How to set boundary in the workplace?

Many of my clients told me that there are a lot of uncertainties in the global economy and they are facing a lot of stressors in their lives.  One of the stressors is the threat of being laid off by their employers.  Companies are starting to manage their costs and restructure their organizations due to many unforseeable factors in the global economy.  As a result, some of my clients are facing significant increase in their workload in relation to the impact of downsizing or restructuring.   A lady once told me that she was requested to cover the workload of three headcounts.  If she refused to do so, she might face the threat of being fired.  She had difficulty in setting healthy boundaries with her boss.  She felt helpless for being trapped in her current job as she was not successful in her recent job search.  How could she set healthier boundaries so that she could manage her enormous stress due to increase in workload? 

What are some of the common violation of boundaries in the workplace?  Boundary issues at workplace may include being asked to do tasks that are supposed to be done by other staff, not being paid reasonably when working on excessive work, being asked about personal issues such as health issues or relationship issues, etc.  Sometimes, it is the employees themselves who violate their own boundaries, such as not delegating ones’ tasks, not taking entitled leave for resting, flirting with other staff.  In more serious circumstances, ones’ work environment could be toxic for the individuals.  For instance, there are a lot of gossipping among colleagues or communication breakdown between senior management and their subordinates.  A narcissistic boss or an adequate boss without good leadership skills could also create a work environment stressful for their employess.  Also, bullying, sexual harassment, or racial discrimination are also toxic for the employees that could have significant impact on ones’ mental health.

Many people might choose to resign when they were facing some of the above issues at their workplace.  In fact, before reacting to these with resignation, ones could first try to set some healthier boundaries to see if the situations might improve.  To set boundaries at workplace, ones could identify areas in which boundaries setting is necessary.  It is important for ones to tune into ones’ inner feelings towards situations in ones’ working environment.  For example, my client above felt anger and frustration when she tried to tune into her inner feelings.  The second step is to reflect on issues related to ones’ inner feelings.  The lady felt angry and frustrated because she was given workload of three headcounts without any pay increase.  When ones could identify areas that warranted boundary setting, it is necessary to take action to set appropriate boundaries.  For instance, my client above was facing a dilemma between pleasing her boss and setting boundaries.  It is important for her to strike a balance between maintaining a good relationship with her boss and setting healthier boundaries.  Therefore, a skillfult communication to her boss is helpful in faciliating boundary setting.

After ones identified areas for boundary setting, it is necessary to be assertive to voice out ones’ boundaries.  For example, my client above could voice out her needs for getting more assistance for her increase in workload.  It is of paramount important to teach other people to respect ones’ boundaries.  After setting healthier boundaries, ones need to be consistant with respecting the boundaries oneself.  If ones are not consistent in protecting ones’ boundaries, others would not respect these boundaries.  My client above could ask for an assistant to help her in completing some tasks.  If she was not given an assistant, she needed to be consistent in resisting to complete tasks that are not supposed to be done by her.

At the end of the day, it is necessary to be flexible in setting healthy boundaries in the workplace with good communication skills.  It is understandable that the current economy is stressing out company owners and they might be having difficulty to stike a balance between cultivating a healthy workplace and sustaining their business.  As employees, it is always good to be understanding and strategic in asking for what we need with empathy and a collaborative attitude.

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