Why You Should Assert Your Boundaries As Soon As You Start A New Job

It’s all about your language.
Namthip Muanthongthae via Getty Images

You’re reading Life-Work Balance, a series aiming to redirect our total devotion to work into prioritising our personal lives.

When you first begin in a new work place, it’s tempting to go above and beyond - starting early, leaving late, being available, taking shorter lunch breaks. After all, you want to prove that you’re a hard worker, a team player and all the things you’d promised in your job interview.

But we all know that this is just an image we’re projecting of the ideal worker, and in most cases, it’s unlikely to be sustainable.

Most of us, at some point, will need to or want to draw up boundaries to break away from the exhausting model that can inevitably lead to burn out. Which is why we should assert those all-important boundaries right from the start.

This might look like adding your working hours on your email signature, telling your colleagues and bosses of the times you’re unavailable to work (but insisting that the work load will be tackled within business hours), and taking breaks and annual leave as and when you’re entitled.

Not only is this healthier, it also saves your bosses from being surprised if you suddenly insert boundaries where previously there were none (of course, if you’ve fallen into a negative pattern this shouldn’t deter you from taking action now – you should always champion your own mental and physical health).

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand that you as an employee and a person matter, and everyone has their limits. Acknowledge yours early, says Hanna Martin, a coach, psychotherapist and founder of the Talented Ladies Club, which aims to unlock the professional and personal potential of women.

So, how can we do this?

It’s all about your language, says Martin. She tells HuffPost UK: “Don’t over-use the word sorry, or say ‘I wish I could but…’ This makes it looks like you should be doing these things, and are letting someone down.

“And never make an excuse about why you can’t help on this occasion, for example, ‘I’d love to help but I have a meeting at 3pm.’ You just risk people seeing these tasks as something you will help with, and they’ll come back to you another time, so just assure them that someone else might be more appropriate to ask.

“It is important to stick to your boundaries - not just because you don’t want to be seen as a pushover - but allowing yourself to be coerced into tasks you are not responsible for takes you away from your own work and can trigger a growing resentment against your colleagues and job.”

Of course, not obliging other people feels uncomfortable and can even be awkward, so ensure you do so with politeness.

“You can help a colleague out, or do something outside your immediate remit,” adds Martin, “but you should certainly not feel obliged to take on more than your fair share if you don’t wish.

“It’s important to pick your battles. There may be times when it’s appropriate and kind to help a colleague out, or volunteer for an extra task. But this should always be your personal choice; you should never feel pressured into something. And it should never be at the expense of your own work.”

Being vocal about your needs might feel uncomfortable or make you seem selfish, but in the long run, you’ll be happier for it.

Martin adds that it’s all about your general demeanour.

“If you are generally friendly and helpful, then people will respect you when you assert your boundaries,” she says. “In fact they will respect you more when you do.”

HuffPost UK/ Isabella Carapella

Life-Work Balance questions the status quo of work culture, its mental and physical impacts, and radically reimagines how we can change it to work for us.