Effective Ways to Set Boundaries at Work

Most of us have had highly toxic bosses or managers at one point or another in our lives who made life nothing short of miserable. In the recent past, I had a boss who would often try to cross my boundaries and then throw a fit every time I reinforced those boundaries. I am an empath, and I have always been able to read and feel the energy for some reason. This boss in question, who happened to be a way older man, wanted to know every intimate detail of my life in a way that was almost invasive and borderline creepy. When I would not divulge information related to work, he would hound me and call me “too quiet” or “not forthcoming.” Eventually, I left the position because the work environment was getting too toxic. Unsurprisingly, he told me that I was accustomed to “cutting loose and running” after I told him I would respectfully resign. If you have a toxic boss, here are ways to reinforce your boundaries for your own sanity.

Stay Firm

Many toxic leaders with narcissistic traits hate being challenged, and if you notice that your boss is trying to overstep a boundary, double down on that boundary. You don’t have to say too much, argue or even explain your position; just stand steadfast and unwavering in that position. It sends a clear message.

Don’t Neglect Your Gut

As women, one of the most powerful tools we have in our arsenal is the tool of perception. I felt like something was off with my former boss, but I refused to pay full attention to my thoughts and dismissed what I was feeling. I was wrong. If a boss shows you undeniable red flags, it is best to end that working relationship before things get uglier.

Don’t Be Afraid To Say, “I’m Not Comfortable.”

On one particular occasion, my former superior went as far as asking me how old I was. For most women, that is a big no-no. Although I should have said, “I’m not comfortable sharing that,” at the time, I simply replied: “I’m younger than 30.” Although, at the time, I did not feel comfortable saying that, it was what I could come up with. Looking back, I would tell anyone in the same situation not to be afraid to say you are not comfortable sharing.

Don’t Apologize

As women, we are thrown into the loop of apologizing for things that we should not have to apologize for. Enforcing boundaries is a part of every functional relationship, so don’t apologize for being politely firm about what you will tolerate and what you will not.


Clear communication is a great way to keep a healthy boundary. A clear way of communicating could be as simple as letting your boss know that you won’t be available after a certain period. A great way to reinforce boundaries is to leave a message on Slack or your e-mail when you are out of the office or on vacation.

Say No Graciously

Sometimes saying “no” to your manager can feel scary because you can almost feel like your job is at stake. Remember that it is not fair to you to feel overworked and burned out. Politely declining to take on a project is better than taking it and not performing. Being polite, honest, and direct is the best thing to do.

Advocate For Yourself

Setting healthy boundaries at work with your boss is a huge step toward establishing a healthy work-life balance and maintaining your self-respect. Knowing how and when to set boundaries and alert people when they cross those limits is a great way to advocate for yourself.

Explain When Necessary

Sometimes, sharing why you can’t do something helps you come off as much more human. The goal is to maintain boundaries without being labeled a jerk. Depending on the situation, lightly explain what is going on so that your boss has a little bit of context. You don’t have to give too much detail, but some detail is good.

Plan a Response 

It would have been a huge relief if I had known this when my former boss attempted to cross my boundaries. It is important to expect some pushback against your boundaries. If you notice your manager challenging your boundaries, plan polite but firm responses ahead of time. A response like: “That will not work for me right now” is short, sweet, and courteous. This response allows you to set boundaries and offer alternatives if needed. 

Know When To Walk Away

A toxic work environment can become even more unbearable when you don’t know when to walk away. You have probably felt like staying at a job longer would make you a more valuable employee, but it does not. Instead, staying at a toxic job and enduring an overbearing manager is a sure way to break down. When your manager continues to overstep your boundaries and dismiss your concerns, it is time to walk away for good.