Work and Boundaries [NOT 8/4/21]

Hi, friends! Today was the first session in what will be a 6 month long leadership training series my boss recommended I take (and the company is paying for).

It’s set up as sessions spread out every few weeks, and I think I’ll enjoy it.

However, apparently I am weird because I don’t like talking about my non-work life. Like a large chunk of today’s session was about how it’s important to know what sorts of things your employees like to do outside of work to better understand them and connect with them. And I went off mute and explained that I sincerely dislike when my bosses want to know about my non-work life because it’s none of their business what I do outside of work. And I like boundaries.

Because while you may become friends with coworkers, and it’s possible I guess to be friends with your boss, none of use are there out of the goodness of our hearts and I am not required to divulge any of what I do with my time before 8am or after 5pm and certainly not on weekends.

Welp, their super important advice is that it’s important to a lot of employees for them to share things like this with their leadership because it shows that the bosses care about them as people, etc etc.

I dunno, maybe it’s in large part because I’m 37 and child-free, and I’ve gotten so many comments over the years like “wow must be nice to do nothing all weekend” or “you have so much free time!” and I’ve had bosses who wouldn’t care if someone regularly left early to pick up a kid but expected my ass to work late.



  1. …I’ve heard a lot the last few years about “work/life balance” & how it’s a good thing…& personally I find those things balance best when kept at opposite ends of the seesaw rather than all mingled together right on top of the fulcrum?

    …terrible analogy notwithstanding I think I agree with you…if I work for you then you pay me to do stuff during pre-agreed blocks of time…outside of that time is literally my business & not yours

    …but I do know how to have a conversation, so unless the work is incompatible with those you’d probably be able to make a few educated guesses about how I spend at least some of my time after a while

    …not sure there’s any way to speed up that process that wouldn’t come off to me as forced or performative…but then I may just never have had the best bosses?

    • Every time I got a boss who seems really interested in me, either they’re a creep or they are all “we’re like a family here” before they turn out to be assholes. 

      • …going through the motions of convincing employees the firm/boss is their friend too often seems to be a way to get out of obligations while making excessive demands…like working unpaid hours because you’re asked to & “we’re all in this together” by someone who already considers your time to be worth less than their own when the paychecks are being drawn up

        …I’m not trying to say it’s not possible for an employer to become friends with an employee…but the other thing seems to happen considerably more often if the anecdotal experience of the folks I know is anything to go by?

        • Exactly! I’ve made some great friends through work, but in general, WE ARE NOT FRIENDS WE ARE COWORKERS. 

  2. “However, apparently I am weird because I don’t like talking about my non-work life.”
    Your instincts are right. The best way for bosses to care about their employees is to care about them as employees. Pay them well, give them benefits, respect them, respect their time. The burden is on the bosses to make a system that works, not on the employees.

    • Yes. Typically bullshit about caring about you as a person is … well, bullshit. It’s a boondoggle to get you to believe that your boss cares about you and therefore you should care back — y’know, and work 80 hours a week and take substandard pay and not quit. 
      Someone once told me that if your boss was told to fire you, would they hesitate, argue on your behalf, or would they just do it? If they’d just do it, they’re not your friend and you’re not their friend, either. DON’T BE FOOLED. And don’t tell me you don’t know what they’d do, because you absolutely do. 
      “Leadership” is looking out for your employee’s career interests. “Leadership” is making sure they’re paid and paid adequately for what they do. “Leadership” is making sure they’re NOT bothered after hours with petty bullshit and that they’re NOT taken advantage of for being good at their jobs and being hard workers. “Leadership” is saying “I’m sorry to see you go but you need to do what’s best for your career, not mine, and if there is anything I can do to help you, I’ll do it, because you are a good employee and you’ve earned that from me.”
      If you can’t do that for your employees, or your boss can’t do that for you, there’s no leadership there. And I’ll tell you right now, if you do that stuff for your employees, they will come through for you when you need them. It’s never failed me yet. 

    • The best way for bosses to care about their employees is to care about them as employees. Pay them well, give them benefits, respect them, respect their time.

      Amen to that. If you need to probe into my personal life in order to treat me like a professional human being worthy or respect and kindness, then that’s your failure, not mine.

  3. I fall strongly on the separation of work and private life side of things. I agree with @blue dogcollar about pay and respect. Shockingly, about 60% of my coworkers thrive under my boss’s daily check-in “How was your night? What did you do? How is X family member?” I tend to give one word innocuous answers, and move the discussion back to business – because I do not have the free time to have a virtual daily coffee klatch. But – especially because we are all remote workers – most of the company loves the attention and interaction. I will never have her natural emotional management style, but I have learned from her, and hope that I have become better at the softer side of management.   

    • I’m  with you. Like share a funny gif or meme over webex chat, but I don’t want to hear all the details about your lives outside of work.

  4. it’s important to know what sorts of things your employees like to do outside of work to better understand them and connect with them.

    Why?  Is it because

    it shows that the bosses care about them as people, etc etc.

    Or is it because they want to know what motivates people so they can get more out of them?  If you need training to care about me as a person, maybe you shouldn’t be a supervisor.

    • Right??? I don’t need to know who on my team likes to go skiing and who likes to coach youth soccer and who likes to spend all weekend at the condo at the lake to be a good coworker or boss. I just need to respect them and their time. 

  5. 1). Just because you were smart enough to not have kids does not give miserable or higher-than-thou parents the right to insinuate you have more free time than they do. Fuck them! You have the free time to fight for things that benefit their ugly ass kids while they’re too busy caring for their ugly ass kids in order to pay attention to politics.

    “Is he done this stupid rant?” you ask…

    NO, I’m not.

    Do-good moms and pops think schools should be open, “kids need to be out of the house and in school” because their dumb ass kids are more important than EVERYONE else, to them. Sorry mom/pop with no care for anything other than your higher-than-thou selves and your kids, but the fact that you’re too bad at doing what you claim to be so proud of in raising and caring for your kids that you can’t entertain them yourself so they’re not all rambunctious and bored at home doesn’t mean your need to get them out of the house or your belief that they “need” to be out of the house is more important than the health of literally EVERYONE else.

    Now all of the schools have Covid outbreaks…what are the odds?

    2). In the mid 2,000’s when “Practical Loss & Control” was the be all-end all of management training and supervision training, coincidentally the same time they made it so workplace injuries were the responsibility, in lawsuits, of the supervisors and managers instead of the companies, it was taught that managers and supervisors should show interest in employees’ personal lives. WITH TOUCHING, even. “Pat them on the back and ask how their dog, parent, spouse, kids, are doing” for the sake of the workplace environment…to make the peasants feel good about themselves for better production.

    Tarana Burke founded the MeToo movement around the same time…of course.

    • What I find particularly horrifying about the parents that have been pushing for in person school is that they’re doing so purely for their own selfish reasons. Not only does it have terrible ramifications on public health, but on their own fucking kids too! Like I get that kids get severely ill at lower percentages BUT NOT AT ZERO PERCENTAGE. That whole multi inflammatory deal connected with covid in kids freaked me the fuck out and I’m stressed that there isn’t going to be a vaccine for young kids until 2022.
      I will put one caveat though, which is that childcare in the US at least is abysmal, and many parents have had to give up their jobs, been fired, etc due to their kids being home. The solution to that problem is not to just send the kids back to school during an active pandemic though. 

      • I’m in agreement with you on that last bit…fwiw…my rant was more specific than I portrayed it to be.

        Especially in the US, I consider it, as many do, to be a HUGE set-back for women in the workforce. Consider is the wrong word because it actually is. I am hesitant to have faith in the current political structure in the US to find a way to fix the issue but I hope, somehow, it does eventually get fixed.

        My rant was more Canadian and even moreso Ontarian.

        • 100% a GIANT setback for working moms in the US. It’s going to take a long long time to fix it. 

  6. I should add, if it’s illegal to ask someone in an interview about their personal lives, why should they be asking me about it once I’m hired to work for them?

    • It’s not. If you volunteer the information, that’s fine. But if I, as your supervisor, ask you, that’s NOT FINE. And anybody that says it’s fine or that busts on you because you don’t like to discuss such matters is an asshole. 
      I’ve got two direct reports now. I don’t actually know how many children, if any, either of them have. They haven’t brought it up, and it’s NOT MY FUCKING BUSINESS. If they choose to share, I’ll listen. If they say, I need time off because my kid has ______, I’ll remember they have a kid that does _______. But that’s it. I’m not going to ask about their families and put them on the spot and force them to share. I’m not going to force them to go to lunch with me, or have a beer with me, or talk to me about their personal lives because that’s creepy as fuck. Do they get their work done yes/no. Beyond that, it’s outside my purview. 

  7. And I went off mute and explained that I sincerely dislike when my bosses want to know about my non-work life because it’s none of their business what I do outside of work. And I like boundaries.

    I love this. If I were on the training call with you, I would have pressed the clap hands and confetti emojis, and immediately felt less alone. 

    • I could see on the screen that at least one other person agreed with me based on the emphatic nodding!

  8. I guess I’m the weirdo here who liked talking about outside of work stuff at work. No one should be forced to, but I do think it’s polite and makes for a more pleasant environment to show interest in your employees. Read the room obviously – if there’s an employee giving one word answers, stop bothering them and leave them alone to do their work in peace. And I think that was kind of always my take on being a manager in general – try to do what works best for each employee, to give them the best environment to do their best work. For many people, that was having a friendly environment that included chatting about life and hobbies. 
    My last two bosses were friends. We hung out outside of work on occasion. So maybe my views are warped. But my boss before that, a crazy old Romanian dude who was always telling me that I should be home popping out babies instead of doing science, was another story. I wasn’t interested in discussing my personal life with him. So I guess it depends… 

    • Yeah it was just weirdly presented that raised my hackles. Like it wasn’t “it’s great learning about people’s hobbies” so much as “what does knowing you have kids tell me about your Fridays and Mondays?” 

      • Ooh yeah ok no that’s no good. 😂

    • See my comment above. I agree with you, I’m friends with former supervisors too. And if I’m your supervisor, and you volunteer information, I will absolutely listen and I’ll bullshit with you as much as you want about almost any topic you want. But if you don’t volunteer, I don’t ask. It’s simply not appropriate. 
      If I’m your supervisor, the power structure is not equal. If I ask you questions, you may feel you HAVE to answer. That’s not fair to you. It’s not any more fair than a man forcing his attentions on a woman because he’s stronger than she is. 
      I’m friends with most of my former supervisors. I’m friends with every single one of my direct reports that I’ve ever had in my entire career spanning some four decades now. Seriously, I can contact any of them and go to lunch or ask a favor or whatever. And when I say that, I’m serious. Every. single. one. ever. But it happened organically, like you and your bosses, and not because I demanded it. 

      • That’s all fair. I think it’s just important to somehow show that you are open to chatting? (Not you as in you – seems like you’re a good boss.) I’m struggling to remember specifics as to how this happened in my past as both manager and employee, and I don’t know, because as you say, it happened organically.
        I guess I just feel like clarifying because I have also had cold bosses in the past who did not give a single shit about me or my life, and that never felt great. I think maybe there are some conversation starters that are still boss appropriate (“do you have kids” is definitely not one). But I guess maybe asking about hobbies, or what shows you’ve been watching – that kind of light stuff feels ok to me for a boss to ask, and shows some interest that an employee can choose what they want to do with. But then I am also assuming that the boss has the ability to read whether the employee seems comfortable with the conversation, and I do know from experience (especially in science/engineering…) that plenty of people lack basic human understanding. So yeah, long story short, maybe you’re right? 

        • You make great points and it definitely comes back to “read the room.” Like I’m in St. Louis and we’re a little nutso about our Cardinals. Home opener was today. So in any given work conversation I would expect some chatter about local sports, weather, etc. 

          I’ve had bosses ask about the names and health of my parents before though… and like… ew. 

        • It’s a delicate dance. If you come in and say, oh, my daughter is sick, I’ll say, oh, that’s too bad. How old is she? Is she missing school? Do you have someone to watch her or do you need to go home? And you’ll say, oh, my mom is watching her or oh, she’s at my ex’s house or whatever. And then maybe I’ll tell you about when my daughter was sick. 
          And we’ll go from there. But if you don’t tell me, I won’t know. And I won’t ask. 

  9. ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOT. I don’t want any manager trying to finagle their way into my personal life. They’re either going to use it to try to get me to work more (also single with no kids) or I’ll say something totally innocuous that unconsciously biases them. 

    • It’s such a fucking double-edged sword. Because I know when a woman is all “oh I love spending my weekends with my kids!!!” some bosses are going to be like *well she’s not going to be dedicated to this job and she’ll have to take off work a lot probably for stuff with those kids*. 

  10. My attitude has changed on this over the years.  For the longest time, as a manager, my approach was hardcore “we’re here to do a job, not be pals”, which meant that while I wasn’t digging into people’s personal lives, I also didn’t give a rat’s ass about them as human beings and therefore felt no compunction about jamming them for extra work.

    But, eventually I learned that people don’t just turn their lives on and off when they’re at work or at home.  The reality is that we all, to greater or lesser degrees, bring home to work and vice versa.  So, I started treating my direct reports with that basic consideration; which organically developed rapport and then trust, and eventually friendships.  Some people are walled off, and that’s their choice, but I find that most of the time people tend to talk about their lives while at work.  So I saw it as part of my job as a manager to pay attention to that–not so I could find ways to manipulate them, but so I could actually notice when things seemed off and they might need to take a little time away from the desk or even a couple of days.  The work will always be there and I made it clear to the people who reported to me that their personal lives took priority, especially when there’s something to celebrate or something to mourn.  I once had a direct report who came to me when their engagement was broken off.  Another told me about her miscarriage.  They disclosed these things because they trusted that I would understand that they were going through a rough time and that I would also provide whatever support they needed–not because I would find a way to squeeze more work out of them or do the opposite and marginalize them for not giving 100% of their effort to the job for the next few weeks.

    Years ago I came across a biannual report from Gallup called The State of the American Workplace.  It was a revelation to me as a manager because it took a deep dive into the things that really drive engagement among workers–and it’s not pay and benefits.  Much of it is being able to trust your immediate supervisor to have your back in large ways and small.  I would recommend looking those reports up because they are fascinating reading.

    I’m not in management anymore–by my own choice.  I took a different job in a different department, that actually pays me more than I was making as a manager.  I don’t miss the hassle and the BS at all.  Depending on the growth opportunities with this new career path–and they seem to be considerable–I may never go back to management again.

    • I try to run with this philosophy: we don’t want people to dread work or be miserable because of work. If there’s something that requires accommodation (handicap, pregnancy, chronic conditions, etc.), we try to make it work within reason. If we need people to work more than 40 hours a week then it’s management’s fault for not scheduling realistic work. Try to pay attention and avoid fucking up the best you can, and when there’s a problem make sure you learn from it, then we move on. 

  11. oh…so thats why the higher ups occasionally come around trying to make small talk…same goes for the time leads…i kinda figured there was some cookie cutter how to make friends with the plebs course involved…nice to have that confirmed
    nah sorry mate..i have precisely 0% intent of knowing you in anything other than a professional capacity 
    mostly i keep my answers short and let them waffle on about themselfes which they are usually happy enough to do
    been there for 3 years now and most of my coworkers dont even know brodie isnt my first name..much less what my home life is like
    and i like it that way

  12. time leads?
    *dr who theme starts playing*
    i mean team leads…lol

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