Navigating Benefits

Work Boundaries: 5 Signs You’re Too Chummy With Your Employees

  • It's natural to be friendly with your employees, considering how much time you spend together at the office
  • But employees shouldn't overshare, do personal favors or hang out with you after hours
  • Setting clear work boundaries is a must to keep productivity high and favoritism from creeping in
Posted by October 24, 2019

Considering how much time the average person spends at work in a given day, it should come as no surprise that employers and their employees tend to form friendships. You may host a backyard barbecue for the office or participate in team-building activities because, well, you’re a good boss. But have you breached employer-employee work boundaries?

Getting Too Familiar

Establishing employer-employee work boundaries is essential to keeping the office a professional and productive place. If you know one of your employees has a child with behavioral issues or get the latest updates on another’s marital problems, you may be too chummy.

But when you spend a lot of time together in close quarters, things aren’t always as clear. Where do you draw the line? Here are five signs you and your workforce need some distance—and how to maintain decorum in the office.

1. Your Employees Tell You Their Personal Problems

It’s one thing for office chatter to settle on how everyone’s weekend was. It’s another when employees use it as an excuse to spill personal problems to the boss.

If the problems are serious enough to warrant seeking support through health insurance or an employee assistance program, HR can direct the employee to the right resource. Meanwhile, employers are best off gently but firmly taking a hands-off approach.

2. You Regularly Hang Out With Your Employees After Work

Team-building events and workplace parties are a necessary—not to mention fun—part of an office’s culture. But if you make a habit of spending time with employees after hours, cut back. It may seem harmless, but existing in both their professional and personal worlds will tempt you to overshare and close that necessary professional distance.

Instead, work on developing friendships with people who aren’t colleagues, and try to keep your work life and personal life separate.

3. You’ve Involved Employees in Your Personal Life

Have you asked employees to housesit, babysit or pet sit? You’re crossing the line. These kinds of favors can change your dynamic with your staff, to the detriment of both your personal and professional life.

These kinds of favors confuse the dynamic you’ve developed with your staff. On the personal side, friendships should be based on equality. Once you’re back in the office, it becomes difficult to correct a mistake, deny a raise or offer criticism to the gal who watched your kids all weekend.

Besides, making decisions about other people’s responsibilities and job security is difficult enough as it is. Navigating firings and promotions while the whole office is murmuring about your personal relationship with the person in question just adds an extra layer of stress. You know that’s not fair, and so does everyone else. Either ask favors from your real friends or stick to hiring pros.

4. You’ve Already Been Accused of Favoritism

We naturally seek out friends who share our interests and have traits we like—humor, compassion, a sense of adventure. Since not everyone shares these traits equally, it’s normal that you’d be tempted to befriend some of your employees and not others. Those you’re not as close with, even if you’re still friendly with them, may take notice and start to feel left out or whisper about office favoritism.

When your decisions are based solely on performance and productivity, there’s no question of impropriety. If you’ve breached professional boundaries, on the other hand, you risk compromising your reputation with your staff.

5. You’ve Tried to Be Their Friend Instead of Their Boss

Like the age-old adage about parenting, you cannot be an employee’s friend. And that’s fine! Friendships aren’t the only type of positive, fulfilling relationship you can have in life. It’s possible to nurture a warm, human, professional relationship with your employees. Consider what motivates them, and then do what you can to ensure they’re happy and productive team members. That doesn’t include listening to secrets in the break room.

Get to know your employees; they deserve the warmth and respect that positive workplace relationships bring, and so do you. Just be careful to watch what kind of relationships your interactions are building. Over time, friendships with employees can result in mediocre work, frustration and even poor communication. Set clear work boundaries that make it clear you care about their success, and that you’re a guiding force to propel their career forward.

Want to know what else you can do to set your workforce up for success? Take advantage of the tips and resources included in United Concordia Dental’s employer toolkit.

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