How to Instil Boundaries Between Work and Social Life


These days the boundaries between work and home life are unequivocally blurred. We live in a world where our work-life follows us around in our pocket, and our friends from childhood know what bar we were at last night (after a quick nose on social, that is).

However, it’s not just because there’s better tech, since the pandemic most of the world lost its ability to place those all-important boundaries between work and social (or home) life. Since people have been working from home or adopting hybrid working, the lines have become not just blurred but frayed.

Therefore, it’s essential to know how to put in boundaries for when you need them. For example, it’s important to be able to switch off on those well-deserved holidays, instead of emailing from your phone poolside.

It’s not always possible to entirely switch off during certain times but it’s important to know how and when to put in a boundary otherwise not having boundaries can become a habit that turns into a low sense of wellbeing, which can then impact all areas of your life including your productivity.

What are Boundaries?

Simply put, boundaries are the lines that exist between feeling what’s acceptable about something and what’s not acceptable. It’s an imaginary line that separates you from someone else, and our boundaries can tell others about how they can behave around you. Without boundaries, colleagues, family members or friends may take advantage of you, if you haven’t set limits about how you expect to be treated. In a nutshell, your boundaries separate your physical space, needs and responsibilities from other people. You can also think of a boundary as a property line.

When a Boundary Has Been Crossed

You’ll know if one of your boundaries has been crossed. If you feel something isn’t OK for you, and you might experience anxiety, anger, frustration, guilt, envy or resentment – this might be a flag indicating that a boundary has been crossed. You could even feel it physically and experience it as tiredness, overwhelm or just generally feeling run down.

Sometimes these expressions such as tiredness or frustration can occur for other reasons too, so it’s important to check in with yourself to see if a boundary has been breached or whether it’s linked to something else.

Sometimes we cross our own boundary – such as when people-pleasing others and taking on too much. Or it could be someone else crossing the boundary – perhaps they’ve asked you to do them a favour out of hours. If we fail to live by our own boundaries when we work too late, we let others walk all over us or else we end up saying yes to the things we really don’t want to do. Either way, it’s our responsibility to take action and get back to a place where things feel acceptable.

Boundary Setting

Hint: Have a tough conversation.

Sometimes setting boundaries is about what might feel like having a tricky conversation with someone or making a difficult decision. However, although we might feel a pang of fear about potentially saying the wrong thing, appearing demanding or offending someone, installing a boundary is in fact an investment for the future. Armed with some diplomacy and good intentions, the right kind of conversation can go a long way. It’s important to always state how the situation is impacting you. You don’t need to give a lengthy speech and in some cases you can offer up a different way of how the situation could be handled or approached to ensure your boundaries aren’t crossed in the future.

Easy Boundary Setting: Five Ways to Instil Some Simple Boundaries

  1. Be clear about the facts. State what your new boundary is, and if you need to explain why it’s impacting you. Feel free to outline the consequences you’re experiencing if and when this boundary is crossed.
  2. There is no need to apologise. Your boundary has been crossed. The other person may not have intended to do this, but there’s certainly no need for you to say sorry.
  3. Keep it simple, use clean non-violent communications. State your needs. You don’t even need to mention the word boundary.
  4. Some practical ways to instil boundaries between work and social/home life might include deleting your email app off your phone when on annual leave and using out of office messages to clearly state your availability. Put your phone away at mealtimes, delete any other unhelpful apps, including social media if it’s causing anything but joy.
  5. Sometimes boundary-setting might feel straightforward, other times if could feel like constantly rebuilding fences. That’s the key. If a boundary is crossed, keep putting it back up again. Occasionally, if it’s repeatedly crossed despite your best efforts in communicating your boundary, you may need to take further action or request support.

Creating Alternative Ways to Approach Work Life Balance

Sometimes creating new habits and rituals can be a great way to instil new ways of working. A new routine gives you a chance to introduce others to how things might be done. Here are a few ideas:

Instead of eating lunch at your desk, make a point of leaving the office for half an hour (or more) for a walk, coffee or to eat your lunch elsewhere. Guard that routine like gold dust.

Instead of checking work emails on your commute (sometimes you have to, we get it) or in the bath, listen to a podcast instead.

Replace other habits like answering messages on half-days and evenings with putting your working hours or times you can be reached (this may change daily or weekly) on your signature or voicemail.