How to Set Effective Boundaries With Coworkers at Work

November 28, 2022

The workplace can be an intense source of stress. An individual may face professional stresses, unfair expectations, or difficult peers in the workplace that all affect one’s mental health and use of addictive substances. Setting boundaries with coworkers at work is crucial for managing one’s mental health and sobriety and for separating this stressful part of one’s life from one’s interests, hobbies, and personal life. For those challenging and maintaining their sobriety, setting effective boundaries with workplace peers can mitigate some of these stresses while continuing to prioritize one’s sober efforts and focus. 

The Need for Workplace Boundaries

Workplace boundaries are crucial, both for those prioritizing their sobriety or simply looking to address the stresses of their professional life. While pervasive work culture may champion the idea that working excessive hours should be celebrated, one’s work should never come at the expense of other aspects of oneself, whether that be one’s hobbies, personal identity, health, or sobriety. 

Constantly changing or having unfair expectations, long or inconsistent hours, or a lack of agency in the workplace all have an emotional toll that can inform one’s mental health and use of addictive substances. Likewise, one may also not be able to choose their workplace peers, potentially exposing an individual to less than supportive peers who do not respect or understand one’s sober efforts. 

Being able to distance oneself physically and mentally from workplace cultures is essential for prioritizing one’s health. However, setting these boundaries is a practiced skill, and finding a combination of strategies is important for making the most of these boundaries to combat unnecessary stresses, depression, anxiety, and the use of drugs or alcohol. 

Finding Your Most Effective Barriers

Even if an individual enjoys their job, it is still important to have barriers or boundaries in place with coworkers to separate one’s professional identity from their personal life. Utilizing the right barriers is crucial for creating and maintaining this balance. 

Keep to a Schedule

Schedules are crucial, especially for those navigating and maintaining their sobriety. Being caught in unexpected places or at unexpected times can bring a number of stresses and urges. Having a concrete schedule ensures that one is able to focus and manage one’s energy at work, effectively pacing oneself throughout the workday and keeping one accountable for making it to work on time. However, it also eliminates unforeseen long workdays. Working with managers to discuss future days where one may have to stay late to provide time to prepare is instrumental in managing these boundaries while prioritizing one’s health and sobriety. 

Manage Contact Information

Making friends with workplace peers can make the work day much more manageable. However, it can get complicated when one’s personal and professional lives begin to blend. Prioritizing keeping one’s contact information private can help an individual make a distinction between their professional persona and their personal life. 

Keeping one’s contact information private also helps prevent one from being contacted regarding workplace-related inquiries while off the clock, further allowing an individual to distance themselves from the workspace. Clocking out after a long day can be a great relief, and keeping one’s phone number, email, or social media private and separate from one’s professional life can ensure that these aspects don’t seep into one’s life after work. 

Avoid After-Work Parties or Gatherings

Workplace gatherings can be a great way to get to know one’s peers better and can help relax after a long day at work. However, they can also blend the lines between one’s workplace and personal life. Avoiding after-work gatherings, especially if they involve decompressing at a bar or other space where addictive substances may be present, is crucial for prioritizing one’s mental health and sobriety. While some events may be unavoidable, such as certain holiday parties, keeping these celebrations or festivities sober and during work hours can help ensure that they always feel like professional gatherings.

If one does decide to spend time with coworkers after work, it is important to have support ready and informed about one’s schedule and to stick to a predetermined plan to avoid unnecessary stress or high-risk scenarios.  

Use Your Vacation Time

Vacation time is something that is earned through one’s hard work, and it is okay to use this time for oneself. For some, taking a vacation with the family can be a great way to get away from common stresses. Others may instead elect for a “staycation” or take time off to stay home and partake in local things they enjoy. Even taking time to rest and relax with no other plans is completely valid and may be necessary for one’s health and sobriety. 

One should never feel guilty about taking this hard-earned time for themselves. Using one’s vacation time is a great way to further erect effective barriers between one’s professional and personal life. 

Turn Off Your Work Phone

Some jobs may have one’s personal email or a dedicated work phone. Turning off this work phone or silencing workplace notifications at certain times can help an individual create effective workplace barriers. This can be silencing these notifications during work or before bed, or any other time when one is otherwise occupied with personal activities, such as hobbies or family time. While completely turning one’s phone off may not be feasible depending on one’s job, having dedicated blackout times where one cannot be contacted can provide one’s mind with some much-needed respite from professional stresses.

Establishing effective boundaries in one’s professional life is crucial for maintaining a healthy work-life balance and is essential for those challenging and overcoming the effects of mental health disorders or addiction in one’s daily life. We at Buena Vista Recovery understand the need to manage one’s time and emotional energy and are prepared to help you create effective workplace boundaries while prioritizing a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle. From your first step into detox through our continued outpatient support, we can personalize your recovery strategies to address not only your personal needs but establish a plan to support your professional life as well. For more information on how we can help you, call us today at (480) 741-9414.