Four step process to set and maintain work boundaries

Boundary setting is a hot topic in business these days — for good reason.

Examples of boundary violations are numerous, and the results can range from unmotivated employees to sexual harassment complaints and worse, law suits. Replacing non-existent, rigid, weak or regularly violated boundaries with clear lines can make a positive difference in your business.

Workplace boundaries are basically lines that are drawn so that every member of your business has defined roles and interaction guidelines.  It’s about the affect of a person’s behavior on others.

The cost of poor job responsibility boundaries 

Setting boundaries is a multi-tiered task that includes job responsibility, interpersonal and personal boundaries.   I’m focusing for this article on the job responsibility boundaries because I’ve seen the cost NOT putting these boundaries in place can have on your business in the form of:

  • Performance issues
  • Low morale
  • Burned-out or overworked employees
  • Disrespect
  • Sexual harassment
  • Lack of motivation
  • Reduced creativity
  • Workplace bullying
  • Legal liabilities


When job responsibility boundaries (defined here as the lines that managers set for each of their reports) are not in place or violations of them are repeatedly tolerated, your business pays the price.

For example, a project leader allows team members to be repeatedly late to meetings, waste meeting time talking about personal interests and end the meeting without much being accomplished.  The leader’s already weak boundaries are being tested and pushed by the team and the result is likely a late, poor quality deliverable for the internal or external client.

So how do you go about setting the right boundaries for your organization?  Using your already established reporting relationships and job profiles as a basis, set the tone and draw the lines that make sense for your business.  Once each employee knows exactly what is expected, and understands their roles and responsibilities relative to their manager and each other, excuses and blame have no place.


Use this four step process to set and maintain work boundaries

  1. Testing:  If you set and communicate a boundary and an individual challenges it, it’s your job to hold the line firmly and fairly.   For example, a team member misses a deadline you’ve agreed on without renegotiating with you.  Your role is to make it clear that next time you want to know in advance if there is a problem, how far in advance, and then facilitate the employee’s process to meet the deadlines in the future.
  2. Pushing:  Pushing boundaries is different from testing them, in that it is less about power and more about another person unintentionally attempting to violate your boundaries to meet their own needs.  A team member who is repeatedly late for meetings despite your asking for on time attendance may be simply living their own boundaries around promptness.  Communicate your lines and expectations and ask how you can help make it happen.
  3. Clear No’s:   Not everyone responds to subtle messages.  In the workplace, it’s critical to be direct when you mean to say no.  Maybe you are taking on too many projects, feeling stressed, and not doing your best at any of them.  Be crystal clear, in a professionally firm way, that you are at your limit and explain why.
  4. Mindreading:  Your employees, colleagues, team members and manager cannot read your mind.  It’s your job to ask for what you want.  Present your requests with facts, solutions and a professional tone.

For a more effective workforce setting those job responsibilities boundaries is critical.

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