10 Commandments of Workplace Boundaries

According to Harvard Business Review, the average person spends more than 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime– that’s about one-third of your life.  In my work with emerging adults who are often entering the workforce as a full-time employee for the first time, we often talk about strategies for setting boundaries to support a work-life balance. 

Just as in any other important area of life, boundaries are a must to have a sustainable healthy relationship with this part of your life. If you are struggling with striking a work-life balance, consider practicing the 10 commandments of workplace boundaries, which are examples of creating a work-life balance…

1. Thou shalt only respond to work emails during work hours. 

Because most people have their email in their pockets on their smartphones, we are much more accessible to our workplaces than ever before. It can be tempting to check email outside of work hours but doing so is unpaid work and can easily tilt work-life balance towards being uneven.

Some people say they want to answer emails to get ahead, but the truth is there will always be emails and tasks to be taken care of. If you insist on checking work email outside of work, I highly recommend setting limits around it (only on work days, only for a few minutes, only for a certain purpose like checking if your first meeting of the day has been canceled, etc.)

2. Thou shalt only work during work hours. 

PTO and sick leave are paid time for JUST that: to NOT be working.  If you choose to work during your PTO/sick leave, you usually are not allowed to reuse that time off or get the time added back to your accrual bank. 

3. Thou shall not stay seated for longer than an hour.  

Sitting for prolonged periods without movement can have several negative effects on your health including muscle inactivity, poor posture, reduced blood circulation, negative metabolic health outcomes, and increasing the risk of heart disease. 

It’s important for your nervous system to move around and to take breaks from sitting for long periods.  Such breaks can involve standing up, stretching, walking around, or doing light physical activity–these help to activate muscles, improve circulation, and maintain overall physical health and comfort.

4. Thou has a right to a safe workplace where thou art respected and free from harassment. 

If someone feels unsafe at work, there are several steps they can take to address the situation including reporting the issue to a supervisor, manager, or human resources department.  Some companies even have anonymous third-party reporting options.  In many jurisdictions, workers have protections against retaliation for reporting safety concerns.  In cases where the workplace fails to address significant safety concerns, contacting relevant regulatory authorities or occupational health and safety agencies may be necessary.

In extreme cases where safety concerns are severe and persistently ignored, seeking legal advice from an employment lawyer may be an option to explore your rights and potential legal recourse.  It’s crucial to prioritize personal safety and take proactive steps to address any concerns promptly and effectively. Employers have a legal and moral obligation to provide a safe work environment, and employees should feel empowered to advocate for their safety.

5. Thou has a right to take breaks. 

I have a personal rule where I do not eat lunch at my desk.  Different countries and states/provinces have their own regulations regarding breaks and rest periods for employees. Many jurisdictions have laws that mandate specific rest breaks and meal periods for employees based on the length of their shifts.

Employers are typically required to adhere to these laws and provide employees with the breaks they are entitled to under the relevant regulations. Failure to do so may result in penalties or fines for the employer.  There may be exceptions or variations in break requirements depending on the industry, type of work, or specific agreements negotiated between employers and employees or their representatives. 

Employees can typically find information about their rights regarding breaks from government labor departments, employee handbooks, or collective bargaining agreements if applicable. If an employer consistently denies breaks that are required by law, employees may have recourse through filing a complaint with labor authorities or seeking legal advice.

6. Thou has a right to balance out peak times of busy-ness.  

Balance doesn’t always mean 50/50, especially during busy or peak times, but that doesn’t mean you have to neglect your boundaries.  For example, if you squeeze in an appointment for somebody, balance it out by blocking off another time on your schedule.  

7. Thou has a right to use your employer-sponsored benefits.

That’s what they are there for! Benefits are part of your compensation and not using them most likely hurts you more than anyone else. 

8. Thou has the right to say no and voice your concern to a work ask that’s unethical or illegal.

Keep detailed records of any communications, instructions, or requests related to unethical or illegal activity. This documentation can be important if you need to report the situation later.  Politely express your concerns to your supervisor or manager. Sometimes, they may not be aware that what they are asking is unethical or illegal.

Clearly communicate your objections and provide reasons why you believe the request is problematic.  Review your company’s policies and procedures. Many organizations have policies related to ethics, compliance, and reporting misconduct. These policies may outline steps for addressing such situations.  In many jurisdictions, whistleblowers are protected by law from adverse employment actions for reporting misconduct in good faith.

9. Thou has a right to set boundaries for thyself. 

Depending on your workplace culture, it can be difficult to set and implement your own boundaries.  If your boss or coworkers choose to work while they are on PTO or do not have an interest in having a work-life balance, that does not have to dictate your boundaries.  You may be surprised at how your intention to set your own boundaries can spread to others. 

10. Thou has a right to be treated like a human.