In management and leadership roles we have the responsibility to motivate and inspire our team. Over time we will get to know each other and then as familiarity increases so too do the boundaries issues. There is a huge distinction to be made here. Your employees trusting you enough to reach out with their deepest and most distressing problems is one thing. You asking questions without reason is another. That is my focus. It is a very subtle but substantial difference.
This is an area that everyone struggles with and for good reason. Employment is NOT friendship though friendships and marriages do come about as a result quite frequently. We are social creatures and we spend huge amounts of our time at work which is why this is so challenging. As a human resources professional the issue of boundaries comes up repeatedly when things aren’t going so well. When friendships are going great I am not invited in so to speak.
Consider though: As you get to know people at work how will the working relationship be affected if performance drops? If this person is a friend do you really think you will be as objective, fair and consistent as you need to be? As importantly, will others see you as being appropriately objective, fair and consistent? Are you willing to risk the friendship as you initiate the progressive discipline process? Do they know too much about you and is there now some reputational risk? Time and again I have seen “friendship” used as a smoke screen by the occasional manipulative employee as a survival tactic. Some employees will leverage their interpersonal skills in order to create some safety for themselves. Hey, we all know how this works. Note that I am not suggesting that your work friendships are false but sometimes it is a possibility!
How do we maintain connection while respecting the privacy others are so willing to give away? We do not ask specific questions or participate in conversations that cross the line particularly around health, family issues and recreational activities. Stay with me as we are entering our world of “grey”. People are entitled to their privacy but once we are told things then we must respond appropriately. I hope that your employees DO trust you enough to bring their concerns to you. Just say no to fishing expeditions! This is about our duty to accommodate and our responsibility to take actions to ensure the safety of both the employee and the team. Is this also about reminding employees and management of our professional responsibilities in these circumstances?
In the end human rights, privacy, health and safety and more intersects the relationship between manager and employee. Employees will bring their concerns to you and you will be required to deal with what has been presented to you. Be mindful of those boundaries!