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Practicing boundaries at work - why it's important and how to do it

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Brendan Jarvis, who interviewed me a few months ago for his Brave UX podcast, invited me to participate in a year-end wrap-up by sharing something that I would like people to think about as we go into 2022.

It may not come as a surprise that I chose the topic of boundaries at work. It's something I'm quite passionate about in my own life, and it comes up a lot with my coaching clients.

This link will take you to my little spiel about why it's important to practice boundaries, and some ideas for how to do so. I suggest checking out the full video for some great insights from other Brave UX podcast guests.

Here is the full transcript:

My name is Amy Santee and I’m a Career Strategist and Coach for UX Professionals who want to navigate their own way to success and impact the world for good. Something I would love everyone to think about as we go into 2022 is Boundaries.

Establishing and honoring my boundaries has been one of the most significant and valuable developments in my personal and professional life. So has understanding and respecting the boundaries of others.

Boundaries are important for all relationships and social situations, whether it's our family, partners, friends, strangers, colleagues, employers, and especially with ourselves. Boundaries can be physical, emotional, psychological, temporal, or financial.

If you think about it, practicing boundaries is a form of self care, self advocacy, and self respect. They are a manifestation of our values in action. For example, my values include transparency, excellence, acknowledgement, connection, and authenticity. I have learned a lot over the years about what kind of work environments allow me to thrive based on how much my values are honored, and whether or not my boundaries are respected by others.

It's not easy to practice this in a society where we feel obligated to others because of cultural norms, tradition, and hierarchy. This is especially true for women, people of color, people with disabilities, and other oppressed and underrepresented groups who are socialized to accommodate others and put others’ needs first.

Implementing boundaries might sound harsh or self-centered. It might sound anti-family, anti-community, or anti-coworker, but it's not. It's about protecting ourselves from unhealthy and imbalanced relationships. Having boundaries doesn’t mean we can’t be generous, engaged, and supportive.

It is possible to create a culture of healthy relationships, and the responsibility falls on everyone. This means challenging established norms and expectations, and questioning why these boundaries exist and who they serve. We must clearly communicate boundaries so people can adapt their behavior. At work, it means that organizations and employers have to care and provide an environment of psychological safety.

For the new year, I encourage everyone to think about how they can define and practice boundaries in the workplace. Think about areas where you could use more space or where you are lacking in something you deserve as a human being.

This could look like

  • Saying no to unfair requests of your time

  • Waiting to respond to emails

  • Recalibrating your performance expectations to a healthy level

  • Having integrity to your ethics

  • Negotiating a salary

  • Being open about your feelings

  • Saying no to a mentoring request

  • Telling someone they make you uncomfortable

  • Not doing things out of guilt or unreciprocated loyalty

  • Whistleblowing on your company for harmful or illegal activities

  • Organizing and unionizing your workplace to demand better working conditions, and showing solidarity with coworkers at all levels

To practice boundaries, you must first recognize and accept your agency and power, and you must truly believe you deserve to have boundaries that are respected by others. This will give you the necessary confidence to put them in place. Decide what it is you want for yourself, share this with others, and protect yourself if your boundaries are being crossed.

Practicing boundaries requires bravery and a willingness to take risks. Advocating for yourself and for others is always worth the reward. Be brave everyone, and have a happy and healthy 2022!


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