By Sandra L. Lavelle, LISW-S, Ease@Work Counselor
Discussing and defining boundaries can be an elusive concept in the workplace. What defines a boundary? The ability to know where you end and another person begins. In describing the need for space, setting limits, and determining acceptable behavior or autonomy, we are defining workplace boundaries.
Professional boundaries are important because they define the limits and responsibilities of those interacting in the workplace. When workplace boundaries are clearly defined, organizations work more efficiently, and ultimately, lead to a healthier workplace environment.
Not all people have healthy boundaries. Those with unhealthy boundaries can make the workplace difficult to down right insufferable.
People with poor boundaries consider you to be an extension of themselves and have difficulty understanding true parameters. Those with good boundaries respect your views and choices, even when they differ from their own.
To understand how to set appropriate workplace limits, it is important to recognize characteristics of healthy and unhealthy boundaries.
Characteristics of Healthy Boundaries
- Says “yes “ or “no” without fear or guilt/acknowledges “free choice” in decision-making.
- Accepts “no” from others
- Shares personal information gradually in a mutually trusting relationship
- Expects reciprocity in relationships and shares personal responsibility
- Identifies when the problem is “theirs” and when it is not
- Does not rescue others from taking responsibility
- Does not tolerate abuse or disrespect
Characteristics of Unhealthy or Rigid Boundaries
- Gives a “no” response if the request involves close interaction
- Avoids intimacy at all costs and may even sabotage a relationship to do so
- Does not share any personal information in a relationship
- Has difficulty identifying wants, needs, or feelings
- Has few or no close relationships
Characteristics of Unhealthy or Collapsed Boundaries
- Unable to say “no” due to fear of rejection
- Exhibits a high tolerance for abuse or disrespect
- Absorbs the feelings of others (I feel and know your pain)
- Shares “too much information” before establishing mutual trust in a relationship
- Avoids conflict at all costs
- Possesses no clear identity or sense of self.
When encountering a difficult employee or situation, your employee assistance program should be available to assist you. Don’t assume you have to handle this by yourself. Ease@Work clients have 24/7 access to a masters level counselor for a management consultation as well as access to a dedicated account manager who can help with the most difficult employee and workplace issues. We can also train your HR or Management team to utilize the EAP more effectively. See this presentation on Slideshare.