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10 Signs Workplace Boundaries are Being Crossed

10 Signs Workplace Boundaries are Being Crossed

Learn how boundaries ensure safer workplaces by reducing incidents and increasing staff confidence

Introduction

As an organisation, how often do you talk about boundaries? How often do you address a situation where an organisational boundary has been crossed? Do your employees and consumers understand where the boundaries are and the importance of retaining them?

For many, these discussions are rare, but they could be the key to unlocking safer workplaces.

If your employees are showing signs of feeling overwhelmed or ill-equipped to deal with the increasing number of incidents surrounding workplace violence and hostility, then you may benefit from establishing stricter boundaries and processes.

In this blog post, we address the importance of setting boundaries, knowing when they’ve been crossed, and how an effective training solution can make all the difference.

Understanding boundaries

Organisational boundaries encompass anything that creates a separation or distance to ensure safety. These can manifest as physical barriers, like a desk or a screen, or as policies, for example, employees being permitted to ask customers engaging in inappropriate conduct to leave the premises.

Boundaries are not about exerting control over others’ behaviour, as this is often out of our influence. Rather, they are about establishing internal and organisational agreements that declare certain behaviours intolerable.

These organisational boundaries are crucial for workplace well-being, but according to Real Life Counsellingthey can be complex as there is an unfortunate societal misconception at play:

Pleasing others = kindness and goodness

Honouring one’s own needs = selfish and bad

This complexity means setting boundaries is a skill to be developed and one that hinges on self-awareness, effective communication, and emotional regulation.

When day-to-day operations aren't enough

Organisations rely on various day-to-day operations to establish the foundation of a well-functioning workplace. These strategies address different aspects of the human experience within their specific contexts. Whether it’s practices like trauma-informed care, customer service, clinical interventions, or mental health considerations, an efficient and productive organisation is built on these fundamental practices.

Typically, a mutually beneficial relationship is fostered, where both the consumer and provider find value in their interactions and collaborate effectively. In these cases, the regular day-to-day operations are sufficient.

However, there are situations where individuals breach these boundaries, leading to a shift in the dynamics. In this case, it no longer remains a straightforward interaction centred on meeting the consumer’s needs. Instead, it becomes a safety concern for employees, bystanders and potentially the individual who has crossed the boundary.

10 signs that workplace boundaries are being crossed

  1. Increased incidents

While incidents of occupational violence and aggression are on the rise due to broader societal factors, it is crucial to investigate further if there is a noticeable increase within the organisation. A sudden rise in incidents can mean boundaries are being crossed and the established norms are no longer respected.

 

  1. Staff turnover

High employee turnover rates can be a sign of boundary issues. If there is an influx of staff leaving their positions, it could be a result of them feeling uncomfortable, unsupported and/or unsafe due to boundary violations.

 

  1. Lack of consistency

Inconsistencies in the adherence to workplace policies and procedures can signal boundary problems. Whether it is due to long-term employees becoming complacent or new employees being unaware, when some employees or customers are allowed to breach boundaries or break the rules, it creates confusion.

 

  1. Reduced morale

A decline in employee morale is often linked to boundary breaches. When employees feel that their well-being is not a priority or that they are consistently exposed to hostile situations, their job satisfaction decreases, affecting overall morale within the organisation.

 

  1. Lack of independence

Employees should have autonomy to make decisions within the scope of their roles and be capable of doing so. Therefore, if there is an increase in employees seeking support from management, it may signal that they feel out of their depth and lack confidence. This could be attributed to organisational boundaries that are not well-defined, leading to situations where employees feel ill-prepared to handle them.

 

  1. Entitled consumers

Customers, patients, or clients who feel entitled to special treatment may regularly cross boundaries. This can create a hostile work environment where employees and other consumers do not feel protected, safe, or heard.

 

  1. Overwhelmed staff

If employees are consistently overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious at work, it could be a sign that they are dealing with boundary violations. This can manifest as rushed work, increased absenteeism, low energy levels, decreased work quality, and disconnection. Such stress can lead to burnout and negatively impact employee well-being and the organisation.

 

  1. Increased claims

An uptick in legal claims, such as harassment, discrimination or violence complaints and reports, can indicate a breach of boundaries within the workplace. Often, these claims are the result of employees feeling that their rights and boundaries have been violated.

 

  1. “Part of the job” mentality

When employees start accepting inappropriate or disrespectful behaviour as just “part of the job”, it is a clear sign that boundaries have weakened and need to be addressed. No employee should have to accept violence and abuse as part of their job. This normalisation can create a toxic work culture.

 

  1. Increased absenteeism

A rise in employee absenteeism may be a response to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at work due to boundary violations. Employees may take more sick days and personal leave to avoid such situations or because their mental well-being is reduced.

Navigating crossed boundaries

Crossing an organisational boundary can swiftly escalate and have dire consequences, necessitating careful handling. In such complex situations, professional training plays a pivotal role in equipping teams with the skills to be cautious, competent, and confident when navigating them effectively.

Enter the ADP framework, the basis of Resolution Education’s training programs. Standing for Awareness, De-escalation, and Protection, these comprehensive training sessions are expertly designed to enhance situational awareness, develop de-escalation and disengagement strategies, and demonstrate how to safeguard oneself and the team should a situation turn physical.

The ADP framework goes beyond the realm of customer service, clinical intervention, and general day-to-day operations. It is specifically designed for situations where these routines fall short and confronting problematic behaviour becomes imperative. 

Recognising when a boundary has been breached or has the potential for a breach, through workplace hazard assessment, is crucial. Organisations would benefit from actively seeking professional training and support to assist in a range of ways from:

  • identifying and addressing psychosocial hazards,
  • assessing the work environment,
  • reviewing policies and procedures,
  • establishing boundaries,
  • maintaining consistency,
  • reducing incidents, and
  • increasing confidence in staff.

Ignoring boundary violations can create a culture of entitlement among consumers, and fear and uncertainty among staff, leading to ongoing disruptions.

Training with Resolution Education can ensure that all staff members are on the same page regarding how to address challenging incidents. This creates a unified front and, as a result, effectively diminishes the frequency and severity of incidents.

Moving forward and reinforcing boundaries

In the journey ahead, organisations would benefit from embracing a collective responsibility toward maintaining and respecting the boundaries and strict processes they’ve established. This ultimately benefits everyone in the workplace, including employees, bystanders, and even the individual who violated the boundary.

It should be clear that organisations have a zero-tolerance policy towards abuse, violence, and hostility in the workplace. Perpetrators do not need to be given a second chance either, because, at the end of the day, employees have an inherent right to feel safe, and this starts with strict organisational boundaries.

Conclusion

In the complex landscape of today’s workplaces, boundaries aren’t just lines on paper or physical barriers; they are the pillars of safety, respect, and well-being. As organisations, we have a responsibility to ensure that these boundaries remain strong for the benefit of our employees, customers, and the overall health of our workplace.

We’ve explored the signs that indicate when a boundary has been crossed, from increased incidents to reduced morale and the normalisation of unacceptable behaviour. Recognising these signs is the first step toward creating safer, more respectful environments.

But it doesn’t stop there. It’s not enough to only identify the problem; we must take proactive steps to address it. By investing in professional training, reviewing policies, and fostering a culture of respect, we can create workplaces where boundaries are a living commitment to safety and not just words on a page.

If you recognise any of these 10 signs of boundary violations in your workplace, then fill in the form below to get in touch with Resolution Education.

We would be happy to unpack this with you and create steps moving forward.

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