Clear Boundaries Create Strong Working Relationships

Tuesday, September 1 2020

It is October 31 and you are working on a tight client deadline. You have come to the realization that it is going to take several more hours to meet that deadline. However, 5:00 pm, the end of the working day, has arrived and a key employee is packing up to leave. He/she wants to get home in time to take the children trick-or-treating, since it’s Halloween.

You are the leader: What do you do? What are your expectations? What are theirs?

Naturally, you might expect that a sense of loyalty would compel the employee to stay and work on this important project. Perhaps you believe there should not even be a question – work comes first.

The employee might feel that family comes first, especially on an important night for their children.

Such a situation risks hard feelings and resentments, no matter the outcome. However, these can be minimized or eliminated if expectations or boundaries are set in advance and mutually agreed upon by all parties. Boundaries delineate a clear path for both individuals and the organization and it is important to clarify:

Boundaries for working overtime

  • Have the overtime policies been communicated and agreed upon up front?
  • Are there expectations for working beyond normal business hours?
  • Is that extra time paid or compensated only after a certain number of hours?
  • Is there a requirement for advance notice to management or the employee if overtime is expected or is there an inherent expectation that responsibilities will be completed within the normal workday?
  • Are there expectations about working from home to complete assignments?
  • Have the demands on employees, such as deadlines for daycare been addressed and agreed upon.

Technology boundaries

  • What are the guidelines regarding availability for email or phone calls after hours, particularly if the company is paying for the cell phone or laptop?

Emotional boundaries

  • How are appropriate and inappropriate relationships at work defined? Do they include guidance about purely friendly co-worker relationships, personal out-of-office friendships, and/or romantic relationships?

Freedom to say NO

  • Are individuals free to decline a work request if it feels too stressful?

Honest and open confidential discussions

  • Are there assurances that information shared in coaching meetings is kept confidential, allowing individuals the freedom to fully share their concerns?

Wise leaders make sure boundaries are clearly outlined up front. Setting boundaries at work and maintaining them can be hard, but they go a long way toward achieving long-term, trusting relationships with your team.