Creating boundaries with our employers can be a tricky business, especially when working in an environment where the line between colleagues and friends is hard to find. That can make us feel overly comfortable with colleagues, and even a boss when it comes to discussing personal issues that don’t relate to our work. Can revealing too much about your personal life backfire on you professionally? Absolutely. How can you navigate the mine field of what not to tell (or do with) your boss? Here are five tips to keep you on track and help you define a healthy professional boundary with your employer:
1. Don’t consume excessive amounts of alcohol with or around your boss.
We all have a healthy limit for behaving professionally in public while drinking alcohol. Maybe you can handle one drink, maybe two, but when it comes to places where you’re around your boss, like a company happy hour or holiday party, resist the urge to have a drunken bonding moment with your boss. Maybe it worked for one guy one time, but upon sober reflection, your boss may get the impression that you’re one they have to “keep an eye on.” Set a limit for a safe “business drunk” and stick to it. Your self-control will be seen as a sign of maturity and professionalism.
2. Don’t tell your boss your plans to leave the company … after telling everyone else.
Nothing will burn your bridges faster than letting your boss find out from the grapevine that you’re leaving. On the other hand, telling your boss that you’re interviewing or talking to other employers can give the impression that you have no interest in getting promoted or growing professionally within your current job. You have to balance the need to keep your boss in the loop, while also keeping open your professional options. When in doubt, err on the side of discretion, and don’t be too liberal with discussing your plans to leave the company with colleagues before you’ve discussed with your boss — and given him or her the chance to persuade you to stay.
3. Never tell your boss “No, I can’t do that.“
Obviously if your boss is asking you to do something illegal, immoral or otherwise, that’s a different case. But when it comes to professional tasks and responsibilities, bosses like to see a can-do attitude. Instead of reacting to a difficult, challenging assignment with a sigh and immediate reasons why it can’t be done, instead consider what resources you’d need to actually get the job done. Maybe you need an assistant, a bigger budget, more time, access to a special person or resource. Think of it as an opportunity to expand your responsibilities in a way that can lead to a raise or promotion at the end of the day.
4. Don’t start a romantic relationship with your boss.
I don’t think this needs any elaboration. It still shocks me that it happens all the time.
5. Never lie to your boss.
When it comes to making a mistake, always own it — never blame a subordinate, colleague or your dog. However, it’s better to have a solution in place or at least options to fix the mistake in mind when it comes time to fess up. If the mistake is minor, you may be able to fix it and not tell your boss, but never lie about it if asked! While not lying seems obvious, as the advice above indicates, there are plenty of situations when being selective about what you tell your boss is very different than lying.
Do you have any regrets about telling you boss too much? Please let me know if I’ve missed any nuggets of good advice when it comes to developing a healthy employee-employer relationship!