65% of workers believe that this is extremely inappropriate for the office

Forget casual Fridays – so many of today’s workplaces are casual all of the time. Open-floor plans create a fishbowl effect, “fun” perks include table tennis and Rock Band, and oversharing on Slack or friending your coworkers or boss on social media is de rigeur. Work has been trending overly personal.

Online learning destination Udemy compiled a report, called the 2019 Workplace Boundaries Report, exploring this phenomenon – from blurring personal-professional boundaries at work (TMI!), to how people are dealing with them (or avoiding them), and the effect all this has on employees and companies – from performance, to employee satisfaction, to productivity.

What is professional behavior these days? There’s a range of behavior that workers definitely don’t think belongs at work:

  • 53% feel uncomfortable when coworkers gossip too much
  • 39% feel uncomfortable when coworkers talk about politics at work
  • 32% feel uncomfortable when coworkers talk about their romantic relationships
  • 31% feel uncomfortable when coworkers use too much profanity

As well

  • 37% believe that their coworkers are too informal on workplace chat or messaging
  • 65% believe that workout or athleisure clothes are not appropriate for work

Companies are not doing enough about bad behavior

Companies are not confronting behavior issues like gossip,  oversharing, bodying-shaming and bullying in the workplace, according to the report. That means not only managers, said Cara Brennan Allamano, SVP of People, Places, and Learning at Udemy, but also includes senior leadership and HR – even the CEO.

  • 41% have witness bullying in the workplace
  • 66% of all employees have either witnessed or experienced bullying in the workplace.

A silent majority

Work has gotten more casual, Allamano said. There has been “a relaxing of some of the norms or guidelines that people traditionally thought were important or defined professionalism.” 

When it comes to workplace culture, she thinks we’ve “spent too much time talking about these very specific top tech companies,” like Facebook and Google, whose cultures are often copied but may not necessarily work for every company.

“Especially in the last 10 to 15 years and probably closer to the last 10 years – when places like Google and Facebook started moving to the top of those ‘Best Places to Work’ lists,” Allamano said. “That’s when the idea of having a ‘casual work environment,’ where some of these norms were relaxed became an objective for people who are recruiting into those organizations, became something that was held up to leaders as something that was attractive.”

“Now I think we’ve moved into a place where people have these freedoms [at work] and the boundaries are more fluid and the story we’re telling in the media is that this is across the board what people want.”

That may not be necessarily true for every employee, however.

“What’s interesting,” Allamano said, “about the research that we’ve done is that it’s telling us is we have a silent majority out there that doesn’t necessarily agree with the story that’s being told publicly. That may be for a subset of employees and maybe a certain type of employee. Maybe these are our engineers, maybe these are our coastal employees, our tech employees.”

Manager mayhem

The report also found that managers are not only stressed, but they’re not getting the soft skills training they need. Those skills include communication, conflict management, and emotional intelligence.

More managers than non-managers say they let work take precedence over eating and relaxing, with 59% of managers (vs. 46% of employees) saying they feel pressured to work through lunch.

“What we know at Udemy is that there’s a strong demand for soft skills education in the workplace,” said Allamano.

As for manager stress, she said, “As an HR leader, I’ve definitely seen a shift over the course of my 20 years in HR to really working to support the managers and there’s a definitely a sentiment that the manager’s role has gotten harder with the changes in business and the demands of the manager role… Like I said, of a silent majority that’s really focused and concerned about workplace boundaries.”

Overall, “We spend a lot of time asking our employees about perks or career opportunities. I think it’s time now to create an environment where our people can ask these questions about workplace boundaries.”

The final word on boundaries

Are you a hugger?

  • 51% believe that hugging doesn’t belong in a professional environment
  • 31% have received an unwelcome hug at work