have I destroyed boundaries with my team during Covid?

A reader writes:

I’ve been a manager for four years, all at the same location and mostly with the same reports (three people). I’m a pretty private person and didn’t love a previous job that tried to force out-of-work friendships on staff. As a manager I’ve always been a friendly-but-not-friends type, they’re lovely people and I have a general idea of what’s going on with my reports from chat on breaks/check-in during supervision; I’ve never socialized with them except for out of office team-building on company time and shared meals during conference travel.

And then COVID. We are all pretty conscientious people in a state full of anti-maskers and never went remote so have been working in the office this whole time. None of us are really seeing anyone outside of close family and each other. I feel like I’ve increasingly drifted in the friends-with-reports direction during this time with one person in particular, and somewhat with another. The third is super reserved and isn’t really friendly with anyone. By that, I mean 10-15 minute check-in chats daily, occasional half-hour office hangouts during downtimes, sharing family photos and videos, recipe and cocktail recommendations, etc. We are all similar age and single. It’s honestly helped keep me sane, and during our annual reviews last week they each mentioned something about their good work environment and relationships helping them get through COVID.

But … we are all currently or soon to be vaccinated, so I’m beginning to think about what to do after/if things do go back to normal. I don’t want them to think I don’t like them anymore if I cut down the personal conversations, but I also don’t want to have inappropriate personal relationships or make any new staff who come on board feel excluded. Any thoughts?

Having 15-minute chats, occasionally socializing for half an hour during downtime, and sharing photos, recipes, and cocktail recommendations — that doesn’t seem like a crossing of boundaries to me! Those are all things managers with appropriate boundaries can do with their teams. You’re being warm and friendly and developing deeper connections with the people you work with. That’s fine!

Inappropriate would be things like wanting your employees to listen to or help you solve serious non-work problems in your life, having weepy conversations about your family or love life, badmouthing your own boss, or expecting them to prioritize chatting with you over their own work or outside interests (or them expecting any of this from you). It would also be things like getting drunk together or hanging out regularly outside of work. But trading recipes and photos — totally normal and not a sign of problematically relaxed boundaries!

So I don’t know that you need to worry particularly. A warm, friendly environment isn’t inherently problematic. You do need to be careful that the third person doesn’t feel excluded; you should always attempt to include her even if you know she’ll likely decline, and make sure the others don’t have special access to you that she doesn’t have. You should also make a point of watching how often you initiate these conversations versus how often the others do; the power dynamics mean they may feel obligated to engage with you on demand, so you’d want to watch out for that.

But a team that gets along well and enjoys talking to each other isn’t the same as a team that’s obliterated professional boundaries. (If I am misunderstanding and there’s more to it than the specifics you named in your letter, please write back so I can course-correct!)

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. The Happy Graduate*

    From the sounds of it here, this seems like a lovely team to be a part of! I have similar relationships with my managers and colleagues and, with the exception of a couple closer friends, we’ve never hung out outside of work. Frankly those aspects are what make me enjoy going into work every day! A team of people that have nice conversations on downtime and listen to others interests enough to send recipes they’d like to each other is quite nice, especially if it all happens at level that doesn’t impact productivity.

    For the 3rd person who’s more reserved, I’m sure as long as you acknowledge them when you see them, ask a warm “how was your weekend”, etc. when you see them in the breakroom is more than enough to make them feel included as it sounds like they’d rather not be involved in the deeper chats anyways.

    1. Smithy*

      I think a key piece of this is to keep this kind of engagement in the office and be really mindful about not having it move to more regular happy hours or other social activities outside the office. As those activities come back, it will make your in-office socializing be more contextualized as a friendly workplace vs the only in-person social interaction people have.

  2. Jennifer*

    I agree with Alison. It seems like before you may have had a pretty extreme take on socializing at work. None of what you described sounds out the ordinary to me, and it’s a warm, friendly environment. Nothing is happening outside of work. It’s not like you’re sleeping over at each other’s homes and having singalongs. And it sounds like you are respecting the boundaries of the one coworker that doesn’t really care for it. It would be kind of cold to just cut all of that off once everyone is vaccinated. I think this is one of the good things about the last year. People learning to appreciate one other and the value of making connections.

    1. EPLawyer*

      I think LW hated the forced socialization at her previous employment SO much, that she is veering the other way. Nothing personal at all or you are crossing boundaries. She probably had to put up really strict boundaries at the last place to survive and hasn’t realized its safe to relax them here. Relax not drop entirely. But when you’ve had to deal with overshare, the other extreme is often the solution. It takes a bit to recalibrate.

      1. LW*

        EP Lawyer, bingo on the past environment. It was a place with tons of secondary trauma from the work we did, and my boss’s solution to handle that was to force friendships and lots of out of work socializing (rather than things like hire appropriate staff levels to keep us from tons of unpaid overtime).

        1. anonymouse*

          If this helps, think back to the relationship/friendships you made with people when you were only in class together. I’m betting you had some people who were friends, that you talked to during/around class, and then, the next year you either didn’t have a class with them or sat on a different side of the room.
          These Covid relationships are like that.
          You are the ONLY people there.
          for all of your group, once more people come in, once you are more comfortable moving around your floor or your building, things will shake out more or less how they were before.
          You might still find some reports who are more interested in chatting, but you take that on a case by case.
          As long as you aren’t inviting people to a barbeque, you should be good.

  3. Tobias Funke*

    This…sounds delightful. It seems like you and your reports all have done a fabulous job of reading the room and being kind and respectful of each others shared humanity and warm, rather than boundary obliterating.

    1. NowWhat?465*

      I was going to say the same! LW this all sounds typical of the relationships in my office pre-covid. We would frequently chat and catch up during slow times and trade recipes (and test them out on each other).

      All of this sounds like a lovely office, and I commend you for having a great culture!

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. This all sounds perfectly normal and an environment most people would enjoy. I see nothing wrong with any of it. OP, keep doing what you’re doing.

  4. MK*

    OP, since apparently this makes you uncomfortable, I think the best way would be to slowly start to scale back the interactions. Don’t wait till things are back to some version of normal and then abruptly return cold-turkey to your previous relationship. Beginning next week, start shortening the daily chats, then doing them less often, same with the hangouts, stop sharing family photos, share videos and recipes only once in a while, etc.

    Though I have to say, the only thing that sounds even remotely possible to be an issue are the chats and the hangouts, and only because there is one team member who won’t participate (I think there is a possibility to create an undesirable dynamic, even if it is 100% their choise). And the recipe sharing in particular is so innocuous.

    1. Andy*

      They will notice. People normally notice discontinuity in relationship and guess reasons.

      And it also kind of sounds like …. using them in a way? I needed that 10-15 min chat, so whole team had them, not that I dont need them anymore, the same chat became something bad.

  5. LadyByTheLake*

    This is completely ordinary work socializing — I am a little concerned about what it might have been like before if there weren’t these warm and personal interactions. “Boundary violations” occur when you’re vacationing together or routinely hanging out outside of work — not just going on work lunches and the occasional happy hour or dinner, which are all normal — hanging out so much that the external friendship is more important than, or interferes with, the work relationship (which can totally include warm friendliness). It also becomes problematic if there is a clear “in” crowd and then the exile(s). But it doesn’t sound like any of that is happening here.

    1. alienor*

      I agree, this sounds super normal to me. I don’t socialize with coworkers outside the office, but we do make small talk about kids, pets, tv shows, etc. There’s a difference between knowing that a coworker has a a partner named Wakeen who’s an accountant, and hearing about their sex life or the big fight they had last night.

  6. Bee*

    This sounds so normally warm-professional to me that, if you think this is over the line into friendship, I wonder if you were keeping unnecessarily distant before! None of this is likely to cause new hires to feel excluded, either – you’re swapping recipes, not sharing elaborate inside jokes. As long as you fold them into these conversations if they want and don’t pressure them if not, it sounds like you’ll have a lovely and supportive environment.

    1. Bee*

      Actually, this might even be a good strategy for making new hires feel welcome – if you foster this kind of relationship with your staff, they’re likely to act this way with each other as well, and this kind of casual friendly chat can go a long way towards making new people feel like they’re part of the team. This is very much the environment at my office, and the way people were warm and friendly right off the bat did a lot to make me feel like I’d made the right choice of company. No one asked me any intrusive personal questions, they just treated me like they were happy to get to know me and were glad I was there!

  7. Elliot*

    I also think this sounds very normal and not like boundaries are being crossed… and it also begs the question (that I’ve had for a while…) – how do people stand working somewhere that isn’t this base level of friendly? (A few short chats a week, a friendly sharing of a tv recommendation or recipe here and there)
    I know a lot of people really don’t want to mix personal and work life for good reason, I just would have trouble spending 40+ hours a week somewhere with no warmth or friendly relationships.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Agreed! I don’t need to be besties with my coworkers but there’s a level of warmth and camaraderie that are necessary for me to survive in an office. I took a contract job a few years back in a place I call Zombie Cubeland…everyone just worked silently and shuffled around with their heads down. It was awful!

      Being a regular reader here, obvs I’ve learned not everyone shares this need.

      1. The Original K.*

        I didn’t extend a contract once because of this – they wanted to, I did not. You’d come in in the morning and say good morning and people wouldn’t even speak. I thought it was just that they disliked me in particular at first but then I realized that it was like that for everyone. It made it an awful place to work. There’s a difference between not mixing the personal and professional and not acknowledging your coworkers as people.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      Yeah, I would struggle terribly somewhere where you didn’t have that basic level of warmth – I know a lot of people here seem to prefer that but I just couldn’t deal with it. I think OP’s team has reached what sounds like a really good balance.

    3. SansaStark*

      I was in an interview once where I was asked whether I’d take a job that was only so-so with great coworkers or so-so coworkers with a great job. That was the easiest question I’ve ever been asked. I’d take the great coworkers in a heartbeat. It’s not a great job for me if there’s not a little friendly chatting and the occasional shared eye-roll about the latest weird thing from the grandboss.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I’ve always said I’d rather have the right team than the right role. I’m currently interviewing for a position that isn’t really what I do, but it’s with a team I’ve worked with before and is totally awesome so it’s definitely worth exploring!

      2. turquoisecow*

        I’ve definitely worked so-so or even bad jobs that felt better because I had good coworkers. We weren’t great friends outside of work (and most of them I lost contact with when we stopped working together) but we got along and that helped the day go by faster.

    4. Anax*

      I can tell you from experience that this would be a little much for me, personally!

      Socializing REALLY wears me out, especially when it’s casual conversation where tone of voice and facial expressions are more important, rather than work conversations where it’s more about passing on data, even if it’s in a friendly way. Especially when it’s an ad-hoc conversation I didn’t have a chance to plan for, or if there are other sensory inputs going on, like background noise, eating, or business casual attire.

      I also have a 10-15 minute daily check-in call, and while this sounds absurd – I know it’s absurd! – it usually takes up about a third of my energy for the workday. If I were also having a 30-minute casual chat during downtime, I’d probably be worn out for the rest of the day, and head right to bed to take a nap afterward.

      Add to that that I do have a social life outside work, curtailed as it is by covid, and… oof. It’s tough to balance the energy requirements!

      I love my coworkers, they’re wonderful and friendly, and I’m glad they take this sort of time to socialize – but like report #3, I would be opting out personally. It’s not personal, I wish I could join in, but I’ll be falling asleep at my desk if I do.

      1. anonymouse*

        15 minutes EVERYDAY?
        You need to communicate status in a meeting everyday?
        I’d lose my mind.
        I’ve gone an entire 5 day work week without having to check in and speak to my boss.
        I email/message.
        She emails/messages.
        We don’t talk for the sake of talking.
        I’m friendly with all my coworkers and my boss. We are all about the same age, have hobbies in common and do a very specific deadline driven job. We are using software that rolled out half way into a year of WFH, on top of never having WFH before.
        That sounds terrible and you have my sympathy.

        1. Calliope*

          . . . . some jobs just require more adjusting on the fly. It doesn’t mean they’re talking for the sake of talking.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes. Different jobs have different needs.

            The “I don’t want to talk to people at work” cohort is getting a little out of control here (not you, OP).

        2. Andy*

          That contemporary industry standard in IT. Daily standups every day, whole team and everyone says what he/she is working that day. It is accepted as standard and something you basically expect to have.

          1. Anax*

            Yep, that’s the situation, I’m IT. We have a lot of shared projects and shared resources, so checking in daily actually is important.

            (For instance – For some ungodly reason, our absurd black-box software only allows one person to make edits or run batch jobs in an environment at any given time. Any other changes just fail with no way to recover them. So if J or M is doing a bunch of work in QA today, I need to know so that I can check in with them before running my own jobs, or prioritize something in DEV for today.)

            And while it would be easier on me if it were every other day, or if it were a video call or via email, it’s an expected standard and important to my manager, so it would be politically difficult to skip out on.

        3. Metadata minion*

          In my current position, I have a biweekly check-in with my boss, which sometimes consists of me going “yeah, still doing the same projects as last time, no major issues” and then ending early. In my old position, I would check in with my boss and coworkers multiple times a day during busy season because there were inevitably 53 weird things going on and we were trying to coordinate a service point with very minimal staffing.

        4. Ace in the Hole*

          I’m sure it depends on the job, but that doesn’t sound at all excessive to me. I’ve had several positions where it was absolutely vital to have a short start-of-day meeting every shift to go over plans for the day, clarify roles, and have a chance to discuss potential problems.

          1. Anax*

            Yeah, it’s really not excessive – I’m just autistic and very introverted, so it’s hard on me personally. The absurdity is that this is so unusually spoon-draining for me, compared to an average coworker, not that we meet in general.

            We could perhaps drop to “every other day”, but there are a lot of shared resources and rapidfire changes which do require communication, and a phone call is more efficient than a group email chain between six people. We’ve done it via IM before, and of course we used to talk mostly in person before COVID, but… eh, this is industry standard and hard to argue with too much. Especially when it really is useful, it’s just moderately tiring for one of the 6-8 people involved.

    5. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, having a baseline friendly relationship with my boss makes it much easier to talk to to him about work things, especially if I have problems or unpleasant news. It sort of humanizes him in a way. I know how many kids he has, that he bight a house recently, that he likes some kind of sports (I would remember more details if I was into sports). He knows about my elderly cat and my basic hobbies too. There’s nothing boundary-crossing.

      But I’ve also had bosses that basically never talked to me. They would just sit in their office and only contact me about very specific work things. Those bosses never seemed approachable, even if I had questions about work things. If was also nerve-wracking every time they scheduled a meeting or asked me to come into their office because it was so unusual.

    6. allathian*

      Yeah, I agree with this. I enjoy working with my coworkers. I’m a fairly private person and like to compartmentalize work and the rest of my life quite a lot, but having friendly relationships with coworkers does make working with them easier. My job doesn’t require a lot of synchronous collaboration, but I do like the friendly chats we have occasionally. The people on my team know that I’m married and have a son, I knew when my coworker was having a crisis in his marriage and had a trial separation. He let me know because it was understandably affecting his work and that increased my workload temporarily. But he didn’t share the details in any boundary-crossing way, although when they reconciled, he baked a mud cake and brought it to work to celebrate.

    7. bluephone*

      Yeah, this is all in line with how my team communicates and we’re all a pretty cranky, hisses-at-the-sunlight-bunch (I’m probably on the more outgoing side, which is saying a lot)

  8. Anecdatally*

    I wonder if what makes it feel a bit off to OP is that this might be a large portion of /their/ socializing – larger than would be typical for office socializing and relationships. But not because it’s “too much” relationship for professionalism; rather because all of our non-work relationships have been so curtailed.

    1. AY*

      This is a great point! I find myself having long phone/video conversations with colleagues just because it’s nice to talk to someone when you’re working from home.

    2. LW*

      Anecdatally, I think that’s it. About 90% of my non-work conversations in the past year have been with these coworkers since my friends and I have been distancing/all in a lowkey panic all year. I am used to having a balance where most of my interaction is out of work and that just hasn’t been the case lately

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I’m guess that is it. None of this sounds outrageous, but it sounds like things that maybe didn’t used to happen pre-COVID:

      10-15 minute check-in chats daily, occasional half-hour office hangouts during downtimes, sharing family photos and videos, recipe and cocktail recommendations, etc.

      I thought the letter was going to description of oversharing, but I guess I can see that you used to come in and get right down to work and didn’t spend downtime chatting because you weren’t looking for face-to-face socialization in the office like you were during COVID. I don’t think you need to back off to be professional, but if you want to eliminate some of this you can slowly back off by not starting every morning with a chat maybe sharing less family photo and videos and recommendations.

      The family photos and videos – especially with this being single people so family is more extended family – seems to me to be the opening up to more close friendship; although, I’m having to guess at the content so maybe not.

      LW may be fine, but if she wants to back off she can decide which of the things to stop doing or to slowly stop doing. It could be completely natural as we may be sharing less recipes and cocktail recommendations once we can get out of the house more. We may be more likely to talk about this great new restaurant or bar once we can return to them.

      1. Allonge*

        I think indeed this could be something to cut back on if LW wants to, I just wanted to say that I never worked in an office where we did not occasionally share a photo or two (travel, kids and pets especially) and recipes, and it’s quite far from inappropriate as long as it’s voluntary.

  9. Tenebrae*

    My boss and I swap cat pictures regularly. She still gives me negative feedback sometimes. Relations can be warm without being inappropriate, especially on a small team.

    1. Chris*

      “My boss and I swap cat pictures regularly. She still gives me negative feedback sometimes.”

      When I first read this, I thought, “She has negative feedback about your cat pics?” It took a moment to realize that was not what you meant.

      1. Forrest*

        I read like that too! Trying to come up with what sort of negative feedback you’d give about someone’s cat!

        1. Metadata minion*

          “Hmm, good lighting but I think the focus could be crisper, and could you get the laundry basket out of the shot?”

  10. What's in a name?*

    This is key!

    You do need to be careful that the third person doesn’t feel excluded; you should always attempt to include her even if you know she’ll likely decline, and make sure the others don’t have special access to you that she doesn’t have.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      And take a minute here and there to just say, “How are things going for you?”. This can mean work or home or whatever. Ask when no one else is around. Accept whatever answer she gives.

      All you can really do is keep offering opportunities and letting her pick if something appeals to her. There’s a difference between drawing someone out and being inclusive. The latter is more passive and relies on the recipient to respond.

      Whatever you do, don’t let this person be your guide as to how you should manage your team. It sounds like you have a lovely and appropriate work environment and you should keep it as it is.

  11. Ann O'Nemity*

    I bet a lot of workplace relationships have suffered during COVID, but I also bet that some have improved. My team has been far more likely to share personal information over the past year – physical health, mental health, family issues especially childcare, grief, etc. So the emotional connections seem stronger than ever. There’s also this sense of going through this whole thing together, supporting each other. Some of all this may break the traditional “best practices” of keeping coworkers and bosses at arms length, but geez, these are not normal times.

  12. Sparkles McFadden*

    This sounds totally normal: Professional and friendly people who have a good working relationship and enjoy each other’s company at work.

  13. Mental Lentil*

    OP, it sounds like you’ve done a fantastic job of navigating your team through a very difficult time. My hat is off to you. And as we get back to more normal things, they (and you) probably won’t depend on office relationships for socializing as much. (Of course, it’s also possible that you all will like this newer level of interaction.)

    Also, I am always up for pictures of coworker’s pets!

  14. TWW*

    My office has seen a similar trajectory. When I started a few years ago, there was little chit chat, no “down time”, no water cooler conversations, etc.

    Since then, especially over the last year, we’ve gotten much friendlier, partly due to the pandemic, but also because we’ve taken on some more outgoing coworkers (and lost a few reserved ones).

    In general, I like the shift, but it’s not without downsides. There are parts of my personal life that I keep private at work, including dating and religion, and it’s been getting harder to talk around those subjects now that “what’d you do last night?” conversations have become a regular part of office life.

    1. Olive*

      I’ve found that the easiest way to answer “what’d you do last night” questions in a private way but friendly way is to describe anything I don’t want to be specific about as hanging out with a friend or friends. If there are less personal details I can share, like a general description of where we went, I’ll turn the conversation that direction.

      A date might be “I had dinner with a friend. It was good but I feel like I’ve been to most of the restaurants around here. Do you have any recommendations for a good place to go [on the other side of town]?”

      1. TWW*

        That’s exactly what I do sometimes. It feels a little funny referring to someone I’m in a relationship with as a “friend,” and it feels even funnier calling a first-time Tinder date a “friend,” but I’m not opposed to the occasional white lie.

        More often, the answer is, “Nothing, just relaxed,” which I supposed makes me like LW’s “super reserved” coworker.

  15. LW*

    Thank you for the reassurance all! I think a lot of this is the extreme veering from my last job, which was next level crazy of oversharing (like, a detailed recounting of how my boss got pregnant after getting drunk during a natural disaster and weekly ‘voluntary’ out of work socializing) to my current one (where outside of my team, I don’t even know most of my coworkers spouses names). I’ve been trying to strike a healthy balance between but TBH my industry is not known for good work life balance so I don’t have a lot of examples!

    I think this specific panic was sparked by a moment when one of my team asked my recommendations for ‘welcome to puberty books’ for a family member and while chatting about what our own moms had told us I just thought omg we are talking about periods, have I deeply crossed a line here… (I wrapped up that line of talk a moment later and the conversation has not recurred in the weeks since).

    1. ThatGirl*

      Even that, I am kinda pro-normalizing periods, though you don’t want to get too personal or explicit.

      But in general I think you’re doing great – I am all for light socializing and warm relationships *at work*- I just don’t want to be friends with my coworkers outside of work. (With a few exceptions, but never with a manager.)

    2. Jennifer*

      Whaaaaaaaa? Your boss told you how she got pregnant in detail? I apologize. I totally understand why you veered to the other extreme in your current job.

      I probably would have laughed about the puberty conversation. I tell my co-worker when I have cramps and not in the best mood and she does the same, but I get why you thought it crossed the line. I probably wouldn’t have brought it up to my boss.

    3. Caroline Bowman*

      For what it’s worth, I agree with Alison, nothing you describe sounds OTT or remotely ”too buddy-buddy” at all, and yes, things are different under the circumstances. Like it or not, these are the people you have seen most of for a long time. It’s just a fact. Flatly refusing to do anything other than talk about work and the weather would be much stranger. You like each other, you’re similarly-aged and are all in a very strange, stressful situation together.

      What will likely happen is that as and when things do open up, your relationship will always be that little bit closer than it was before – but still totally reasonable and appropriate – and people including you will gradually drift more back into their own lives with their loved ones, people that they haven’t been able to see much, if at all, for ages, hobbies, interests and sports and that will be that.

    4. WoodswomanWrites*

      I can see why your previous position made you wary, that sounds like it was a real mess. At your current job, you have created a wonderful workplace. The kind of dynamic you’ve fostered now is exactly the sort of environment that motivates me to stay in a job.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      I am torn. I agree with you that talking about periods and what our moms told us about periods seems to be crossing into less than professional territory and conversations you don’t have at work. But I hate that menstruation is treated as shameful and secret. I’d love talking about it and related hygiene to be normalized.

      I mean people say they have a cold and need to take medicine for it or that they are having an allergy attack and recommend what they use to coworkers without shame or secrecy. We should be able to do the same about periods.

      1. Jennifer*

        I agree with you about normalizing periods, but I also think it’s okay if the OP didn’t want to share that information. I know other people who don’t really like talking about their allergies or other things that I think aren’t a big deal.

      2. Andy*

        I dont think “do you know good puberty book” should be taboo. It sounds to me like an adult question where you can answer “no, I dont know” anyway. It sounds to me like fairly normal discussion for adults who have kids.

        But details about sex life sound to me like something I dont need to hear.

    6. bubbleon*

      I think this example is all about context. No one just started sharing gory details of their own period, they asked for a book recommendation. I totally understand your gut reaction because we’re trained to be squicked out by periods, but I don’t see anything different between this and when someone on my team was looking for a new apartment and I shared some information I’d found when looking for my own around the same time.

      1. LW*

        Very true. I think in my last place any talk of periods would have devolved into a gory specific breakdown of each team member’s monthly cycle. Here it was just ‘oh yeah my mom told me x, can you believe that’ and ‘oh I wish I would have known’ without anything going further.

        For the record – I definitely don’t period shame! This is just the most recent example. I could have equally said that I now know what each person’s liquor of choice is, whereas I didn’t know that before this year. And in my last job I would have known that because they would have served me it at a forced socializing activity!

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          LW, this is completely different from your last job. These conversations are not forced. They are happening naturally, which is a good thing. This is right for the current situation because you have developed a rapport with your team. That should hopefully carry over into post-COVID times, even if the amount of sharing declines once you return to the office.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This for me was a key that I applied to many subjects. Rather than actually answering a concern or question about life issues, I tried to focus on sources that they could use (or not) on their own.

        Because of being a boss or supervisor, we can be privy to information that we may not otherwise hear. I held on to the fact that I don’t have the quals for many topics. This helped me to jump to, “Well where could you go to find out more about x?”. I was surprised that people were happy just to get that much conversation.

        And it kind of made me see situations and people in a different light. I wasn’t so thrown when people said things like, “I think my child is being abused by someone in my family.” I had my go-to lined up, “Okay let’s look at professional sources you can talk with.” I named a few ideas. They picked one of the catagories and ran with that idea. (The story had a happy ending.)

        The redirect toward outside sources also helps send a signal that I expected action not endless rehashing of problems. They ended up giving me information on resources for things that came up in my life, too.

        It did not take away my “authority” or my final say on decisions or anything else. What it did do was raise some aspects of my quality of life. I found a good place to buy a used tractor. I found kittens and pups when I was looking for some, this list goes on. For some unknown reason, my group had their ear to the ground, they knew about stuff that was going on. Weeks or months later when it finally made newspaper headlines, I felt forewarned. It ended up being very interesting and there was a rare cohesion in the group that manifested with crazy high productivity levels. It was an awesome thing to watch.

    7. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I’m not a fan of oversharing, but it is very much ok to talk about periods. Sometimes it’s even necessary! I have leaned on co-workers when my cramps were bad, given out tampons, planned around migraines, etc. It’s not gory detail stuff, just shared experience stuff. Also helps if you want to be left alone: “I have wicked cramps, I am not up for talking today,” has been said to me and by me.

      I say this as someone who recently had a fascinating discussion of mammograms with a new colleague. We bonded.

    8. PspspspspspsKitty*

      I can see how talking about periods could be crossing boundaries. Some women are really into telling every detail while others aren’t. It can easily veer off into not so great topics. Even though I’m not a supervisor, I do work a position where I have a lot of influence. I love talking to people about family, pets, general chitchat, but even I have to take the convo in a different direction when hot topics or anything close to hot topics are mentioned.

      In general, I ask myself if something could lead to an inappropriate convo, if so, avoid it.

  16. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Yeah, this seems totally normal to me. But then, I do socialize with my peers outside of work, and now my former direct report, now that they don’t report to me any longer. It isn’t common, but it is fine as long as everyone is careful. I didn’t friend my report on FB until after they no longer reported to me. But I often chat about parenting with the other parents, or about beer or whisky with the coworkers who I know like the same drinks that I do.

  17. Michelle Smith*

    You may find that rather than destroying boundaries, you actually established connections that will make your employees more happy to show up to work every day. I had a boss like this at my current job (she left, I’m still there). She was a damn lifesaver. She brought me groceries (I paid, but she delivered them) when I was unable to find any deliveries at the start of COVID (for health reasons, I’m high risk and had no safe way to shop for myself). She supported me when I needed help standing up for the accommodations I needed at work. She supported me on a personal level with my fitness goals and we even did a couple of work-sponsored walking events together. She helped me finish my first 5K. Just the best all around PERSON who allowed me to bring my whole messy authentic self to work without fear that being open and honest about what I needed to be successful was going to damage my career. Was she perfect? No. Neither am I. But she always had our backs, always fought for us to get more resources, always respected us as people first and employees second, and she was extremely, extremely concerned about following all the ethical rules we have in our profession. Her kindness and empathy never crossed weird lines.

    I could go to her about anything and know that even if we disagreed and she overruled me, she’d at least hear me out. She was a really great boss and I cried like a baby when she left. It has not been the same since she left and I’m not over it 4.5 months later. I am desperately trying to find a new job. She and I are still in contact and we now consider each other friends. She’s actually picking me up to take me to get vaccinated this weekend.

    I would have done literally anything to make her life easier at work, and did. I worked my ass off, I got to the point where I could anticipate her needs, and I felt more motivated coming to work every day knowing that my supervisor felt my contributions were valuable. I cared more about my job in part because of that relationship building and I was willing to put up with a lot of “crap” (for lack of a better word) from the organization as a whole because I knew how hard she was fighting to make it better for us. I don’t necessarily agree with the adage that people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers, because I have had some really bad jobs, including this one. But having worked for such an incredible manager, I definitely understand it a lot more.

    Keep being professional, but personable and approachable. If they want to share, let them share! (And let the one who doesn’t share enjoy her privacy. But for everyone else, stay open.) Know their kids’ names and where they go to school and how they’re doing in soccer. Know what town their parents live in and how they are managing looking out for them in these difficult times. Keep sharing those recipes and photos. Keep being a human being who cares about other human beings as entire people who have lives and loved ones outside of the office. I guarantee you, they’ll feel more positive about working for you and your company when they know they are respected and valued for who they are.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      There’s a huge difference between this type of sharing and talking about souring relationships, minute-by-minute medical issues and so on.

      Most currently, I had a problem here at home that needed an expensive repair right away. My boss just happened to know of a grant. “It’s a long shot”, she said. I got the grant and my expensive problem is OVER. She saved my butt on that one. The job is “eh”, but the people make a huge difference.

  18. Bookworm*

    Can I join your team, OP? I *HATE* work socializing–I find it so meaningless and empty. Yes, I know why it’s considered good to make an appearance and to go every once in a while, but I can’t stand it.

    It sounds like you respect that and it doesn’t sound like some of the line-crossing that has happened elsewhere. Maybe you’ve bonded a little more and it just took a little more time/a once in a lifetime-type of situation, but not to an extreme extent.

    I know what you mean about forced socializing, which is also part of my revulsion. Please keep doing what you’re doing.

  19. Cherry*

    The list of boundary breaking behavior reads like a checklist for my current manager except she does this with all the rest of the team and not me (she doesn’t consider me a friend). I try my best to think of this is a good think but it really sucks to be the only one left out.

  20. Erin*

    For the person with the eating disorder: I have an eating disorder as well. I’ve used all of Allison’s suggestions, as well as “I had a huge breakfast, and I’m just not hungry” & “oh I have a bit of an upset tummy” to avoid eating at events and meetings (nobody will press you on the upset stomach!) and I can’t think of a time that I’ve experienced any pushback from my co-workers. Also, quickly changing the subject after I’ve stated why I can’t eat works wonders in group situations.

    I’m sorry you are feeling stressed about this, and I feel you here!

  21. Amaranth*

    LW4, you say your industry is small. Gamesplaying will get around. Don’t do it. Additionally, your old job showed no real motivation to change things up to keep you from leaving the first time, why would you trust that things would be different now? If you do talk to them, be alert to signs they just really want to take the easy path and get back a proven performer rather than having some kind of paradigm shift. Also, consider whether it is worth possibly burning a bridge with your new employer.

    LW3, unless her piercings are obviously distracting clients, or its an actual dress code violation, its not really something I’d address. And if you aren’t even her manager, talking about a staff member’s body is really never a good idea.

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