Establishing Boundaries in the Work Place: How Close is too Close?

The other day, one of my girls approached me to talk about her upcoming doctor’s appointment that she’s been dreading and postponing for months (she’s had bad stomach problems that were beginning to affect her work). She led with how she just wants to get it over with and before I knew it, I was handing her a box of tissues as she wept in front of me, lamenting about her current struggles at home and how they were not only affecting her health, but also her work.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was crossing a boundary and entering the “danger zone” territory. Managers are supposed to maintain a professional relationship and any friendly mingling with the staff is usually looked down upon, especially conversations centered around topics unrelated to work. Was I crossing a line by allowing her to continue to vent about her private life?

One of my roles as the Practice Coordinator includes being a manager (really don’t like that word actually and prefer more of a “team leader” but I’ll get into that in another blog post). I have an open door policy so if one of my girls – our staff is composed of primarily females excluding the two male dentists – ever has an issue, personal or professional, they are able to come and talk to me.

I feel like this creates a less intimidating environment as well as the space to be, well, human. Just because I wear the manager hat, doesn’t mean I’m better than them or that I’m unapproachable. I want my girls to feel like they can talk to me instead of harboring negative emotions which will inevitably reveal themselves through their work. I know from my own personal experience, that when I have a problem, whether home or at work, and I don’t acknowledge it that it festers into a tumor. By speaking it into existence and letting others know that you’re not feeling well or that you’re feeling overwhelmed (whatever the reason behind your mood shift or lack of enthusiasm), we are able to work through it, let it go, and move on. I’m not at all advising to bring your dirty laundry to work, but if you can at least be honest about your hardships or current state of being (in as little detail as possible), it’ll let others know where you’re at and will help them empathize with you more. Transparency works wonders.

So when it comes to setting boundaries, I have mixed feelings about it. And since I come from a home where this is a foreign concept (boundaries), establishing them at work was always tricky for me. On one hand, I believe they are healthy and necessary. In a professional setting, they are critical to the success of an organization and serve as a guideline for professional conduct. Once implemented and followed, they can have a positive impact on the productivity of the organization. Everyone has clarity about their roles and responsibilities, personal issues are kept private and there’s no confusion about “who’s in charge”.

On the other hand, I feel like setting strict rules or preventing management from interacting with the team is limiting to the growth of the organization (as well as to the personal growth of the individual) and it inhibits relationship building. And this is what I’m all about – developing relationships with my team so that when we come to work, we all want to be there. Since we spend most of our lives AT work, I envision a place that feels like … HOME. And that means, it feels safe enough to be able to share about the shit that happens outside of work.

My vision is to create a balance between work and play. To be able to have close relationships with our coworkers without it affecting our work in a negative way. As a leader, I see it as my duty to be able to mentor and guide my team but it seems it’s impossible to do so without getting personal. For me, one of the ways to a successful organization (or any other type of business) is by getting to know the people we work with. We all seek connection and since we spend so much time with them (sometimes more than we do with our own friends and family!), what’s wrong with getting to know them on a deeper level? Plus, the stronger the bond between coworkers, the more motivated they’ll be to help one another and the more productive they’ll be.

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