Setting Professional Boundaries

Real World Insights from AADOM Authors - Stacey Singleton

We’ve all heard the saying, “Work is work,” meaning keeping it professional is the goal. Setting boundaries in the workplace is a difficult concept for many, especially when working with a spouse, family member, or friend. It starts with leaving everything personal at the door. Regardless of who you are or what is happening in your personal life, you step through those doors in the morning, and you are on!

Separating these relationships makes everyone’s life at the office easier. When a family member or friend of the boss works at your practice, there will always be that underlying current regardless of how hard you try and separate things. The pressure on the employee is even more. They are under a microscope no matter what they do. That’s why creating clear and open communication and expectations with the friend or relative and the rest of the staff is essential. The goal is to create a culture where team members can come to you and discuss issues. Without those clear expectations and open communication, tension can grow. This often creates a barrier because no one wants to mention that the spouse or family member did something. They are still employees, and no matter the issue, it must be addressed. When seen among the team, it makes everyone feel more at ease that it is an even playing field.

If you bring on an associate and the stage isn’t set from day one, you may have staff issues. It could be a slippery slope. When hiring an associate, short-term and long-term goals should be made clear for the associate and the practice. If the long-term goal is to integrate into a possible partnership, performance expectations must be clear. They are an employee like anyone else. However, they need to set professional precedence and have a level of authority. Specifics need to be brought to the table for your practice. Depending on your office dynamic, this could mean many different things. Being open and honest from the start helps make these associate relationships go smoothly.

Hiring personal friends can be problematic. We know they are fabulous on a personal level (let’s admit that’s why you’re friends). In a professional setting, customer service, deadlines, expectations, difficult patients and team situations, scheduling conflicts, and day-to-day stressors can reveal an entirely different side of a person. That’s okay; however, realize that how someone takes constructive criticism or corrective action could break a friendship. When new associates are already friends with an existing staff member, it can put your office into that ‘clique’ mode, which is never productive. Tread lightly in this area and think long and hard before bringing friendships into the workplace. Always ask yourself if you are okay with losing this person as a friend because that may be the end result. Sometimes it’s just not worth the risk.

We work with the same people year after year, and we naturally become an extended family. You care about them and typically spend as much time with them as your family. This is human nature. Understanding that there is still a line to be drawn regardless of how much you care for someone is critical. As practice administrators, our ultimate goal is the practice’s well-being. Make sure your management team has that same mentality. Allowing favors and exceptions for some and not others can turn your practice upside down. Everything always comes down to the business. We want to provide exceptional care, maintain happy and dedicated team members, and be financially successful. Set the boundaries early and stand by them no matter what.

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About the Author

Headshot of Stacey Singleton

Stacey Singleton, MAADOM, has been in the dental field since 1997. She is a Certified and Expanded Function Dental Auxiliary in Maine & New Hampshire and holds her business administration management degree from Hesser College. She is the practice administrator for Harborside Dental and York County Pediatric Dentistry. Stacey is a lifetime member of AADOM. She received her AADOM Fellowship (FAADOM) in 2017 and her AADOM Mastership (MAADOM) designation in 2022. She has completed the requirements and will be inducted as an AADOM Diplomate (DAADOM) at the national conference in September. She is also the founding president of the Maine AADOM Chapter and a Dental Adjunct Professor at YCCC’s dental assistant program.

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