The importance of identifying, discussing and honouring boundaries at work and having clear boundaries between personal and professional life
I imagined myself talking to a few people who are eager to start a career and those who are ready to move up the ladder becoming a supervisor, manager and leader.
The message I would like to send out is that I know that most have the best intentions and want to be professionals who respect others and are respected -in turn for their quality of work, reliability, integrity and loyalty.
Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, many employees go in the wrong and some mess up their (long) career badly. I am not talking about well-known predators in the workplace, such as Harvey Weinstein, who knowingly and for many years abused their power to hurt and silence others. I am talking about those who gradually over the years crossed boundaries and who were not corrected.
It is nearly every single day that another story breaks of a CEO resigning as a result of an investigation in inappropriate behaviours toward employees (mostly females) in the workplace or at “workplace related events”. Inappropriate behaviours include having sexual affairs with co-workers.
These incidences could and should have been prevented. What is required is to identify, discuss and describe boundaries in the workplace, which ensures that our workplaces are ethical, and our behaviour is according to the values we have when starting out.
Although some may not appreciate the “policing” in the workplace, it is obvious that many do seem lost and need these reminders to keep the workplace what it is supposed to be: A place where people come to do their job for which they are paid.
Boundaries prevent employees from engaging in inappropriate touch, comments and jokes, whether in person, over email or text. When boundaries are reflected in a Code of Conduct and in workplace policies, it helps employers determine when certain behaviours require an investigation and the type of disciplinary action required.
Although many understand the importance of boundaries at work, they also feel that their colleagues have become friends over the years. I feel that all of us have to realize that in the first place our colleagues are not our friends and that workplace relationships are formal rather than casual. The office is a place where you engage in the activities that you were hired for and for which you are paid.
This does not mean that colleagues cannot share some non-work-related conversations with each other. To keep these ethical and respectful it is crucial not to discuss colleagues that are not present as often these talks become gossip and are therefore toxic.
All of us have a responsibility to send the right message. To keep our workplace and personal life safe we need to define clear boundaries between work and personal life and within the workplace. Imagine your spouse and other colleagues being able to overhear your conversation with a colleague. If you feel that you would not have had that conversation if it could be overheard, you should not have it as you are violating boundaries.
Oh yeah, and last, but not least…alcohol and work do not mix…If alcohol is ordered, the event is a social event and not a work event. Work issues are not discussed in a public place such as a restaurant or bar. It seems a no-brainer to me. but alas….
In conclusion: Many wrongdoings do not start with ill intent, but as we can never assume that people have an inner radar for detecting boundaries and that all have a moral compass, we better focus on prevention. Unfortunately, policies (rules and guidelines) are required.