Trucks at Work

Setting boundaries

One‘s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered.” -Michael J. Fox

Here‘s a touchy subject: setting boundaries for behavior in the workplace, all the more difficult when that “workplace” is spread out over thousands of miles in hundreds of truck cabs staffed with one or two people at the most.

Yet boundaries are critical, despite how far-flung the trucking industry is on a day-to-day basis. Knowing what is acceptable behavior and what isn't helps to only strengthen the professionalism behind the wheel, not hinder it. Let‘s face it: truck drivers and people working in this business as a whole don‘t get much respect from the general public. Throw in profanity or rude behavior and “little” turns into “zero” faster than you can say “Jack Rabbit.”

Let‘s be honest, too, about the high level of discourtesy and rudeness displayed by four wheelers every day on the highway ... yet let‘s be forthright enough to realize mimicking that behavior won‘t help the situation. “Professional truck driver” is state of being that must be displayed day in and day out, whether folks are watching or not, to truly take root.

With this in mind, I am going to turn my blog over to the ever-thoughtful Professor Jerry Osteryoung in the college of business at Florida State University, whose experience teaching and working with entrepreneurs gives a lot better insight to this issue than I have. Professor Osteryoung, the floor is yours:

“Setting boundaries in the workplace governs employee behavior, drawing a very clear line between what is acceptable and what is not. I believe that many entrepreneurs have difficulty setting boundaries because we all want to be liked. Additionally, many just do not like or want to deal with the thought of hurting others. However, by establishing clear boundaries it then becomes less of a personal issue but more of a rule or policy.

One of the more common boundary issues involves language in the workplace. Whether by a man or a woman, swearing and raising voices just cannot be tolerated in any communications. If staff members cross that boundary and begin to swear or raise their voices, you just have to say that this type of language is unacceptable, and that the conversation will be over the next time they swear or raise their voice.

Another issue critical to setting boundaries is learning that it is okay to say ‘no.‘ For many reasons, entrepreneurs have a tough time saying ‘no‘ as they feel guilty for it. In the workplace, however, saying ‘no‘ is essential. The word ‘no‘ is a very strong boundary that says that you just cannot cross this line. If you say no, you are not saying no to the person but just no to their action or proposed action.

One of the most important workplace boundaries involves bad behavior. This boundary should be clearly established and consistently monitored because bad behavior should never be tolerated. This involves more than just passively choosing not to reward bad behavior. For instance, if a worker shows up late (clearly unacceptable behavior by most workplace standards), and you let it continue without consequence, it will break down boundaries that are frequently very hard to rebuild.

Boundary challenging situations involve a balancing act of power. You control the situation simply by not taking things personally and not reacting to other people. Once you lose your cool, all sense of boundaries is out the window, and your power is lost.

Boundaries are critical to each and every business as they clearly identify what is good and what is bad behavior. The key is that, in order to run an organization, it is essential that you have boundaries both to protect you as well as your organization. Once you identify them, it is fairly easy to ascertain what acceptable workplace behavior is and what is not.”

Interesting points to think over for any manager, if you ask me. As always, you can reach Professor Osteryoung by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 850-644-3372.