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Set these boundaries on day one of your new job to protect from burnout

The late-night emailing, saying yes when your plate is already full—those burnout-friendly habits don’t have to follow you from one job to the next. 

Set these boundaries on day one of your new job to protect from burnout
[Photo: Nicholas Kostin/Getty Images]

One of the most overlooked perks of starting a new job is the opportunity to set new boundaries to protect yourself from burnout. The late-night emailing, saying yes when your plate is already full, unused paid time off (PTO) collecting dust—those burnout-friendly habits don’t have to follow you from one job to the next. 

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And when it comes to changing your habits, that first-day-on-the-job feeling can help. Studies show that having a fresh start can make it easier for us to set and stick with new goals.

“We’re more open to change when we feel we have a chance to start anew,” Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy, coauthors of Big Feelings: How to Be Okay When Things Are Not Okay, explain. “It’s also much easier to set expectations at the beginning of a job than to try to change things later down the road.”

All it takes is a little self-reflection on how burnout has manifested for you before and setting new boundaries with coworkers and yourself.

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Here, experts share the best ways to start protecting yourself from burnout on day one (and earlier) of your new job. 

Reflect on your history with burnout

If you’ve changed jobs because of burnout, you’re not alone. In fact, a survey conducted by software firm Limeade of 1,000 full-time employees in the U.S. who started new jobs in 2021 revealed that burnout was the top reason they decided to make a change.

It’s easy to put your last job in the rearview mirror after that final Zoom or IRL farewell from your coworkers. But corporate psychologist Patricia Thompson recommends taking an honest look at how burnout manifested for you in your previous job before you start your new position.

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“The start of a new job is an excellent time to reflect on your relationship with burnout because it provides you with an opportunity to begin with a clean slate,” Thompson says.

Set aside time to have a “burnout exit interview” with yourself before you start your new role. Think through the things that might have contributed to you feeling depleted, disconnected from your work, or less effective in your work—the three dimensions of burnout as defined by the World Health Organization.  

To start, here are some self-reflection questions Thompson recommends:

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  • Did I speak up, advocate for myself, or ask for assistance to prioritize when my workload became overwhelming? Did my manager know what was going on with me?
  • How much control did I feel in my role? Did I ask what I needed of my manager?
  • Did people-pleasing tendencies lead to burnout? In a desire to be agreeable, did I take on more than was reasonable?
  • Did I delegate appropriately? Did I ask for help from others when I needed it, or was I overly self-reliant?
  • Did I make adequate space for my life outside of work? What sort of things did I do to manage stress?
  • What would I like to do differently in my new role? In what areas do I need to grow to maintain a healthier balance (e.g., time management, assertiveness, delegation)?

Establish your on and off hours

Once you’re in your new job, start by setting boundaries around your work hours to combat that always-on-the-clock feeling.

During your onboarding, talk with your manager about your “on” hours and align on when you’ll be reachable. When asked directly, you’ll realize most managers don’t have an expectation that you’ll be available evenings and weekends too.

“Instead of assuming that your boss wants you working at all hours, you might be pleasantly surprised,” Thompson says. “And armed with the understanding that balance is valued, you might feel more comfortable taking much-needed time for yourself.”

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Once you set those on and off hours, it’s time to hold yourself to them—especially if you’re working from home. Try creating a ritual that signals you’re done working for the day, like closing your laptop, putting away work documents, or fully logging out of Slack or Teams. Let your coworkers and even friends and family know your “off” hours to help hold you accountable.

And if stepping away gives you anxiety: Thompson says you can always provide your coworkers with a way to reach you if there’s an emergency.

Block off your nonnegotiables on your calendar

Need more head-down working time? A half-hour in the morning to set your priorities? Breaks for pumping breast milk? PTO next month so you can get quality time with friends? Make your nonnegotiables—both for your work and well-being—part of your calendar so that you prioritize them as you start this new chapter.

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“Figure out your nonnegotiables in terms of self-care and schedule them,” Thompson says. “For example, I know that if I don’t work out several times a week, I don’t feel good. So I put it on my calendar. The times may vary, depending on my work schedule, but I make it a priority.”

If guilt creeps in (or self-comparison to that coworker who’s available 24/7), Thompson says to remind yourself of the big picture. “While making a good first impression is important, it’s also critical to keep a long-range view,” she says.

Don’t forget: Feeling connected to your coworkers can help prevent burnout too. Schedule time to get to know your new team outside of regular meetings, whether that’s with an IRL coffee break or one-on-one Zoom. 

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Set Expectations for Your Turnaround Time

When work requests start rolling in: Resist the urge to immediately say yes! “You may think you are being a ‘good employee’ by saying yes to everything, but you’re not a good employee if you are burned out,” Fosslien and West Duffy say.

Start by asking a colleague when they actually need a task completed. Then, think about your bandwidth and respond with what’s actually doable for you. By slowing down your response, you’ll have more control over your workload and you’ll build trust with your team members as you meet deadlines successfully.

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Raise a Flag When Your Boundaries Are Crossed

Even the best-set boundaries will be crossed, either by others or ourselves. Be compassionate with yourself if you backslide on that commitment to log off right at 5 p.m one busy Tuesday—it happens, and you can reset the next day. 

If your increasing workload is making your boundaries wobbly: Raise a flag early on and ask your manager for support. While it might feel scary to admit you can’t do it all, you’re actually being more productive by forcing yourself—and your manager—to identify what’s most important. 

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“Ask your manager to help you prioritize your work,” Fosslien and West Duffy say. “Your manager will appreciate this, since you are being proactive. You can say, ‘Here are all the things I have on my plate for this month. I have time to get to three of them. How would you prioritize them?'”

And if a coworker is ignoring your boundary—say, your commitment to not respond to work messages after 5 p.m.—schedule a follow-up meeting after the incident to reassert your boundary and find a way to work with it.

Thompson says it can help to explain to them why you’ve set certain boundaries. Maybe it’s important to spend quality time with your kids after work, or your evening yoga routine helps you feel recharged. Sharing the “why” behind your boundary can empower you to stand by it—and who knows, you might inspire a coworker to prioritize themselves in a similar way. We all could use that reminder.

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“The most important step for combating burnout is giving yourself permission to tend to your own needs by recognizing that self-care isn’t self-indulgent,” Thompson says. “Remind yourself that if you’re not taking good care of yourself, you’re simply not going to be at your best at work.”

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