How to Set Boundaries in Your Civilian Career While Still Being a Team Player

(U.S. Army/Maria Christina Yager)

In today's private-sector workplace, employers look at employees to show collaborative, cooperative and "team player" behavior, whether they're a leader, manager or individual contributor. Being a team player increases company morale, supports the company brand and values, and shows customers and clients a well-functioning organization. 

In the military, camaraderie was clearly understood and felt as you developed mutual trust and respect for those you served alongside and protected. As you transition to the private sector, how collaboration works can be both vague and disarming, particularly as you navigate being a team player with the fear of being taken advantage of. This is where boundaries can help.

Setting Boundaries

In your personal or professional life, setting boundaries is how you keep yourself and your priorities in line. When you set a boundary for what you'll tolerate, what you'll accept and how far out ahead you're comfortable reaching, you're protecting your physical, emotional and mental health while letting others know how to treat, approach and respond to you.

A boundary might sound like this: Let's say you're being asked to travel to visit a client at work, but you and your partner just welcomed a new baby. You want to be home with your family, but work is conflicting with your priorities. Communicating to your boss that while you appreciate the opportunity to visit the client on-site, because of your priorities at home, you'd prefer to hold those meetings virtually or train your colleague to meet with the client in person, if needed.

Another example could be: You're in a casual conversation with colleagues in the lunchroom when they begin sharing off-color jokes that make you uncomfortable. Getting up and excusing yourself from the situation and/or explaining why you wish not to participate is letting them know what you find acceptable and what you won't tolerate.

Boundaries as a Team Player

The challenge comes in when you're part of a team and are asked to support a project, work schedule or initiative, and that conflicts with what you're prioritizing. For example, after your military service and multiple deployments, you committed to your family that you'd leave work at 5 p.m. each day to be home for dinner, but now a new project means working late several days each week. What then? If you're the only one leaving early, could that jeopardize your role on the team or cast doubt on your commitment to the project?

You still have the ability to be a team player and to enforce your boundaries. Consider:

  • Communicating with your team about your need to be with your family. They have likely also felt similar commitments and could have your back in this case.
  • Working through lunch or coming in early on the "late" days to make up the work. This reinforces to your team that you're dedicated to holding up your end of the workload.
  • Being accessible by phone on your drive home so they can reach you with questions, even though you've left the office.

By offering ideas and suggestions, you show that you're committed to the team and supporting the project, and you require some considerations that are personally meaningful to you.

Your boundaries are how you protect yourself and your priorities. They keep you safe and allow you to thrive. You can support your employer, team and work by showing a willingness to get creative in problem-solving when a conflict arises that impacts a boundary.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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