5 Steps to Set Healthy Boundaries When Starting a New Job

Set healthy boundaries when starting a new job

When starting a new job, most don’t give much thought to the need to set healthy boundaries.

Take Keiko, for example. She rejoiced when her lengthy and difficult search job hunt ended in an offer from a top-tier marketing firm. She accepted the offer with great enthusiasm and felt eager to start working with more prestigious clients and climbing the next rung on her career ladder.

Keiko did all she could to ensure that she left her former position on great terms, then threw herself into getting ready to start her new job. She made the most of the three weeks between the end of one job and the beginning of another by reviewing the agency’s client roster, scrutinizing ad campaigns, and studying the latest developments in social media marketing, which was a critical part of her new position.

One week into her new job, Keiko began to recognize that her idealized vision for her new role wasn’t going to match up with reality. Her past work as an in-house marketer had prepared her to expect standard operating procedures and a well-established chain of command. Her new agency functioned like a startup, with a fast-paced environment, loosely defined responsibilities, and fewer established processes and protocols.

Keiko admitted she was having difficulties in her new position during our coaching session the following week. She said, “I feel driven to people-please no matter what. I say yes to every request, and I hold back instead of expressing my ideas. I worry about every colleague interaction because I don’t want to step on any toes.” Keiko tried to quell her anxieties by overworking. “I don’t feel like I’m ready for this position, so I find myself working more each passing week. I’m worried I’ll burn out before the three-month mark.”

Maybe you can relate to Keiko’s story. Millions of Americans have switched jobs recently in the hopes of finding improved work-life balance. It’s common for high-achievers to spend their first days pushing themselves too hard out of eagerness to prove themselves.

If this sounds familiar, then perhaps you’ve also:

  • Taken on extra responsibilities to prove that you’re helpful
  • Replied to work correspondence late at night to prove that you’re responsive
  • Or overextended yourself to prove your value to the company

When you neglect to set boundaries in the early days of a new job, you may find yourself exhausted. What you might not realize is that you’re also setting high expectations for your performance, which you’ll need to continue living up to in the future. That could prove to be discouraging and untenable for the long term. If you want to establish strong boundaries right from the start in your first week on the job, here are some guidelines to help you make a great first impression while keeping your own needs in balance.

Understand your motivations.

Consider what underlies your desire to prove yourself. You probably have many positive motivations, like sincere enthusiasm for the work or wanting to show your value of hard work. However, there’s also a good chance that your fears may be prompting you to engage in self-sabotaging behavior. Unhelpful beliefs often start with the following phrases:

  • I have to…
  • I should / shouldn’t…
  • I must…

Over the course of our coaching work together, Keiko and I discovered one particular unhelpful belief underlying her behavior: “I have to be liked by everyone no matter what.” Even though it was not a conscious belief, it still had a huge impact on her actions. She realized that this belief was at the core of her pattern of withholding her most creative ideas, even though her out-of-the-box thinking was a reason she’d been brought on board in the first place.

So ask yourself what unspoken self-imposed guidelines you’re following at work. If you articulate your fears, you can diminish the power they hold over you and find new ways to frame the way you see yourself, your value, and your contributions.


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Ask, what’s the upside?

Keiko was resistant at first when I urged her to set boundaries in her new job. High-achievers often respond this way. They’re concerned about appearing difficult, weak, or demanding.

But in reality, the practice of self-management – an emotional intelligence skill set whereby you regulate your time and your energy – is a critical leadership ability. Up to 90% of career success can be traced back to self-management. When you set boundaries, you’re demonstrating prioritization, communication prowess, and excellent time management.

Boundary-setting from the outset of a new job means demonstrating the capacity for effective leadership, and it lets you show other people how to treat you. The way you conduct yourself indicates what behaviors and standards you will or will not accept.

Keiko’s eyes were opened to the fact that her drive to please others was sending signals that she was a doormat. Once she realized this, she made a point of politely asserting herself when she saw possibilities that no one else had identified.

Express your preferences

Consider the boundaries – emotional, physical, and mental – that enable you to perform at your best. Define:

  • How often you’ll take breaks during the workday, and how long they’ll be
  • How long it takes you to respond to messages and emails
  • Blocks in your calendar for focused work and when you’re unavailable to meet
  • The start and end times for your workday
  • What types of work you have the bandwidth for and enjoy the most
  • Any training or resources you may need in order to perform in your role

Proactively articulate your boundaries with your team and your supervisor. During Keiko’s onboarding, she set up sessions with each of her stakeholders individually so they could discuss how to work together. During these meetings, she summarized her preferences and her work style and asked about what they expected of her. These meetings boosted Keiko’s self-confidence and impressed her stakeholders, who appreciated her transparency and her communication.

Be strategic with your energy.

Your initial weeks and months in a new position play a role in your reputation in the workplace. It’s a good idea to overdeliver, but to be careful to do so in a strategic and selective way. Identify the areas where you can make the greatest impact, and focus your energy there. Understand what your manager wants and expects from you, so you can match their priorities and offer maximum value.

Find allies among your coworkers who will support you and advocate on your behalf. Make the most of your status as a new hire by asking lots of questions. Don’t worry about looking “dumb” or unknowledgeable. By asking questions, you’re strengthening your relationships within the company by making others feel important and esteemed.

Build and strengthen new habits.

When we take on a new job, it gives us a clean slate and the opportunity to reset. Psychologists call this the fresh start effect. It refers to the tendency to take action and progress toward our goals following special occasions, milestones, or specific dates.

Make the most of your fresh start and outgrow your bad habits. Keiko used to work through her lunch break every day. She decided not to do that anymore and created new habits to replace it. After just a few months at her new job, she consistently prepared her lunches in advance, blocked lunch time out on her calendar, and ate in the break room instead of at her desk.

When establishing and maintaining strong boundaries, accountability is critical, and there are many approaches you can take. You could create a tracker to record your boundary progress or schedule a time each week to check in with yourself and review how you’re doing. The odds that you’ll succeed increase by up to 95% if you find an accountability buddy and meet with them from time to time.

New jobs can provoke anxieties and also breathe new life into your career. When you establish healthy boundaries from the very beginning, you’re setting yourself on track for sustainable, long-term success.


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Hi, I'm Melody

I help smart, sensitive high-achievers break free from imposter syndrome and overthinking so they can find the confidence to lead effectively.


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