals who specialize in career counseling and coaching.

There are tons of podcasts that they’ve joined me on in the past and articles they’ve written all there for you on the Success Collection of our blog. If you go to, enter the Success Collection, and from there you’ll have access to everything that you need. And of course, if you would like to do any of this very important personal growth work with our practice, Growing Self, you are so welcome to get in touch and schedule a free consultation with one of the career counselors on our team to discuss some of your hopes and goals for this and learn about how they can help because we’re all here for you.

Okay, thank you so much and I’ll be back in touch next week. Take care.

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