Have you encountered that person? The one who, before you even know what is happening, drags you off to a bar, takes you for lunch or you find yourself unwittingly accepting an invitation to go somewhere you don’t want to be. We’ve all had a moment with a client or a colleague which made us feel a little uncomfortable.
So what do you do to be nice without damaging the working relationship in these common situations where professional boundaries can become blurred?
As a recruiter I often find myself in funny situations. Once while catching up with friends over a long weekend we had decided to call it a night around 1.00am. As I was about to lay my head on the pillow, I got a 1.30am message on Facebook. My friends having the last word after a great night out? No, it was a ‘friend’ request from a senior manager for whom I had recruited an executive assistant some time ago. I wondered was it acceptable to say “Why are you thinking about me at this hour?” It’s fair to say he does a lot of international travel so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. But honestly, an email would have been more appropriate.
Working lunches, talking business over a drink or inviting a potential customer to play sport on the weekend are nothing new. We’ve been doing that for centuries. But I’m definitely from the old school where business relationships outside of work are simply a no-go zone.
I know others who see it very differently, but for me I find it easier not to overstep the boundaries when a client engages me. I listen carefully, I ask pertinent questions and enjoy a bit of lighthearted banter. Sure, I’m interested in their family, dog or holiday plans as it’s important to know a little about a person beyond their work persona; it humanises what would otherwise be a functional business transaction.
So are there any boundaries left in business these days when so many professionals have integrated their personal and professional lives via portable electronic devices, smart phones and social media? In an ‘always on’ culture, where any event, virtual or real life, is a networking opportunity, it seems both candidates and clients love to be courted anywhere, anytime.
Then there’s the overshare. Candidates who have volunteered everything from their bowel health to the most effective methods for dealing with cheating partners, when all I really needed to know was their availability to attend an interview! Add to that a vivid description from a client as to how they have climbed the corporate ladder and reports on all manner of office politics, which have increased my knowledge of workplace culture in weird and wonderful ways.
Truly there is never a dull moment in the recruitment industry, which still begs the question… when do your professional boundaries kick in?