How to set healthy boundaries at work to avoid burnout

Don't let your work life creep into your personal life.

Caroline Roberts Digital Editorial Intern
Caroline Roberts writes articles and notifications for CNET. She studies English at Cal Poly, and loves philosophy, Karl the Fog and a strong cup of black coffee.
Caroline Roberts
3 min read

Burnout is real. You don't have to set fire to your phone, though. 

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There's no doubt about it -- Americans today spend too much time working. More and more studies show that our over-dedication to our jobs is actually hurting our work performance and our health. 

Although it may feel like you need to be online 24/7 in order to make career progress, this unsustainable work style greatly increases your risk of burnout -- and a burnt-out employee is unlikely to make progress at all. Instead, if you develop healthy communication boundaries, you'll be able to stay mentally fresh and have great success in the long run.

Setting strong boundaries is difficult, but don't fear -- I'm here to give you some solid tips on how to be more assertive in the workplace.

1. Leave your work computer at work

If you don't work from home and your company has provided you with a laptop, try to always leave it locked in your desk at the end of the day. This is also a good opportunity to delete work-related software (like Slack) from your computer at home so you're not tempted to cheat. If you're preparing for a presentation first thing Monday morning, you can make an exception to the rule, but try to make it a habit to only work at the office.

2. Limit communication channels if possible

Looking at phone and computer screens

A million different communication channels don't help with your productivity.

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You probably use email, Slack, Google Chat and more to communicate with various coworkers and business partners. This definitely isn't helping with stress levels -- a survey of working professionals found that almost half felt like multiple communication channels made them feel less productive and unfocused.

Instead of simultaneously keeping an eye on three different email accounts and a million Slack channels, try to centralize your communication. This could mean forwarding all your emails into one account, or leaving Slack channels that aren't necessary to perform your job duties. 

3. Your boss should be your only boss

A dark-haired woman in a white shirt slumps over her desk, feeling stressed.

If a request from a coworker leaves you overwhelmed, simply tell them you'll get to it later.

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How many times has a coworker stopped by your desk with a "quick question" that ends up taking more than 15 minutes to untangle? It's hard to say no when someone asks for help, but when you find yourself overly busy at work you should consider limiting these personal favors.

Instead, try setting boundaries with people who aren't your boss or direct reports. If it's not time-sensitive, ask them to email you about the issue and you'll get to it later. Don't be afraid to let your boss know when these extra tasks are interfering with your actual job responsibilities -- they may be able to pull some rank for you.

4. Keep personal channels personal


No one likes work texts on a Friday night.

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It's sometimes completely natural to give out your cell phone number to coworkers -- maybe you'll be travelling together, or are friends outside of the office. 

But, the lines start to get a little blurry when coworkers start texting you about work-related stuff outside of office hours. This "never off the clock" mentality creates significant stress, so it's better to set a strict line with coworkers. Unless it's a dire emergency only you can solve, politely ask coworkers to refrain from texting your personal cell phone number about work (Cat pictures are still very welcome.)

5. Lead by example

Treat your coworkers as you would like to be treated. If you happen to be working late on the odd night, don't send 9 p.m. emails -- try to schedule them for the morning. Don't text colleagues about work-related matters on the weekends, and hopefully they'll return the favor. 

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate


Healthy communication boundaries are always a good thing.

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Once you start taking these steps, people at the office who aren't used to the new you might start to push back. They may want the coworker who will always respond to their emails right away, not the one who takes several hours. If people disagree with your revamped work style, calmly communicate to them why you're acting this way and how it helps you reduce stress.

Of course, if these tips are actually affecting your work performance, you'll need to modify your ways. But if a coworker gripes because you didn't respond to their 10 p.m. text, it's time to practice saying no again.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.