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What are work boundaries?  

Boundaries are limits we create for ourselves within different relationships – it means how much ourselves we invest in each relationship, including work relationships. Boundaries at work include how much time we spend outside of what we are supposed to, what we discuss with coworkers, how social we feel, the number of tasks we take on, or even how we see the job itself. For instance, someone might have a boundary where they do not see their job as something they find fulfilling, but rather as something more tangible, like a paycheck. Just like in any relationship, people can have healthy, rigid, or porous boundaries at work.

How do work boundaries affect me?

You can have rigid, healthy, or porous boundaries at work, and they all have their pros and cons. If someone has porous boundaries, this may lead them to take on more projects and assignments than they are able to, work extended hours, or skip breaks and time off. This often happens during the “honeymoon” phase of burnout where individuals work hard to prove themselves. These types of porous boundaries can eventually lead to anxiety, depression, cynicism, and what is known as habitual burnout. On the other hand, people with more rigid boundaries may not show initiative or interests in growing with their job, which may cause employers to overlook them when it comes to merit increases, promotions, or referrals. This can also lead to lower job satisfaction and over quality of life. 

How can I set better boundaries at work?

One of the best things you can do to avoid burnout and set better boundaries at work is to recognize what you are capable of. When you are starting a new role, you may be especially susceptible to taking on more than you can in hopes of impressing your employer. Take your time in learning the job, make mistakes, ask for help, and take breaks. Likewise, if you’re interested in growing in your role, and you feel like you can take on more or different tasks, talk to your supervisor about your professional development trajectories. Just make sure you’re not taking on more than you can. Above all, make sure to be kind to yourself and practice self-care; the people who are best at their jobs are those who take care of themselves first.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.