How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Your Workplace

The careers of talented and gifted employees can be derailed by an inability to handle relationships at work. Here is how to set effective rules.

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By Stephanie Vozza

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Football player Richie Incognito was accused of harassing a fellow teammate. Astronaut Lisa Nowak was charged with the attempted kidnapping of a woman who had been romantically involved with one of Nowak's coworkers. And former California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child with his housekeeper. All three are examples of what can happen when boundaries aren't set in the workplace.

"Research shows that 60 percent to 80 percent of all difficulties at work have to do with strained relationships," says Van Moody, author of The People Factor (Thomas Nelson; January 2014). As a leadership consultant, Moody saw a startling theme running through many organizations: the careers of talented and gifted employees were being derailed by an inability to effectively handle relationships.

Related: 7 Steps to Keep Employees Safe in the Workplace

"Healthy relationships at work can propel you to great heights of achievement; dysfunctional or toxic ones will tether you to mediocrity," says Moody. "Your success at work depends on your ability to set the kinds of boundaries that encourage mutual respect and keep the focus on productivity."

He offers four ways an entrepreneur can set boundaries in their workplace:

1. Manage your time. Idle hands are said to be the devil's workshop, and Moody says this often happens at the workplace.

"An inordinate amount of time is wasted at work," says Moody. "If employees are engaging in gossip or spending a lot of time around the water cooler, it can be a sign that they aren't being properly guided in terms of what needs to get done."

Instead, Moody suggests that small-business owners set weekly goals. Misuse of time happens when responsibilities and expectations are not spelled out.

Related: How to Create an Effective Office Romance Policy

2. Express yourself. Revealing your priorities and values will help keep your boundaries intact, says Moody.

"If you don't communicate what's tolerated and what's not, you can't hold employees to those expectations," he says. "The idea is to establish a culture in your company of what is acceptable."

But establishing boundaries once is not enough. Moody says small-business owners must communicate it over and over again. This can be done through monthly emails or during meetings.

3. Play your part. Everyone plays a role at work - the victim, the star, the slacker, the go-to guy, says Moody. As a business owner, you must carefully and consistently build your reputation.

"It's important that your staff knows what you stand for and what to expect from you," he says. "Then, don't waiver."

Also, don't contradict your words. You can communicate all day who you are, but if you don't play that role, you will undo everything you say.

4. Change the conversation. Take the reigns when toxic conversations start to happen. Moody suggests that you steer others away from nonproductive behavior by saying something like: "Let's focus on finishing the quarterly projections instead of the latest gossip so we can get home early."

"From time to time, it will be necessary to course-correct and bring people back to things that matter," he says. "The bottom line is that are no neutral relationships - they lift you up or weigh you down. The most important thing you can do is to embrace this by working to maintain healthy relationships."

Related: Do I Need a Sexual Harassment Policy?

Stephanie Vozza

Stephanie Vozza is a freelance writer who has written about business, real estate and lifestyle for more than 20 years.

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