People Pleaser's Guide to Setting Boundaries at Work

June 10, 2022


The term “people-pleaser” means different things to different people. Oftentimes, it has a negative connotation. To some people, it denotes a personality type that is insecure and lacks self-confidence. It’s associated with a person who can’t say no and doesn’t have any personal boundaries, so they are an easy target to be run over or manipulated. But, people-pleasing, at its core, is about putting other people's needs ahead of your own. In our current world culture, we are told to do whatever we need to do to get ahead. It’s a me-first mentality that people believe gets the job done. Thus, people-pleasing personalities, especially in the workplace, are often taken advantage of. Some common behaviors of people-pleasers include the following:

1–Agreeing to do things that you do not want to do because you don’t want to upset someone.

2–Taking on more responsibility than you can manage because you don’t want to disappoint someone.

3–Apologizing often, even when things are not your fault. 

4–Feeling responsible for other people's feelings. 

5–Disregarding your own feelings, thoughts, or opinions if they don’t align with others in a group. 

6–Going to extreme lengths to avoid conflict. 

If more than a few of these behaviors sound like you, chances are you are a people-pleaser. The good news is, that you can own your selfless attributes while taming your people-pleasing tendencies with a little bit of intentionality. Setting boundaries is a critical first step in protecting your individuality, ambitions, and goals in the workplace. 

Setting Work Boundaries 

Setting work boundaries sounds like an easy enough task to tackle, but this is easier said than done for people-pleasers. Below we will outline the 2 most common struggles that people-pleasers face in the workplace, and offer some practice advice to setting appropriate boundaries regarding them that will benefit you and your career. 

1–Saying “No”

The number one struggle for people-pleasers in the workplace is saying “no.” Because of this, they often find themselves overcommitted. This leads to overwhelm and stress, ultimately creating toxic thoughts and emotions. 

So, what does struggling to say “no” look like in the workplace? 

  • Taking on projects you don’t have capacity to take on.
  • Agreeing to impossible deadlines for projects.
  • Helping others at the expense of getting your own work completed. 

Setting boundaries here is about preserving your own ability to do your job with competence and confidence. Instead of letting “no” be synonymous with failure, let it be about honoring your abilities, priorities, and goals. 

2–Speaking Up

People-pleasers are known to go the extra mile to avoid conflict to keep a harmonious environment. This is often done at their own expense. 

Examples of not speaking up at work include the following:

  • Not sharing new ideas at meetings because they might disrupt the current culture or flow  
  • Not taking the initiative on things they are capable of, or passionate about, because it will put them in the spotlight 
  • Not asking for promotions, raises, or professional development opportunities 
  • Keeping opinions to themselves if they think it might challenge others in the group
  • Not stepping up to lead projects  

Setting boundaries here is about freeing yourself for personal and professional growth. There’s a good chance your thoughts, opinions, and ideas are valuable. Consider that expressing them could begin a trajectory platform in your career. 

How To Set Boundaries At Work 

When people-pleasers don’t know how to set boundaries at work, it leads to burnout. Burnout is exhaustion at the emotional, mental, and physical levels. It is the main contributor to the decline of our mental state, tenacity, and overall personal wellness. You can only survive in an overextended state for so long before you crash. Simply put, you will be running on empty. 

When you employ the 2 simple boundary-setting strategies we discussed above, you’ll see an immediate difference in the way you feel and perform at work. It will be uncomfortable at first—saying “no” and speaking up with your opinions—because you’ve never done it before. But with intentionality and a little practice, you can begin to feel stronger, more balanced, and far more energetic than you ever have before. 

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