How to Talk About Personal Boundaries at Work

a group of co workers

Talking about recovery topics and your boundaries in the workplace can be daunting. However, you may need to have those conversations with coworkers and supervisors to ensure that the company you work for is a safe place where you can stay productive. 

Professional boundaries protect your physical and emotional health whether you work in an office or at home. By setting them in place, you keep your professional life from negatively impacting your personal life. According to information published in Frontiers in Psychology, "employees who experienced increases in blurring of work-life boundaries reported a deterioration in healthy lifestyle behaviors, which in turn relates to reduced happiness." 

Why Are Boundaries Important to Recovery? 

Without personal and professional boundaries, you run the risk of experiencing burnout due to increased stress. Boundaries create a safe space where you can grow and improve without having to worry about being triggered or pressured to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Workplace boundaries can translate to requiring accommodations to ensure you avoid specific triggers or transfer you to a less stressful position in the workplace. Without stating these needs, your supervisor has no way to know that you may require changes to your work environment.

Boundaries in the Workplace 

Most workplaces have guidelines and rules set in place that create expectations of behavior and conduct. Sometimes these are vague, and you might need to introduce personal boundaries to ensure that you feel safe and comfortable. Several examples of workplace boundaries include:

  • Not talking about certain topics in the workplace
  • Respecting personal privacy and avoiding contact outside of the workspace
  • Not using personal numbers or emails to conduct business communication
  • Not doing work outside your specific role
  • Not discussing private health or relationship issues at work

How to Talk About Boundaries

Conversations about personal or professional boundaries can feel awkward, and you might be uncertain how to introduce the subject. In most cases, it is best to be open and honest about the fact that you need to talk about things your coworkers or supervisor are doing that make you uncomfortable. Most people will listen politely and attempt to set you at ease even if they do not entirely understand the cause of your discomfort. Straightforward and clear communication is essential. 

For example, suppose a coworker often makes comments at work about binge drinking on the weekends, and you are recovering from alcohol use disorder (AUD). In that case, you can ask them politely to avoid talking about that topic in the workplace during business hours. Not everyone feels comfortable speaking directly to coworkers about personal issues, so you can also reach out to a human resource representative or your direct supervisor who can act as an intermediary. 

Prepare With a Script 

Sometimes making a script of what you would like to say can make it easier. In the scenario described above, you could write a script of what you would like to say to a coworker, supervisor, or human resource representative. Below is an example of how you could approach the subject in a polite and professional way:

  • When Speaking to a Coworker: "For personal reasons that I would rather not discuss, it makes me uncomfortable when you talk about drinking or alcohol while we are working. Could you please avoid those conversations while I am working?"
  • When Speaking to a Supervisor: "For personal reasons, I would rather not discuss, it makes me uncomfortable when my coworker talks about drinking and alcohol while I am trying to complete my work tasks. Could you please address this with them?"
  • When Speaking to a Human Resource Representative: "I feel uncomfortable with the way my coworker talks about alcohol and drinking while I am trying to complete my work tasks, but I do not want to speak directly with him or my supervisor about this issue. Can you help facilitate some changes?"

When talking to anyone at work about boundaries, you always want to avoid blaming language and keep things fact-based.  

When to Include Human Resources 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), "co-occurring substance use disorders are generally considered disabilities under federal disability rights laws." If you feel like you need reasonable accommodations to do your job well, you may need to request assistance from your human resource representative. Other reasons you could reach out to human resources rather than your supervisor or coworker include: 

  • Concerns about retaliation
  • You have already attempted to communicate the issue with no success
  • Uncertainty about policies and what you can discuss with supervisors and coworkers
  • Other communication barriers

Work can be a cause of increased stress. You might feel overburdened or underappreciated. Whatever is causing you to feel stress or anxiety at work should be addressed by creating workplace boundaries. Some of those boundaries can be personal things like refusing to cover for coworkers who are late with their work. Other boundaries need to be discussed directly with your coworkers, supervisor, or human resource representative. Part of treatment for substance use disorder includes learning how to manage unexpected stressful situations. You can use those skills to cope with workplace challenges until you find resolve. At White House Recovery and Detox, we offer aftercare planning and talk therapy to give you the tools you need to safely and comfortably address any issues you encounter when you return to work. To learn more about our program or the services we offer, reach out to us today by calling (800) 510-5393.