It starts small.
First, your boss asks you to sneak a quick peek at some documents when you get a chance over the weekend. Next, a desperate (and disorganized) coworker asks you to take on a teensy project that’s not really part of your job but “won’t take too long.” You roll up your sleeves to get it done, JUST this once.
But then it happens again. And again. And again. Before you know it, you’re in deep, and those “little favors” have become regular expectations.
Setting healthy work boundaries can seem scary if you’re a habitual helper or a people pleaser. But while saying yes at every turn may feel like an effective conflict avoidance tactic, it’s hurting you mentally, emotionally, and sometimes even physically. As we move into 2022, now is an excellent time for you to reassess your availability to others at work so you can regain balance in the New Year.
What’s a Boundary and What Happens When We Don’t Set Them?
A boundary is a set of rules around how you want others to treat you in personal or professional relationships. The term “boundary” originally referred to a line or marker setting out one’s land and distinguishing it from others. Today, we still use them to keep others from occupying our property without permission.
But what happens when we don’t use this principle in other areas of life, such as setting healthy boundaries at work?
We Start Feeling Overwhelmed and Resentful
Resentment is a natural response when we feel taken advantage of. When we keep giving and giving (without replenishing or addressing our own needs), we start to feel like our personal rights are being violated. And constantly saying yes makes our responsibilities pile up, which naturally leads to stress, overwhelm, and, eventually, burnout!
We Lose Clarity and Control
Taking on more responsibility at work because you’re on a promotion track is one thing. But unclear boundaries can cause you to lose clarity about your job description and control of your career trajectory. If you’re not sure what your role is anymore, you can’t correctly measure your effectiveness at it, demand the proper compensation, or set goals.
We Stop Enjoying the Experience
Our inability to define or communicate our boundaries creates room for others to take more and more liberties. That dream job can feel like a severe nightmare when that happens continuously.
How to Start Saying NO Without Feeling Guilty
You may feel like you have no control over the situation, but the truth is, you need to take some responsibility for how others treat you at work. Most people don’t mean to take advantage of you; they just assume what you’re okay with based on what you allow. Here are some guidelines to get things straight:
Reframe Your Narrative
First, work on how you think about setting healthy boundaries at work. Saying “no” at the right time and place isn’t mean or selfish; it helps you stay grounded and do your job even better.
Do Regular Self-Reflection
Your boundaries are unique to you, so you need to decide your priorities and what you’re okay with at work. Based on your goals, where should you focus your energy? Begin there.
Take Baby Steps
Next, start slowly but surely drawing the line at small things, like taking full responsibility for unloading the dishwasher at work, answering emails at all hours of the day, or planning the next social mixer all by yourself. Get used to setting boundaries around tasks that are big enough for you to notice a difference but not so big that you’re afraid of receiving backlash you’re not yet ready to handle.
Develop a Communication Framework
At some point, you’ll find yourself having to say no to more consequential things. It may feel scary at first, so prepare yourself with a handy formula:
- Step 1: Politely decline
- Step 2: Briefly state (not justify) your reasons
- Step 3: Offer an alternative solution
“Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m at full capacity with [insert current task] at the moment. If this new task is more urgent, I’m happy to help, but I’ll need someone else to take over [insert current task].”
“Thanks for sending this over, but my weekends are my family time. I’ll be happy to look at it first thing on Monday!”
The point is, you can set healthy boundaries at work without acting (or feeling) like a jerk!
How Are Your Boundaries Looking for 2022?
Learning how to say no could be the key to having the most fulfilling work year you’ve had in a long time.
But understanding how to set boundaries starts with understanding yourself.
If you’re struggling to articulate your career-related thoughts, secure a free spot in my calendar to unscramble and give them a voice just in time for the New Year!