There is a narrative within tech companies that the Googles and Facebooks of the world are better places to work because they are less corporate and more value driven. Tech companies will often pay lip service to the social justice issues of the day, ethics, campaign to give back, and how woke they are compared to profit seeking corporations.
But same said companies can be toxic to their individual workers. This can be attributed due to having improper boundaries. When the cause is important, workers often volunteer to violate their own boundaries. And that is wrong. Even water is poison in a high enough dosage.
How you treat yourself. Getting enough sleep, eating right, getting regular exercise, etc. Everybody’s different here and what I want from my employees is not that they fit a certain mold but that they give me a general idea of what these boundaries look like for them so that I can flag when their patterns have changed.
What parts of your life are work zones, and what parts are personal zones. External boundaries include traditional "work-life balance" issues like work hours, norms around overtime and the conditions in which it’s considered okay to violate those norms and infringe on non-work space.
The relationships you have with coworkers. When working on something with a social good in mind, people tend to underestimate how stressful the experience is. The best way to protect yourself is to set boundaries with each relationship. Are you friends? Is it okay to confide in you? Lean on you for support? What topics are off limits?
The biggest mistake organizations make with boundaries is over socializing. But the more often you turn the work space into a friend space the more people start to see their colleagues as friends.
That’s problematic because people expect loyalty and conformity from their friends. Nobody really talks about it that way, but it’s true. You want your friends to agree with you and when they don’t it bothers you much more than it would if an acquaintance disagreed.
People need to be able to disagree at work. Teams can’t make good decisions if they can’t disagree. And while some friendships survive or even thrive on debate, people still tend to take dissent much more personally from their friends.
People also tend to take more liberties with their friends. You are less embarrassed about showing up late or inconveniencing a friend because you assume that close bond will guarantee you forgiveness.
Tech companies keep asking employees to leave their politics at the door, while at the same time encouraging them to bring their hobbies to work, join internal networks for your specific identity groups, rebuild your entire life to revolve around your employer but leave your politics at home.
The net effect of offering a wide array of perks not related to work functions and encouraging people to network in a professional space based on personal interests is that the boundaries between work and life get blurry.
The combination of enmeshed and over socialized is particularly common and particularly toxic. People are more likely to bring their private feelings to work and much more likely to be outraged when members of their work family have a different perspective.
It’s really not. It’s sometimes necessary to work extra hours in certain cases, but not as a regular habit. It’s not just about burning out the one engineer who is “having fun” working 10 hours a day, it’s about maintaining the incentives that keep those extra hours “optional” in the first place.
When promotions and other opportunities come up, how should I as a manager evaluate everyone fairly? Do I punish the overworker by disqualifying some of her accomplishments? If so how do I fairly determine which ones don’t count and communicate that back? Or do I punish her colleagues who didn’t volunteer for the extra work and therefore didn’t accomplish as much? In this way “optional” extra work quickly becomes not optional at all.
Friendships and relationships will happen at work. Cliques may form. The goal isn’t to prevent that, but to make sure everyone has the freedom to determine how much or how little social interaction is right for them.
Everyone has a different tolerance. People need to be able to match their level of engagement to their comfort level. The important thing is to make sure everyone has the ability to set their limit in the right place and that the organization is not creating a race to the bottom. Push the idea of all things in moderation over mandatory fun.
You want your employees to trust you, to like and respect you, but you can’t be friends. Friends should stand on an equal playing field. Bosses that have legitimate friendships with employees work at organizations where the rules are different for those friends. That power will be abused.
Boundaries are hard. They’re hard because each person has to know themselves and what their needs are and they’re hard because people are not used to talking about these things. But they need to set their boundaries where they feel comfortable because a great team is something we build together.