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Why are boundaries important for mental health in the workplace?

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” – Brené Brown*

Boundaries are important in all areas of our lives, but in the workplace, they take on an extra significance.

They are the limits we create to protect ourselves from over-committing, being manipulated or behaving in an unethical way – creating a safe working environment for everyone.

Brené Brown* sums it up perfectly when she says: “ A ‘Boundary’ is simply what’s ok and what’s not ok.”

Setting clear boundaries is an important form of self-care – it ensures you are saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the appropriate things and also sets out what will happen if the boundary isn’t respected.

So, what are the benefits of clear, healthy boundaries?

  • They protect our rights and stop us being manipulated or taken advantage of. 
  • They help us to feel respected and appreciated, avoiding unhealthy stress and potential burnout and stop the build-up of resentment.
  • They can boost self-esteem, and prevent feelings of self-doubt, sadness and even shame for allowing others to treat you poorly.
  • They lead to better communication, improved assertiveness, improved relationships, and an increased feeling of safety.
  • With clear boundaries other people will understand your limits, know whether you are OK and will adjust their behaviour accordingly.

And what happens without boundaries?

  • We can suffer low self-esteem; we seek approval from others and feel helpless or afraid of being rejected or criticised.  
  • We become dissatisfied at work as we are always trying to please others to the detriment of ourselves.
  • We can suffer stress and burnout from trying to do too much and not being able to say ‘no’.
  • We start to feel out of control and resentful.
  • Over time we can lose concentration and start to not care about our work.

What can employers do?

Employers can encourage those in the workplace to set boundaries and actively engage to find out what boundaries people have set and why.

They can work together with the employee to manage and respect boundaries, and also keep them under constant review – to monitor what is and isn’t working.

What can employees do?

For some people, setting boundaries is difficult – many of us are people pleasers and especially in the workplace find it hard to say no to our superiors.

One approach is that instead of saying a flat ‘no’, try to come up with an alternative solution. A good manager will always respond better to that than a flat refusal.

An agreement can often be reached that doesn’t compromise your personal boundaries, but still gets the job done.

I can help people in business to understand boundaries and their importance through one-to-one coaching or our workshop, Applying Healthy Boundaries. One of the aspects of the workshop is to help people develop the confidence and the skills to say ‘no’ if necessary.


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