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Here’s a survival guide for saying ‘no’ to extra work

Work is the leading cause of burnout for one in three GCC residents.

[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Setting boundaries in the workplace is essential because when you don’t, you may find yourself working long hours, doing too much work, or being constantly available to your colleagues and manager.

But, setting boundaries has become increasingly difficult as remote and hybrid work environments become more common. Yet, it is critical to avoid burnout.

One in three GCC residents report experiencing burnout symptoms, with the workplace being a primary cause, according to a survey by the McKinsey Health Institute (MHI). Over half of GCC residents (55.7%) reported experiencing high levels of toxic behavior in the workplace.

GCC employees are also more than twice as likely to want to leave their jobs as employees globally, with 36% of GCC employees reporting an intent to leave, compared to 16% of global employees.

According to career coach Suma Koralgundi, the signs that someone is not setting enough boundaries and is at risk of burnout include drastic and sudden changes in productivity, constant stress, and a lack of breaks.

Life and career coach Diana Ayad says you can tell if you are not setting enough boundaries by how others treat you. If you find yourself being bullied or subjected to unnecessary and unprofessional comments from colleagues, it may be a sign that you need to set firmer boundaries.

“Always saying yes to any request to the point of affecting one’s daily productivity is one of the main signs and usually leads to exhaustion and burnout,” says Sarah Mohamed, a certified career coach, senior talent acquisition, and OD specialist. 


Ayad says it’s important to self-reflect and identify boundaries through the following questions. How do you feel about your relationship with your colleagues? Is it healthy? Am I bothered, and if yes, why are they behaving this way, and what should I do?

Koralgundi says it is important first to identify and understand your boundaries, both personal and professional. When it comes to professional boundaries, one must understand one’s role in the context of a larger team and set their priorities accordingly. She says you must be “able to support others in times of need while being cautious of not being taken for granted.”

There is a delicate balance between being a team player and setting boundaries, and one must discern the difference. Mohamed says that while it is important to support your team, you should not let your work schedule encroach on your time. She advises checking your schedule and offering to help others when you have time, but not at the expense of your workload or well-being.


Communicating your boundaries can be the hardest step; balancing the need to be firm but respectful can cause many employees to panic, especially if you’re dealing with a superior.

However, Mohamed emphasizes the importance of prompt communication when you feel uncomfortable with a coworker’s behavior. She advises talking to them about the situation and sharing your expectations, as letting things fester can damage your working relationship.

Ayad emphasizes one shouldn’t feel bad for setting boundaries. “Realize that setting boundaries doesn’t make you a bad person.” Instead, it allows you to make yourself a priority. 

Setting expectations is crucial for communicating boundaries, especially when joining a team or organization. “Self-introduction is a great way of communicating who you are and your preferred work style,” says Koralgundi  

She says this can be an ongoing process with colleagues, where you can indirectly set their expectations of you through casual conversations during coffee breaks or hallway chats.

The experts recommend the following strategies to avoid burnout:

Take regular breaks: Taking frequent breaks throughout the workday can be the make or break of you feeling exhausted by the end of the day.

Be mindful of your values: Be aware of your career and personal values, and let them guide your decision-making within the workplace.

Keep a to-do list: Keeping track of your priorities and setting smaller daily targets is an easy way to gauge your capacity and decide which tasks to accept and which to decline. This will also make your work manageable.

Be realistic: Set realistic goals, and don’t underestimate the time it takes to achieve them.

Improve your work-life balance: Find ways to unplug from work and set other personal goals, such as practicing your hobbies, spending time with family and friends, or simply relaxing.

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