How to Maintain Professional Boundaries in Today's Workplace

By Robert Half July 31, 2015 at 1:02pm

What it means to be “professional” these days is not what it has meant for previous generations. We live in a new age where there is no longer a standard workday, dress code or business code of conduct.

For instance, instead of formal memos, now you might send out a text to your team members. Rather than pantyhose and pumps, flats and bare legs are acceptable. And thanks to smartphones and constant connectivity, gone are the days of interacting with co-workers solely between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Professional boundaries have become very hazy in many workplaces. This can be particularly tricky if you’re the manager, trying to maintain your professionalism with the people who report to you. But there are ways to make sure you’re not crossing that red line with your employees despite the intimate, connected work environment we find ourselves in these days.

Here are three tips for managers trying to navigate the new definition of professionalism:

1. Social media management

For better or for worse, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have broken down a lot of professional boundaries. Before social media, you probably didn’t know much about your employees’ social lives. Now, however, if you’re friends with them on Facebook, you can see updates about everything from what they ate for dinner last night to the adorable things their kids did over the weekend.

Not too long ago, it was considered a no-no to friend (or accept friend requests from) those who report to you. These days, job candidates are encouraged to boost their social media profiles, and some companies encourage employees to use social media as part of their job — to network with potential clients or promote the company, for example.

If everyone in your office posts and tweets for business purposes, it’s probably fine to connect with employees and coworkers on social media, as long as you keep your social media presence drama-free. (You really don’t want your colleagues gossiping at the water cooler about the Twitter war you had last night.)

If, on the other hand, your workplace looks down on the use of social media in the office, it’s probably best to keep your office social media connections to LinkedIn.

2. Socializing outside the office

Even just a decade ago, many managers avoided office happy hours and get-togethers outside of work. The only time you’d see your boss outside the office would be at a working lunch or a holiday party, and friendships at work were considered off-limits.

Today, though, many managers know that a little socializing outside the workplace can be a good thing – it can help you build trust with your team, and it can improve morale. Most employees enjoy getting to know their boss a little bit better on a personal level.

And you can maintain professional boundaries at these events, too. Go ahead and talk about your family and your hobbies, as long as you avoid telling stories that might verge on being too personal. Listen as your employees talk about their weekend plans, and ask questions that show your interest. And try to work the room – engage as many people as you can, rather than sticking with one group of friends.

3. Setting professional boundaries

Always remember that as the boss, you are the one establishing the professional boundaries in the office. Set the example, with your words and actions, that you want the rest of the office to follow. You want to encourage collaboration, but if you’re a little less than professional, you can’t expect much more from the people who report to you. But with a certain amount of self-awareness of how you conduct yourself on social media and in social situations, you can successfully set professional boundaries for your department.

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