7 Ways to Set Healthy Work Boundaries for Better Mental Health

Published on 3/15/2023

Hi, what’s your name? What do you do?

One of the first things we ask a person is what their job is, and that already builds the foundation of how we see them. It’s at the top of dating profiles, no matter the app, and something people will always check.

It’s not difficult to see why this is the case. We do spend an average of 40 hours a week doing this occupation, and we live in a society focused on that output.

But there are 168 hours remaining in a week. If we assume that we sleep 8 hours a night, that leaves 112 hours for non-work. So why does it take us so long to ask about that non-work time? And why do we allow those 40 hours to spread into our own time and energy?

To enjoy this non-work period of our week, we need healthy boundaries to guard our time. We need to be able to leave our job and focus on ourselves.

We live in an age rife with side hustles, burnout, emotional exhaustion and more, and we’ve come to normalise it. But let this be the year that you set healthy work boundaries for better mental health.

1. Out of Office, Out of Mind

Remote working should make it easier than ever to get distance from your work and enjoy a healthier work-life balance, but I’ve noticed the opposite can just as easily be true. Because you can work almost anywhere, you don’t see as much reason to take off.

Whereas in the past, you would’ve taken a week off to go to sunny Portugal, you now think “eh, I can just remote work”. Or you won’t bother taking a day off when you’ve got an appointment or event in the morning, as you can just remote work on your way there and back.

You end up existing in a limbo of working and yet not working. This actually makes you less productive at work, as your boundaries get blurred. Additionally, it can make your colleagues less productive, as they never know when they can reach you and end up waiting for a response. But worst of all, this also means you’re not properly resting.

If you announce your holiday time and include “I’ll still check Slack” or “I’ll have my laptop with me”, you’re immediately poking holes in your work/life boundary. You’re allowing people to reach out and you’re not being present in your time off.

When you’re at work, be at work wholeheartedly. But when you’re off, be off. Don’t half-arse your holiday time.

So when you announce time off, don’t say you’ll have your laptop, don’t say you’ll check your emails. You’re going to be off on unpaid time. That is your time.

I always like to mention time off to my team a week prior and say, “If you need anything from me, let me know before then.”

This ensures that they can carry on just fine without me, and that when I’m off, I block Slack on my phone and I don’t check my emails.

Also, I work in marketing, nothing is ever that urgent.

2. Get off your emails

This applies for holiday time, but also general day-to-day life.

Firstly, the email app on your phone is dangerous. You might notice that you have a tendency to mindlessly scroll on your phone. You’re looking for that dopamine rush that you get from TikToks or Instagram stories. So when you’re watching a TV show or waiting around, your brain drives you to search for that rush again.

But this means that you might end up looking at your email app for it, as it’s packaged in the same way. Your brain just wants that hit, wherever it can get it, even from work emails.

This means that you’re not switching off. Because even though you don’t answer any emails, they’re still occupying a little slice of your brain. It’s even creating double effort, as you’ll have to return to those emails later.

I am very guilty of this. I turned off notifications for the email app, and yet I still find myself browsing over it too many times a day. Especially first thing in the morning and last thing at night. So now I’ve set a timer for the email app to be more conscious with it. Even that little reminder popping up does the trick to snap me out of my dopamine hunger.

I considered just deleting the email app, but sometimes I need it for tickets or bookings. I don’t want to be waiting to check in at the airport and realise my browser isn’t loading. So I’m still searching for the right solution.

Additionally, this work-life boundary applies to emails on your computer. I used to always keep my emails open in a tab while I did other things. I would productively procrastinate by constantly returning to it. I’d open emails and choose to respond later.

Again, this is sacrificing space in your brain to emails you’re not handling immediately, and wasting time. So now I’m giving myself a set time to check my emails, first thing in the morning, once after lunch, and once at the end. Anything in-between can wait, as like I said, I don’t work in a particularly urgent industry.

3. Leave loudly

I got this healthy work boundary tip from a friend, and I am truly enamoured by it!

She told me that something her work recommends is to always leave loudly. Whether that’s early in the day for an appointment, or at the end of a regular work day. They ask that everyone is very vocal about when they sign off and head home.


Well this ensures that people realise you’re not working and don’t bother you further. They don’t expect anything from you until the next day, which allows them to focus on different things, and gives you some peace of mind.

Additionally, it also reduces the shame around finishing early. Sometimes we need to go to an appointment at 3pm, life happens. Sometimes we finish our work early and don’t want to start anything new at 4.45pm. Whatever it is, that’s okay. People don’t need to secretly slink out the back door without drawing attention to themselves. They can give everyone a big wave and say they’ll see you tomorrow.

I think the same should go for remote working. I do the majority of my work with one colleague in particular and we make it a habit to sign off when we’re finishing. Whether that’s early, ‘on-time’  or late, we’ll mention it. And if she is finishing a bit earlier, or tells me she is heading out for an hour to walk her dog, I don’t judge her or think she isn’t pulling her weight. As I do the same sometimes. It isn’t about the hours that you work, but the work you complete in that time.

So leave loudly and proudly.

4. Separate work and private

I am all for work besties, and I’m even concerned about the impact of remote working on office friendships, but I do think that it’s necessary to find a boundary.

Firstly, don’t be stressed if your work friends are just work friends. I know a lot of people in their twenties assume they have to find their best friends at work, but this isn’t always the case. Great if it happens, but fine if it doesn’t. It’s enough to respect your colleagues or to simply enjoy the work you do. Making friends as an adult is hard, but you can find friends through hobbies, workout classes or other places.

And if you do create friends at work that you like to see outside of work, then be sure to set boundaries for your own mental health. Don’t only discuss work with them. I love a good rant or office gossip as much as the next person - my colleagues will tell you as much! - but I also make sure to dedicate time with my work besties to discuss things outside of that.

I ask questions about their personal lives, everything beyond the 9 to 5. That might be trips they’re taking, their relationship, their family or where they’re from. Once you bridge the gap into personal, this comes easier and without any additional thought.

This also ensures that your work bestie becomes a fully-formed friend, rather than a bonus of your job. Then if either of you leave, you’re assured that the conversation won’t be stilted once you’ve lost your common denominator.

Separating work and your private life might mean something different for everyone. For some, it’s not having colleagues follow them on social media. For others, it’s not drinking heavily with colleagues or discussing private matters. And for many, it’s not dipping their toe in the office ink, if you get my meaning… I know some great couples that started out as colleagues, but I also know many individuals who regret sleeping with a colleague and hated everyone knowing. So just proceed with caution is all I’m saying.

5. Set your own deadlines

Okay, we’ve talked plenty about life outside of work. But this is an article about setting healthy work boundaries for better mental health, so let’s actually talk about things at your job!

I work at a start-up, which means that everyone is so passionate. This is one of the best things about my job, but also comes with its own challenges. Namely that everyone has projects they want to make happen. They all want to help the company grow. So on a normal day, I’ll have at least three people ask me to do something, alongside all my own tasks and projects.

I’m a chronic people pleaser, and so I used to just keep saying yes. The result was that I’d end up shelving all my own tasks, such as content for the website and SEO upkeep, and deliver projects late as I couldn’t do it all.

I used to always ask, “When do you need this by?”, and as you can imagine, people always said it was urgent or as soon as possible.

But then I stopped asking that question, and instead I told them when they could have it by.

“I can finish this by Thursday afternoon, okay?”

Almost always, people said it was fine. They took me for my word and said that the deadline I had provided worked for them. On rare occasions, they would say that they actually needed it earlier, by Wednesday morning for example. For those exceptions, I would shift things around. But this ensured that tasks worked to my schedule rather than me constantly dropping everything. It helped me to feel less stress and not work crazy hours to meet unfeasible deadlines.

I began creating the deadlines as I had what they needed, and I felt that it encouraged people to respect my time as well. They would approach me with enough notice rather than assuming I could do some magic in a day.

When someone would have multiple projects for me, I’d ask them to create a priority list. I’d clarify that I could only get one done this week, so which did they want the most? This allowed them to get what they need most and ensured I didn’t feel hassled to do more.

6. Respect your own time

If you don’t respect your time, why should anyone else?

As mentioned in the previous point, part of respecting your time is setting your own deadlines. But it’s also more than this.

Respecting your own time is choosing what is worth that time. Projects that make a difference, that you believe in. It’s looking at the time in your workday and allocating it to what matters most. So if people come to you with other suggestions, you honestly express whether this is the best use of your time.

Respecting your own time means stopping at the end of the work day, but also working until then and not spending a good hour on Tiktok. It’s a work in progress, and you won’t be perfect.

By respecting your time at work you make it easier to step back when you need to. You also get to enjoy the fruits of your labour and feel pride at your productivity.

So use your voice at work especially when it comes to tasks that will end up on your plate. Respect your time and don’t allow yourself to be dragged into meetings that don’t concern you, or to do work that someone else could do better.

7. Stop thinking you owe so much

I recently listed this as an important boundary for friendships, but it applies to the workplace too!

It’s very easy to feel like we owe our job so much. We get a nice paycheck from them each month and we live off that, so I can see why we feel like we need to be so grateful. And while gratitude is never a bad thing in healthy doses, it’s important to also recognise the other side of things.

Because you give your work a great deal. They earn a lot from having you, way more than they pay you. They’re not doing you a favour by sending that paycheck, they’re paying you for the benefits you bring them in whatever function you perform.

Nowadays, a lot of jobs are hiring and struggling to fill positions. It’s finally a good time to be an employee rather than an employer. That isn’t to say that you should quit or that anyone can find a job in minutes, but just that the power imbalance is finally being slightly righted.

So while you should work hard, also for your own sense of satisfaction, do not bend over backwards for a company that could, and would, replace you if they needed. Do the job you’re paid for, and live the life that it funds.

It’s a cliche but work to live, don’t live to work.

You’re paid to do that role for 40 hours a week, not on the weekends or evenings, and not to take up additional roles they haven’t filled. Consider what you owe them and give them that.

Ready to set some healthy boundaries at work? Feel like making sure your work doesn’t impact your mental health?

You have all the tools you need, and at the end of the day, it’s about remembering your worth. Your job is lucky to have you, so don’t feel like you have to sprint at a hamster wheel just to get by. No job is worth poor mental health. Especially because there are jobs out there that won’t ask this of you, and will appreciate the work you do within your 40 hours. Ensure that your job gives you energy, but that things outside of work do too!



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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