Worklife Boss, Yes. But I Am Personal Life Boss
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We used to look forward to bringing our whole self to work. Now we can’t keep our worklife boss out of our home. In a matter of months, the jobs that haven’t gone have gone fully virtual.
The physical office has been evacuated or extinguished. The already elusive boundaries between our work and personal space and life, where we are the boss, have all but disintegrated.
More than ever before, worklife managers and worklife bosses are popping into our homes and invading our private habitat. Expectations and request comes fairly uninvited at times. For example, like when they expect us to turn on our camera, because they have turned theirs on. This obviously creates significant changes to the dynamics between you and your manager.
On the one hand, competent managers will know that in a crisis, and when assiduous contact with people has been lost, it is critical to establish frequent communication. Including ramping up the cadence of meetings, and check in with people as often as needed, and ideally more.
On the other hand, we mustn’t forget that ‘corporate life’ is generally just a fraction of people’s worklives. There are limits to what managers should know about their employees, even if they care deeply about their wellbeing.
So, how much should your boss know about you, including your personal life and circumstances? And, if you happen to be a boss, what should you refrain from asking your employees, even if you have good intentions? What if such questions is you caring about their physical and mental wellbeing?
Worklife boss, what happens at home should stay at home
For the biggest part of human history, employees have enjoyed the mantra “what happens at home stays at home”. For a lot of people, there is a strong psychological distance between their work and private personas. To be sure, the job of managers is to evaluate and manage employees’ job performance. So what happens in their employees’ personal lives is none of their business.
Even when managers step into the role of a mentor, coach, or support agent their remit should purely be limited to professional activities. They must respect people’s privacy, even if those limits are harder to see.
We have all been complicit in partaking in gossip activity and speculating about people’s personal life. But it is safe to say that most people would not want their bosses to comment on their private lives: “she is a neat freak”, “his wall art is very strange”, or “wow , their kids are uncontrollable”.
Although it is nearly impossible to ignore the deep psychological signals people convey on themselves when you look at their physical or virtual habitats, managers must try hard to ignore them. Or at least, pretend to, unless employees explicitly bring it up.
Indeed, there is a big difference between having them say “sorry, my wife just walked by in the background” and your asking, “who is that woman that just walked by behind you?”