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  • Writer's pictureS. Anne Marie Archer

Boundaries in the Workplace: Get some, Set Some!

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

Here is an HR Tip about setting boundaries at work. Setting boundaries will help you spot a hostile work environment quickly.

When to start setting boundaries at work? As soon as you start the job.

A common issue that comes up with many of my clients and potential clients is that discriminatory behavior, bullying and microaggressions often start very early in the employment experience. But many do not recognize them when they first occur, or they fail to do anything to call them out. This is a significant error and one I would like to advise you against making.

Many issues at work arise out of a failure to set boundaries. That means clearly delineating your personal life from your professional life and setting clear boundaries with your coworkers and manager about what should be expected of you.

Of course, you’re hired to do a job and you should do it to the best of your ability at the highest possible level. However, that does not mean that you should be working 24 hours a day, evenings, and weekends especially uncompensated. It certainly does not mean that you should tolerate disrespect in any form at work.

The first time a manager or coworker contacts you after hours or on the weekend by email or text, that’s when you should start setting boundaries. The first time someone steps over a boundary you should gently usher them back to the right side of it. To fix a problem you MUST confront it but you can do so without being confrontational. But sometimes no matter how tactful and careful you are you may still be seen as “confrontational” just for calling out a problem especially if you are a person of color and a woman, especially a Black Woman. But, you must do it anyway.

How? By clearly pointing out the problematic behavior. You can do that gently one on one by stopping by your manager or coworkers’ office or cubicle and asking for a moment of their time. Privately, bring to their attention that they have said or done something that is problematic and share how it impacted you, and ask that they do something different in the future. If the behavior persists then you must escalate it to management and/or HR, documenting throughout.

This may sound scary but it is necessary and it is very important to do it very early in the employee-employer relationship. Why? Because it sets the stage for everything you will experience thereafter. If a manager is a bully, it will become very clear when you seek to set boundaries. If a coworker is problematic the same. And it’s better to know these things sooner rather than later so that you can begin documenting and strategizing on how you will address and resolve these issues on your terms. This is preferable to allowing the behavior to happen over and over until it begins to impact your ability to do your job and even possibly your mental and/or physical health.

When you raise problematic behavior or otherwise seek to set boundaries, sometimes you will Experience pushback.

If pushback occurs or the actor becomes become belligerent or retaliatory, they have now given you a gift because you now have grounds to go to HR and raise concerns about the retaliation along with the underlying behavior which you should have fully documented.

But what you should not fail to do is set firm lines in the sand from the very first day about what kind of behavior you will or will not accept.

The first time a manager or a coworker says something derogatory or disrespectful to you in a meeting or in one-to-one interaction is the time to immediately correct them and correct the behavior. Never let bad behavior slide because it just sets you up for more.

Remember: You teach people how to treat you one interaction at a time

Boundaries. Get some. Set some.

If you need advice or coaching on setting boundaries at work, I offer HR consulting & advice sessions. You can book one HERE.

If you need help navigating a discriminatory hostile work environment, or you want to get out of one, perhaps with some severance pay, Book a HWEES Discovery Call.

For more tips about navigating and escaping difficult HR situations,

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HR is not your enemy but they are definitely not your friend, I am.

I am the AntiHR, HRLady and I’m here to help.

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