Workplace Boundaries

Work is an important part of who we are. Success and happiness in life can be described as a true balance between Self, Family/Friends and Work. Satisfaction in how we see ourselves, satisfaction in the interaction we have with those close to us and satisfaction in the sense that we have a purpose in life. Workplace boundaries help build that sense of purpose by eliminating distractions and keeping the focus on completing each task to the best of our abilities. (Developing basic life skills can be very helpful in establishing workplace boundaries.)

Work does not always mean a paid position. A woman or man who is able to stay home and raise children, who become responsible and productive adults, is definitely working. As is the volunteer who offers his or her services for the sole purpose of making the world a better place. For discussion purposes boundaries in the workplace could include any "business" relationship or interaction that focuses on a specific goal.

In general, interaction with those in the workplace (co-workers, supervisors, clients, customers) is more formal than interaction with family and friends. Therefore, personal boundaries need to be strong. Workplace boundaries, which are actually an extension of personal boundaries, insure that individuality is maintained, even though the desire to accomplish specific goals is shared by all. Believing in a common goal provides the group and individual motivation that is needed to achieve it. (Note: If you do not believe in a company or organization’s overall goals it might be time to explore other job opportunities. Do not, however, make hasty decisions without thinking them through.)

Without clear boundaries, both co-workers and supervisors may confuse workplace relationships with personal relationships. It is true that workplace relationships can develop into personal relationships over time. But most of the time interaction with co-workers, supervisors, clients and customers stops at the end of the work day. Setting workplace boundaries is much easier when a relationship is viewed as formal rather than casual.

In addition to inter-personal boundaries, job-related boundaries with regard to personal time and energy may also have to be set. In some workplace environments, the more an employee accomplishes, the more he or she is expected to accomplish – with no apparent appreciation.

This does not mean an employer should not expect a full day’s work from each employee. It means that concerns on both sides should be discussed and acceptable boundaries established. If mutual trust and respect exists between the employer and employee, this will not be a problem. (Note: Here again, if you do not believe there is a acceptable level of fairness in your workplace, it might be time to explore other job opportunities. But do not make hasty decisions without thinking them through.)


Things to Remember about Workplace Boundaries:

The workplace alone does not define who we are.

No one should be defined solely by the work they do. Without a strong sense of personal identity or self-esteem, a person may tie his or her self-worth to the job. Unfortunately, employment is one of the things we can least control. Dedication and hard work do not guarantee a permanent position.

Therefore, a strong boundary between job and self is essential. We have to believe we have the ability to cope with or overcome any situation that might arise at work.

Supervisory relationships are different than co-worker relationships.

Communication with a supervisor should not be the same as communication with a co-worker. Words and actions should be more formal and reflect a respect for the position. With regard to respect for the person, however, a clear boundary between what is respectful and disrespectful must be established between the two individuals. (Yelling or a condescending attitude should not be tolerated by either side.)

Good leadership skills allow for equality within the group, as well as guidance from the supervisor.

Everyone at work does not have to like us.

In any relationship, mutual trust and respect is most important. A workplace boundary that establishes a minimal level of trust and respect will help overcome personality, cultural and political differences. Remember, at work the primary goal should be to complete the job efficiently.

Character (honest, fair and hardworking) will usually command a high level of respect, which is far more important than being liked. Respect should always be the primary goal. In reality, however, someone who is respected has a much better chance of being liked.

Personal relationships should not interfere with workplace interaction.

As mentioned before, personal relationships can and do develop from workplace relationships. Over time, as mutual trust and respect grows the formal boundaries of the workplace may be replaced with the more casual boundaries of friends.

This is not a problem unless casual boundaries begin to affect workplace behavior. At work, the main focus of each person should be on the job. If a strong boundary between personal and workplace behavior cannot be established, it may be time for one or both of the individuals involved to find other employment.