Professional Boundaries

Every worker, in every workplace, has a job to perform and a set of expectations about how they are to work.  In most places, these guidelines are written down and maybe called something like a code of conduct or code of ethics, or they may be set out in a position or duty statement. Some people also belong to a professional or trade organisation that sets out standards or expectations for them. Codes of conduct and ethics are there to protect both employees and the people for whom they are providing a service or conducting business.

 

Crossing professional boundaries

Employees are expected to have a professional relationship with the clients of their organisation. Employees reviewing their relationship with their clients can ask themselves a number of questions:

  • What is my role? Have I fulfilled it to the best of my ability?
  • Whose needs are being met?
  • What are the risks?
  • How could other people interpret, or misinterpret, my behaviour?
  • Is there an organisational policy or guideline to help me?
  • Are there things I wouldn’t want to tell my boss about my relationship with my client or how I carried out my duties?

 

There are a number of ways an employee can cross boundaries including for example:

  • Accepting gifts
  • Going out with a client/ having a sexual relationship with the client
  • Passing on information or favouring a client
  • Being over-available
  • Too much personal disclosure
  • Going beyond the skill level
  • Not completing all expected duties, to the possible detriment of the client

Challenges

There can be particular challenges for employees in some situations, including:

  • When relatives and friends are involved
  • Working in small communities where everyone knows everyone else

 

Looking after yourself

  • Talk over any doubts you have with your supervisor
  • Read your organisation’s code of conduct or ethics
  • If you belong to a professional body, read its standards
  • Take notes of meetings with clients if you are concerned that your behaviour could be questioned and report to your supervisor.
  • Ensure you have a witness if you are dealing with a delicate matter that could be open to misinterpretation.
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