Setting boundaries with anyone is awkward, but setting boundaries with co-workers has its own challenges. office space my stapler GIF by Maudit

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries in the workplace are things that are okay and not okay with you as you do your job, such as:

  • your preferred working conditions

  • what tasks are and aren't your responsibility

  • how you want to be treated by your co-workers

1. Be Clear

Unfortunately, people can't read minds. The first thing to do about co-workers who disrespects your boundaries is to be clear yet polite that what they're doing is bothering you.

Try saying:

I feel _____ when you _____.

Please don't _____.

I'd prefer it if you _____. Wayne from Wayne's World saying,

This is usually enough to establish your boundaries with a co-worker. If it isn't, you'll need a more assertive response the next time around.

2. Deal With Repeat Offenders

If your co-workers still don't get the hint, it doesn't always mean they're jerks for not respecting your boundaries. Sometimes people really do forget, especially if they don't work with you that often.

It's still your responsibility to maintain your boundaries and not give up when communication gets tricky.

Try saying:

This is just a gentle reminder to...

I know you didn't mean anything by it, but...

I'm asking you again to please...

A woman in an office saying,

3. Apply Consequences

Flaticon Icon Sometimes co-workers will continue to ignore your boundaries even after you've made them clear multiple times.

Applying consequences to their actions takes your boundaries to the next level. Just be ready to act on them if comes to it!

Try saying:

"I'm sorry but if you keep asking me to do your work for you, I may not be able to help you again in the future."

"If you keep barging in without knocking, I'm afraid I'm going to start locking the door."

"If you continue making inappropriate comments, then I'll have no choice but to report it to HR/management." A person in an office making a boundary around himself


Mel receives a sarcastic comment from their boss about their job performance in a meeting. This has never happened before, but it still crossed a boundary. How should they handle it?

Take Action

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Setting boundaries with co-workers takes some practice. Here are some ways to get started:


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