Tips For Setting Boundaries When You Start A New Job (It's The Best Time To Do It)

Now that the usual distance between home and office has collapsed for many of us, it's even more important to clearly define our work boundaries. Technology has made any type of communication — even to a remote overseas location at 3 AM — instantly accessible via the web. But on a new job where we're eager to impress everyone, that doesn't mean it's healthy for us to always be on and available, collapsing that home/office divide even further. Per the Mayo Clinic, an unreasonable workload and being reachable 24/7 is a direct pipeline to burnout.

Although it's best to establish clear boundaries when you start a new job, if this discussion helps you recognize you would benefit from establishing some new rules of engagement at your existing job, go for it. As we learn more, we do better, and if someone questions why you've switched gears, you can explain that you realized that if you didn't manage your time and emotional energy better, your work would suffer and you'd be less productive. Moving forward, know that there are definitely times when it makes sense to say 'no' at work — and when to hold back.

Types of overt work boundaries

Boundaries really stretch in three directions: the ones you set for yourself, with your co-workers, and with your boss. Guidelines teach people how to treat us, plus, as we honor our word to ourselves, we create a bedrock of self-trust. Of course, the key to benefiting from your boundaries is to consistently observe them.

To both prevent burnout and honor your own space if you're in a physical office, consider always taking a lunch hour and eating away from your desk. This can be hard if you're under a deadline or feel you "must" overdeliver or catch up, but rest actually works better for high-quality productivity than grinding away and neglecting yourself. Choose not to answer work emails past a certain hour, say 6 pm or 7 pm, and stick to it. Set "away" messages when you're not available, for instance in Slack. And if you're not available, don't answer a ping! To eliminate co-worker interruptions during a focused work session, you might wear noise-canceling headphones.

Unless you're at a start-up and have chosen an exciting, but often rule-free, wild west environment, stick with your defined work hours and don't work over the weekend unless it's by special agreement for a project. Another office boundary: avoid gossip or negativity. That's how toxic environments get built, and you don't want it to bite you later. If you proactively tell your boss how you'd like to get feedback, you're being transparent and building respect.

Setting more subtle work boundaries

Sometimes it takes more than an "away" message to guard your time and emotional health. If someone overshares about their boyfriend or tries to unfairly delegate some work to you, initiate a boundary-setting convo. Keep it simple: "No, I can't add to my workload. My schedule is full for now," or "I appreciate that you trust me, but this topic feels distressing to talk about." If speaking this candidly is hard, role-play with a trusted non-work friend to rehearse it.

No matter how inclusive and friendly your company is, there will be a different set of dynamics with your boss. You can still assert yourself in a professional way and maintain an excellent working relationship by keeping communication precise. Be a problem-solver, not just a nay-sayer. It's possible your boss may not know how much work you need to finish, and if she asks for a task that needs to be done at night and your boundary is you don't do that, you can say, "That would require working after hours, so I wouldn't be available for that but I'm totally ready for that assignment and will prioritize it first thing tomorrow."

The company might have originally set its own boundary and after-hours work is part of the deal; that's different. But when your boundaries are repeatedly ignored, you might be dealing with a toxic workplace. If work is eroding your mental health, you'll need to reclaim control and, maybe, plan an exit strategy.