Far too many professionals have resorted to “quiet quitting” to cope with thankless overtime and a lack of a healthy work-life balance.
This happens when they’re checked out, burned out, and settling for accomplishing the bare minimum.
How can you prevent this practice and keep your people energized and engaged?
Build a healthy company culture that encourages setting boundaries at work.
These boundaries include not working past normal closing hours or answering work emails over the weekends.
Respecting employee boundaries helps boost productivity and satisfaction and enables your people to manage their time more effectively.
This article discusses the importance of work boundaries and strategies to nurture a culture of respecting and maintaining healthy boundaries.
Table of contents
- Why is setting boundaries at work important?
- The types of boundaries employees want to protect
- 8 tips for helping your staff set healthy boundaries at work
- Setting boundaries at work helps your company and employees alike
- ✅ Hire employees whose boundaries match your culture with TestGorilla
Why is setting boundaries at work important?
Setting healthy boundaries at work reduces burnout and shows employees that their company respects their needs.
Employee burnout is a serious problem costing employees their health and, in turn, productivity and performance for your organization.
One study found that 17 million working days were lost from 2021 to 2022 in the UK as a result of workplace stress, depression, and anxiety. According to a separate study, these factors accounted for 51% of work-related illnesses in the country from 2020 to 2021.
When people don’t have work boundaries, they end up stretched thin, stressed, and doing work that isn’t their responsibility. In other words, they do things they aren’t being paid to do.
This can also lead to resentment toward their employers.
The percentage of employees who believe their company cares about their well-being dropped sharply from 2020 to 2022.
Work isn’t only about “getting the job done.” People need to know that you care about them as human beings, not see them as just worker drones.
Fiona Bradley, the founder of FB Comms, publicly shares on LinkedIn that her business is against hustle culture and wants each employee to feel safe and supported.
This post shows how maintaining and respecting boundaries at work can be something to emphasize about your organization.
Your business will stand out if you prioritize employee boundaries since this is an attractive practice that many potential candidates look out for.
The types of boundaries employees want to protect
It’s all well and good to promote setting boundaries at work, but it’s quite a broad subject, isn’t it?
Here are the main types of work boundaries that you need to consider:
Now let’s examine them more closely.
Mental boundaries protect an employee’s mental health and energy. A person’s mental energy can be quickly sapped by receiving constant notifications and emails, reading endless text logs, and having many chatty conversations with colleagues.
Here are a few examples of healthy mental boundaries at work:
- Sticking to working hours and days rather than extending them or dealing with work-related matters during time off
- Declining unnecessary meetings
- Not engaging in small talk or gossip
- Turning off notifications while deep in work
Without healthy mental boundaries, employees might not have the energy left for their responsibilities after small talk and handling a dozen Slack notifications.
Every individual has different physical limits. These include social physical limits, like how comfortable you are with eye contact and handshakes, and strenuous physical limits, like how long you can stand and walk.
The following are examples of physical boundaries:
- Being given personal space when needed
- Not working or attending work events on the weekends
- Not using standing desks because of difficulty standing for long periods
- Offering a smile and a nod or a wave over a handshake
The last point is particularly important because handshakes can be difficult for many reasons. Some people are wary of handshakes after the pandemic, some have difficulty with handshakes because of their neurodivergence, and others simply aren’t accustomed to them in their culture.
Setting emotional boundaries at work helps keep employees’ minds their own and stops unnecessary factors from overwhelming their senses.
Let’s take a look at some examples of emotional boundaries:
- Telling others how you prefer to give and receive feedback
- Delegating work when needed
- Creating and sticking to a healthy schedule
- Not talking about colleagues’ personal problems
Emotional boundaries at work are important for highly sensitive people and those who have suffered trauma because they may be especially susceptible to the negative feelings of others.
Occupational boundaries involve executing your job responsibilities and only yours.
Essentially, you’re setting healthy occupational boundaries if you’re mainly doing what your job description entails.
Healthy occupational boundaries at work include the following:
- Not engaging in strenuous activities outside of the scope of the job description, such as lifting heavy objects
- Reporting to your senior leader, not others
- Completing your responsibilities and not doing other people’s tasks
- Saying no to projects because of a full workload
Setting occupational boundaries doesn’t mean an employee won’t help out others when needed. It simply means that doing work that isn’t theirs won’t be a regular practice.
When there is a lack of occupational boundaries, managers may expect employees to take on an unreasonable amount of work outside of their normal duties.
Now that we understand the types of boundaries someone might need, let’s discuss how you can encourage a healthier company culture that promotes setting boundaries in the workplace.
8 tips for helping your staff set healthy boundaries at work
Let’s dig into the top strategies for helping your people learn how to set boundaries at work.
As an HR professional, you can build a culture around boundaries and give your staff the tools they need to set healthy ones.
|Ask about boundaries during the hiring process and make sure there is a match||Assess potential candidates’ boundaries during the early stages, and see if they align with your company culture|
|Make it a policy for employees to communicate and reach an agreement on their boundaries||Ensure employees communicate and clarify their boundaries with colleagues and leaders|
|Set up a culture of coaching and honest one-on-one meetings||Talk about work boundaries during one-on-one meetings with workers so that they’re comfortable setting boundaries pertaining to private information|
|Create clear roles and responsibilities for all your employees||Prevent employees from becoming overworked by clarifying their responsibilities|
|Empower your employees with tech tools to help them delegate and share their workload||Help your employees share their workload when they need it by giving them the right software|
|Make sure employees take their allocated time off||Ensure employees aren’t voluntarily opting out of vacation time and that they’re taking beneficial time off|
|Create a policy that discourages communication and notifications outside of work hours||Encourage a better work-life balance by reducing the messages employees get outside of work|
|Be sure to step in, mediate, and help find solutions when conflicts arise||Do your best to mediate conflict caused by miscommunication and crossed boundaries|
1. Ask about boundaries during the hiring process and make sure there is a culture match
Determining work boundaries can start before you even onboard an employee.
Taking time during the hiring process to ensure a culture match between your organization and the candidates helps you figure out boundaries while you’re still in the early stages.
Ask them about the sort of boundaries they need. No work on weekends? A dedicated “deep work” mode with no interruptions? Audio meetings with no face cam?
Assess whether candidates’ required boundaries work with your company culture. Weekends may be crucial to your business, and you can’t let people in a certain job role consistently have them off.
Another important topic is time boundaries, especially if your team is remote or international. It could be a problem if the candidate says they never answer messages after 6:00 PM and you’re 14 hours apart.
You can facilitate matching a candidate to your culture using online pre-employment testing.
For example, if your sales department prioritizes a fast-paced environment, simply stress a “quick culture” in our Culture Add test. Applicants will then be automatically ranked based on whether or not they would make a good addition to your company culture.
Evaluating a candidate’s boundaries must be a careful balance between two points:
- Ensuring a candidate doesn’t have unrealistic boundaries
- Ensuring that relatively minor accommodations aren’t a deal-breaker with an excellent candidate
Be sure that “deal-breaker” boundaries are necessary for your organization. Arbitrarily deciding what you won’t tolerate defeats the point of boundaries altogether!
There may be situations where you may think a candidate seems to have “too many” boundaries – but are they as intense as they appear to be? Would “no face cam” meetings and always having their lunch break at precisely 1:30 PM be enough to disqualify the ideal hire?
It’s critical to be objective and tolerant whenever possible when it comes to a candidate’s boundaries.
2. Make it a policy for employees to communicate and reach an agreement on their boundaries
Setting boundaries at work starts with solid, clear communication.
When employees don’t communicate or reach an agreement on their boundaries in advance, two unfortunate things can happen:
- These boundaries get crossed by accident, causing stress and burnout for the employee
- The employee sticks to their boundaries anyway, surprising colleagues when they aren’t doing something, such as answering messages after 6:00 PM
Reaching an agreement on work boundaries mitigates potential future conflict.
Employees should communicate their work boundaries with colleagues, managers, and anyone they directly report to.
As an HR professional, your involvement is essential during this process.
We recommend the following practices when helping your staff set boundaries at work:
- Help them clarify their boundaries – if an employee says, “No calls after six unless it’s an emergency,” help them clarify what an “emergency” is so that everything is crystal clear
- Keep a record – keep an account of employee boundaries for your own reference to prevent any future confusion or conflict
- Work out what’s healthy and what’s not – mediate between parties to determine which requests are healthy and reasonable and which ones are trying to game the system
Reaching an agreement in advance helps employees maintain boundaries and stops other (more toxic) coworkers from gaslighting someone out of their boundaries (i.e., “Do you really need your door closed during deep work?”).
3. Set up a culture of coaching and honest one-on-one meetings
It’s always best to discuss and resolve issues before they snowball into serious problems.
For example, Susan is frustrated that Catherine keeps sending her important emails on Friday evenings, expecting them to be seen the next day, but Susan doesn’t check her email over the weekend.
As a result, Catherine is constantly upset and thinks Susan is problematic and lazy.
However, if Susan had brought up this frustration during a one-on-one meeting, you would be aware of the problem and could suggest a solution, such as setting up an official agreement for “no emails on the weekend.”
Frequent 1:1 meetings can save you quite a few headaches and help mitigate work issues that cause quiet quitting, like:
- Aggressive deadlines
- Unrealistic expectations
- Toxic coworkers
Regular (weekly or bi-weekly) one-on-one meetings aren’t just for talking about stress, burnout, and frustration.
They also provide you an opportunity to talk about career growth, skills, and job satisfaction and build great work relationships.
4. Create clear roles and responsibilities for all your employees
Many employees insist on setting boundaries at work because they’re doing other people’s work.
This can happen for a few reasons, including when employees are being coerced or feel obligated to assist.
For example, Natalie is exhausted from helping Joe reach his e-book editing deadline, even though editing is Joe’s responsibility and Natalie is only in charge of quality checking.
Whatever the core reason, the simple answer to such problems is this: If it isn’t their responsibility, they shouldn’t be doing it.
You can prevent employees from doing work outside their responsibilities by creating clear roles and duties for everyone. This lets your staff know exactly what they should and shouldn’t be taking on by removing role ambiguity.
It may seem obvious, but reviewing each role’s job description is helpful. Even creating a brief bullet list of responsibilities helps you clear the air when it comes to who does what.
If you need to go deeper, try creating a RACI matrix. RACI stands for:
- Responsible – the person executing the responsibility
- Accountable – the person held accountable for the work (usually a manager)
- Consulted – the person consulted about the work
- Informed – the person who should be informed about the progress or result of the work
Then build a table listing tasks and roles. It should look something like this:
|Role 1||Role 2||Role 3||Role 4|
This enables you to clarify what everyone should be doing and what they’re currently doing. For example, no row should have two As because two people shouldn’t be accountable for one task.
That’s not to say that delegating work is wrong 100% of the time. We will discuss that in the next section.
5. Empower your employees with tech tools to help them delegate and share their workload
Delegating a task can help save an employee who’s feeling overwhelmed with extra requests.
Workers who feel like they have too much on their plate can experience the kind of stress that causes quiet quitting.
Equipping your staff with the right tools and tech helps them delegate work where necessary.
Upgrading your tech stack to include project management software facilitates team members sharing work with each other. For instance, they can quickly ask a colleague if they can complete a task via a chat program like Slack, then reassign the task to them in the project management tool with a few clicks.
Many employees already struggle to ask for help and delegate tasks, but it only makes it harder for them if the process is difficult.
However, ensure you encourage staff to support each other but not at the cost of their own boundaries.
Sometimes, an employee may feel inclined to say yes to someone’s request because that person helped them last time. But in saying yes, they overstep their own boundary.
The first takeaway is that it’s always okay to say no.
The second takeaway is that the more employees there are to support each other’s boundaries, the less likely someone will need to violate their own boundaries to help out.
Working together opens up more opportunities for collective availability, and the more you build a solid culture of setting boundaries at work, the more employees will support one another.
6. Make sure employees take their allocated time off
A lot of quiet quitting occurs because employees are stressed and overworked. They work overtime daily, check emails on Saturdays, and don’t take days off.
Vacation days are essential to employees’ mental, emotional, and physical health and enable them to recharge their batteries and engage in self-care activities.
However, many workers voluntarily refuse to take vacations. Here are a few top reasons for this:
- The stress of not getting their work done and aggressive deadlines
- Hustle culture and not wanting to appear lazy
- A desire to be counted among top performers
These attitudes are why many businesses struggle to adopt an “unlimited vacation” policy. When employees don’t have a specific number of vacation days, they won’t take any at all to look better to the company.
We recommend ensuring your employees take their vacation days and have a break from work.
You can do this by implementing mandatory vacations so that employees must take time off. This means issuing each employee a number of days of paid time off that they must use by a certain period. This way, no one feels guilty for taking vacation time.
7. Create a policy that discourages communication and notifications outside of work hours
One of employees’ most common complaints about their professional boundaries is that communication outside work interferes with their personal lives.
In fact, 52% of workers in the UK say that their work-home boundaries are blurred.
Work-life balance is important, and a big part of it is leaving work at work. Work bleeding into days off, family time, and mental health days can cause unnecessary stress.
Giving employees a chance to disconnect from work completely enables them to return recharged, energetic, and productive.
Emails and messages outside of work hours are enough of a problem that France made them illegal in 2017 with its “right to disconnect” bill.
Most people say the bill is too vague to be enforced strictly, but its presence has caused French businesses to perk up and set better work-life boundaries because they’re now aware of the problem.
It’s also caused a ripple effect, with the Philippines, Belgium, the Netherlands, and India passing similar laws.
8. Step in, mediate, and help find solutions when conflicts arise
As an HR professional, it’s your job to step in to help if conflicts arise because of the boundaries you’re encouraging.
These disagreements are bound to happen occasionally, and your people will be glad you’re there to help.
For example, say you have an overworked designer who simply can’t work weekends anymore. You help her iron out the details, so she’s finally starting to manage her mental health and burnout.
However, she works with several departments, and one complains when the designer says that her minimum turnaround time is now three days instead of two.
In a situation like this, ensure you step in and mediate to help resolve the conflict.
Another way to give them a hand in maintaining their boundaries is by providing support and training to set healthy boundaries at work, like teaching them how to say “no” in a constructive way or minimize workplace conflict.
Setting boundaries at work helps your company and employees alike
Setting healthy boundaries in the workplace helps reduce burnout and quiet quitting and creates an organization that employees can feel safe and secure working for.
As an HR professional, you’re there to support your people and ensure they maintain their mental, emotional, and physical health. Therefore, your role in helping staff set clear boundaries is critical.
To read more about why HR is crucial to your staff’s happiness, read our article on why HR is important.
To gain more insight into your candidates’ core beliefs and worldviews, use our Enneagram test.