Work boundaries are for people that don’t have any boundaries.
Somewhere along the way of corporate culture, boundaries started to be drawn in the sand for what was okay to talk about with employees and employers. “Work-appropriate” affected not only how we’re allowed to dress (says who?) but even more importantly, how we’re allowed to talk and what we’re allowed to talk about. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a time in history where stifling a group’s expression had good ultimate effects (unless it’s, like, yelling FIRE in a theater…).
That’s why I believe this, and why I know my boss would agree: People who believe in work boundaries are people that don’t hold any boundaries for themselves at all. Let me explain…
If you, as a person, have developed personal boundaries for,
1. What you’re comfortable disclosing
2. What you’re comfortable discussing/ learning about others
Then those boundaries shouldn’t change at work. Not between team members, not between you and your boss.
On the other hand, if you don’t have those personal boundaries, then you fall into needing “work boundaries” that society put up for you:
1. You’re *not allowed* to disclose something personal even if you wanted to
2. You’re *not allowed* to hear what someone wants to tell you
Having personal boundaries is about freedom to decide for yourself what you want and don’t want to do, whereas corporate rule boundaries decide for you what you can and can’t do.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that some rules aren’t helpful – there are obviously abuses of power dynamics in the world that should be looked at closely (a-holes shouldn’t just be allowed to be a-holes). That’s some common sense.
But unspoken rules about what’s okay to bring to work? About your life? If you choose to share it, and your coworker or boss chooses to listen?
That should be up to you. And that requires a culture of trust: trust that people will set and hold their own boundaries and be honest with one another, and know the other party will respect it.
That’s why People Don’t Believe My Boss Exists: At Rock Candy Media (one of the top ad agencies in Austin, by the way), she lives this idea in front of the world, including in client and prospect meetings. That tends to shock people: the cursing, the seeming lack of filter, the no-shit, no-butthurt rule. But then it became our biggest, most effective filter for the types of humans we want to work with, and we built some pretty solid, amazing relationships that way. (And don’t think it doesn’t go both ways either– if a client wants to do the same back. We’d be nothing if we were hypocrites.)
No effing wonder big businesses are struggling with culture and retention during The Great Resignation: the very moment people walk in the door, they’re asking them to stop being human. We’re anti-that. That’s just a piece of what makes us the anti-agency.