How to Set Boundaries with Your Employees

A positive, friendly corporate culture can go a long way toward attracting and keeping top performers. Yet becoming too friendly with your employees can lead to a host of problems. Here’s what you need to know about why and how, to set boundaries with your employees.

The Issues

Remote work, causal workplace atmospheres, and always-on connections can make it tough to know where work stops and personal life begins. But employers need to always remain conscious of the power dynamic that exists between themselves and their team members.

How can you give fair, objective, and honest feedback as a boss to people you spent Saturday night knocking back drinks with? How can you be sure that you’re not playing favorites when assigning a plum project to your best work friend?

Even if you are confident in your ability to separate work from personal relationships, how will your actions be perceived? Will the quiet girl who doesn’t hang out with the rest of the group feel like she’s being punished if she doesn’t get a top assignment? Will someone with whom you don’t naturally click file an HR complaint if he thinks you’re too hard on him? Perception matters, so you need to be careful to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Setting Boundaries

Each workplace is different, so you will need to figure out what makes sense for you. In general, though, following these tips can help you maintain strong boundaries without sacrificing your relaxed company culture:

  • Socialize at work events: Don’t be afraid to get lunch with your employees, to have a drink at happy hour, or to participate in a teambuilding activity such as an escape room. Just make sure that you connect these events to work, and invite everyone on the team. Skip the Saturday night pub crawl with one or two employees.
  • Don’t get too personal: Keep your discussions light and professional. Don’t talk about office drama with your employees, and don’t go too deeply into your personal life. It’s fine to talk about your kids or what you did last weekend but save the vent sessions for friends who aren’t your subordinates.
  • Lead by example: Remember that your employees will take their cues from you. Keep your manager hat on at all times, modeling the behavior that you want to see. Your ability to stay both friendly and professional can help your team members learn to set boundaries, avoid office drama, and interact with each other in healthier ways.

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