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Setting professional boundaries is one of the most important ways to support your mental health and improve your productivity at work. Although the term “boundary” implies restriction, setting boundaries can actually open us up to much more freedom and joy. Through setting boundaries in our professional lives, we validate our feelings and needs and set standards for how we would like to be treated.

Some people struggle to set boundaries at work because they aren’t sure where it is appropriate to draw a line and fear being viewed as rude, non-compliant, unmotivated or not dedicated to their job. However, failing to establish and maintain clear professional boundaries can quickly lead to stress and burnout.

Here are 5 steps to setting boundaries at work.

  1. Know your limits. Tune into your body, emotions and mental state and assess how much is too much when it comes to workload and availability. Don’t ignore signs of stress and anxiety as this can lead to overwhelm and burnout.
  2. Define your responsibility. Are you extending yourself past what your job description states or what your position requires? When you go “above and beyond” are you doing so out of desire or obligation? Differentiating your actual role and your assumptions about your role will help you set better boundaries.
  3. Be direct. When setting a boundary, be as clear and specific as you can about the line you are drawing. For example, if you don’t want to be answering work emails all night, set a cutoff time and tell your team you will not be responding to messages after that time.
  4. Be ready for repercussions. If your workplace culture encourages overworking and blurring the line between your professional and personal life, there may be repercussions when you stand up for yourself. Make sure you are ready to deal with the fallout, and if you aren’t, perhaps consider if you need a different job.
  5. Go easy on yourself. If you didn’t have healthy boundaries modeled when you were growing up, it may be difficult to set boundaries in emotional situations—especially if your job is on the line. Take your time and make sure you are communicating as thoroughly as possible with your supervisors and colleagues.