How to set boundaries with your manager without getting into trouble

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Stressed and frustrated businesswoman working on laptop till late at work
Saying no is hard, but unclear boundaries can lead to stress and burnout. Photo: Getty

You’re home after a long day and you’re ready to eat dinner, have a glass of wine and switch off. But then your phone pings, and it’s your boss wanting you to “quickly” check an email she’s forwarded to you.

You wouldn’t necessarily mind if this only happened occasionally, if there was an emergency at work. However, your manager has a habit of interrupting your evenings, weekends and even holidays with minor requests — often for things that can wait until office hours.

It’s not just annoying, but also means you struggle to relax when you’re not actually at work. You’re already working plenty of overtime and you want to be able to make the most of your time at home. So what can you do about it?

“When boundaries are unclear, it can impact both an individual’s performance and wellbeing,” explains Tessa Armstrong, a career coach and member of the Life Coach Directory.

READ MORE: How to be more resilient at work when everything is stressful

“It is important to set clear expectations with colleagues and managers to ensure there is a mutual understanding of values, objectives and responsibilities to avoid situations that can lead to burn out and stress,” she adds. “Clear defined boundaries ensure productive working relationships and efficiency as well as loyalty and respect when established with managers.”

The problem is, asking your boss to back off when you’re not in the office probably isn’t going to go down well. However, there are several steps you can take to establish stronger boundaries with your manager without causing a rift between you.

Communicate well

Communicating with your boss in a professional way is key, even when it seems like they are asking too much of you. Set out your limits clearly. If you don’t want your manager or colleagues to contact you at all hours, be polite but firm and tell them when you will be contactable for work-related conversations.

Lay out what an “emergency” actually is, too. It can help to subtly bring up that you want to spend quality time with family, friends or on hobbies.

“Working relationships often struggle when there has not been good communication throughout,” Armstrong says. “It is important for you both to agree how you are going to communicate and to establish regular review meetings to ensure consistency in communication and to address any difficulties that may have arisen with workload and delivery.”

Know your values and protect your time

Understanding what your values are can help you set boundaries too. You may have several non-work related responsibilities or things you’re passionate about, such as picking your kids up from school, or going to the gym.

READ MORE: Why being authentic at work is important — but so are boundaries

Set yourself boundaries to protect your time. For example, by turning your phone on silent after a certain time or leaving it in another room. And remember, responding to your manager’s out-of-hours requests all the time will only tell them that you’re happy to be contacted.

Learn to say no

Saying no is hard, and it’s something many of us struggle to do. More often than not, we find ourselves agreeing to do every single request at work — even when we’re already overstretched. It’s something we’re hardwired to do in order to please our bosses and prove our worth, but it can cause problems like stress and burnout.

When saying “no” to a manager’s request, it’s helpful to give a concrete explanation as to why you can’t do the task. Set out how fulfilling their request will impact other work: “If I spent time on X, it will impact how much time I have to spend on Y.”

Watch: How To Resign Without Burning Bridges

READ MORE: Why being selfish and manipulative won't boost your career

Think about why your manager is pushing your boundaries

Sometimes, it seems like a boss who won’t leave you alone after work or who asks too much of you is just doing it to be spiteful or exert their power. But this might not be the case. If your manager is anxious or worried about certain problems at work, they may not think about the impact of their actions.

Reassuring them about an issue as you leave the office or switch off your computer for the day may just put their mind at ease — meaning you won’t be hassled later on. And if all else fails, turn your phone off.