Boundaries for Managers: Do’s and Don’ts

Boundaries: those invisible lines that some people instinctively recognize and others just … don’t.  But whether you recognize them or not, maintaining boundaries is incredibly important for managers and supervisors. Why? Because contrary to the images of work life we see on television, most people have a strong inner sense of which types of behaviors are appropriate for their leaders and which are not. 

And when a leader crosses a boundary, the penalty can be severe: harassment allegations, loss of respect, and loss of promotional opportunities.

Following is a list I developed some time ago that has proven to be accurate time after time.  If this helps just one person in supervision or management not cross the line, I will have done a good deed. 


  • Discuss sexual matters or private personal issues with subordinates.  This includes sexual jokes and banter, private problems with a spouse, etc.
  • Let subordinates confide in you or vent to you about their personal social or sexual problems, experiences, etc.  This includes private problems with a spouse, difficulty with children, sexual encounters, etc.  You can certainly be open to employees coming to you with personal problems that are affecting their work, but your approach should be, “What do you need (or how can I help you) during this difficult period?” You don’t want to be their confidant or give advice.
  • Engage in gossip about your peers or subordinates with your subordinates.
  • Touch subordinates.  This means no congratulatory or consoling hugs, no neck rubs or back rubs, etc.  Keep touching to handshakes only.
  • Send e-mail or texts to subordinates on personal issues.  Keep all e-mail and texts business-related. 
  • Drink alcohol to excess while on company business with subordinates.  This includes at conferences, business trips, office parties, and business lunches and dinners.
  • Have closed-door one-on-one meetings with subordinates (particularly those of the opposite gender) unnecessarily or outside business hours.
  • Avoid female subordinates for fear of harassment charges.


  • Be friendly to subordinates.
  • Discuss work-related matters freely with subordinates.
  • Treat all subordinates with respect and dignity.
  • Always remember you are the leader and the one with power–because no one else ever forgets it.

Do you have anything to add to this list?  ~Amy Stephson

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