Less is More: Maintaining Workplace Boundaries
Maintaining boundaries in the workplace doesn’t come naturally to everyone. What’s common sense to one person can be like learning a foreign language to another.
With four generations now working together in the same workplace, expectations about what’s appropriate at work are bound to clash.
The “office humour” of years gone by is the stuff of harassment suits today. On the other hand, younger generations are used to being connected at all times, and often have little compunction about mixing their personal and work worlds.
If you work in an office, odds are good you’ve worked with an over-sharer, an interrupter and at least one gossip.
You know all too well about coworkers who don’t take social cues. Like the one who stays far too long at your desk, and talks way too long about his or her workout routine, food allergies, kids, dog or cat than you ever wanted to know.
How about the colleague who makes way too many personal calls for everyone to hear?
It is easy to be confused by work situations that seem informal but have unwritten rules. If you’re comfortable in the organization in which you work it can be easy to lose your sense of professionalism.
How can you maintain good workplace boundaries while still being part of the team?
Five Ways to Set and Maintain Boundaries at Work:
1. A Little Privacy Goes a Long Way
When you spend eight or more hours a day around your coworkers, it’s easy to get too comfortable. Personal life and work-life naturally start to overlap as we get to know our colleagues and some of our work relationships grow into friendships. First and foremost, you can set the right tone by not oversharing. Differentiate between friendly co-workers and workplace friends. What you share with one or two close workplace friends should be different than what you share with the whole team.
2. Pay attention to your feelings.
When someone’s behaviour makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s a cue that they may be crossing one of your boundaries.
The same goes for taking hints from those around you; if you notice a colleague is busy or overwhelmed perhaps give them some room to work. Respecting other’s space and time is one important key to staying within professional boundaries.
3. Call out workplace bullying and harassment
Bullying and harassment come in many forms. Gossip, inappropriate comments, interrupting and passive or overtly aggressive body language are some. Taking undue credit for your work is another. Deliberately excluding a colleague from important group emails and meetings is another form of bullying.
The silent treatment is also a form of workplace bullying. That’s not to say you have to enjoy talking with everyone like you’re old friends, but even when you dislike someone, it’s reasonable and mature to be civil. If you have a personality conflict with a co-worker, you may need to bring it to your manager’s attention and/or try to work something out.
Previous blogs Workplace bullying and Should I Stay or Should I Go talk more about this topic.
4. Be Less Social on Social Media.
It’s tricky to know how to handle social media friend requests from colleagues. The problem is that it’s super easy to forget who is present on your social media feeds. Before you know it, you’re sharing personal moments with colleagues, and your personal and professional lives are overlapping.
I’d say it’s always better to err on the side of privacy by keeping your professional world separate from your personal world.
This goes back to oversharing, in a sense. Encourage colleagues to connect on LinkedIn, and not so much on Facebook.
Twitter can go either way, as it depends on the focus of your account. The same goes for Instagram. If your social media presence is mostly personal and recreational, think twice about involving your colleagues.
In our super-connected world, it’s still ok to set out some boundaries by being choosy about who you follow and friend. Do you really want your coworkers “creeping” your Facebook pictures and those of your family and friends?
Make sure privacy settings are set high on your accounts to ensure your two worlds do not collide.
5. Be nice, be friendly and be a little ambiguous.
There is a line to walk when it comes to maintaining boundaries and having good peer relationships. Your best bet is to remain psychologically and emotionally removed from potential negative entanglements and drama.
By being a little ambiguous, you can avoid office romances, practical jokes, or involving yourself in coworkers’ gossip or conflict. When conflicts arise, keep your distance. Avoid the temptation to take sides, and be careful about looking as if you are taking sides.
In other words, be friendly, but not too friendly.
When it comes to maintaining boundaries at work, less is truly more. The less you share, the more control you will have over your reputation and professional image.
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