Setting Boundaries with Your Employees – How Personal Is Too Personal?

We all know this feeling – when something very positive and exciting happens, we have an urge to share it with the first person we bump into. On average, we spend about 40% of the time at work. So, it’s not surprising that in a lot of cases this “first person” is someone from your own office.

Having personal chats within a formal office environment is a very sensitive matter. For a lot of employees, getting involved in casual conversations with their boss is a bonus that naturally allows them to build a much stronger bond with him or her. At the same time, such conversations can have a crucial impact on the boss’ image.

A lot of people are not very good at following the bureaucratic type of relationships that define many business structures. When you get too personal with such employees, their sense of boundaries might diffuse. Here are some tips on how to avoid an uncomfortable situation where you are forced to remind your overly “friendly” staff who is who.

1. Make a Strong First Impression

Entering a team as a new leader? Hiring a new person for an already established team? In both cases, the first impression that you make will have a huge impact on how your employees see and treat you in the future.

While staying friendly, polite, and professional, you must ensure that you clearly define your position as an unquestionable authority.

2. Prioritize Work-Related Relationships with Your Staff

There is absolutely nothing wrong with loosening formal relationship boundaries with your employees from time to time – order some snacks to the office, hang out with your team during the break, go for drinks after work. Team-building is never a bad idea!

However, when possible, try to connect these events with work-related celebrations.

Did you get a valuable investor for your new initiative? Did you reach higher-than-normal numbers in customer engagement on social media? Did you sell more products/services than you did last month?
These are great occasions to celebrate that give you an opportunity to personalize your communication with staff.

3. Test out Your Prospective Friends

A bitter truth is that, for the majority of managers, having a close person in the office is absolutely essential for their best performance. A disaster, in this case, is practically inevitable because friends always bump heads while going back and forth between their friendship and business. They will always judge each other outside of work based on their experiences in the office, and vice versa.

The only way to eliminate potential issues is to allow a decent amount of time for building a healthy relationship within formal boundaries of your business. Take this friendship slow – clearly define professional expectations before anything else comes into play. The more certain your employee is about his or her focuses and goals, the less likely that the friendship will impact work.

4. Less Talking, More Listening

All employees have issues outside of work. Don’t neglect their need to share personal stories with you – it’s the first sign that your staff trusts you. However, don’t let anyone sit in your office and complain about life for hours – you are their boss and not their personal counselor.

Even more important, don’t let yourself get overly engaged with an employee by telling him or her how your personal life goes and sharing your experience to support and help them. Remember – you can only share so much before your authoritative image gets questioned.

5. Avoid Favoritism

In many cases, when a manager gets closer to one employee than to others, he or she naturally starts favoring this individual. Favoritism can be expressed in, for example, underestimating the consequences of an employee’s misperformance and overestimating their positive work results.

Whatever the reason for personal predisposition to a certain individual is, don’t allow it to alter your judgement and standards for employees. Treat everyone equally. Promote a positive pro-employee change or reward the whole department, rather than one person, for delivering exceptional results.

Establishing a sense of authority while staying friendly, fair, and respectful to your staff is a hard job. Maintaining a sense of authority while allowing personal ice-breaking chats is much harder. Completely separating work relationships from personal ones is even a higher form of art.

If none of the tips offered above help you as a boss in mastering one of these three hard tasks, then use the one that helps in any situation – talk. Open communication is a great way for you and your employees to stay on the same page and remain positive towards each other.

Authored By: Kate Grishko a Marketing Coordinator at Ashton College, a post-secondary college in Vancouver. Founded in 1998, Ashton College has become a national and international force in the field of higher education.