Setting professional boundaries

In any care giving situation, it’s important that the employer and caregiver have a professional relationship. While it’s great when caregivers and employers can become friends, staying within professional boundaries will result in a better outcome for you and those you care for. Professional boundaries are guidelines for caregivers at work. Setting the boundary is the caregiver’s responsibility.

Listed below are some examples of professional boundaries and how to stay “in bounds.”

 Type of Boundary     Staying In-Bounds
Sharing Personal Information: It may be tempting to talk to your employer about your personal life or problems. Doing so may cause the employer to see you as a friend instead of seeing you as a health care professional. As a result, the employer may take on your worries as well as their own.
  • Use caution when talking to a employer about your personal life.
  • Do not share information because you need to talk, or to help you feel better.
  • Only share personal information if you think it might help the employer, such as  a teaching example or encouragement.
Emotional Reactions: The actions of employers will trigger emotional reactions in caregivers. It is normal for a caregiver to feel sadness, annoyance, fear, attraction, protectiveness, frustration, or sympathy in reaction to an employer's behavior. It is normal to feel such emotions but it is not helpful to express or act on emotional reactions.
  • Focus on the needs of those in your care, rather than personalities. 
  • Remember that a employer’s behavior may be caused by illness.
  • Practice treating each employer with the same quality of care and attention, regardless of your emotional reaction to the employer.
Nicknames/Endearments: Calling an employer 'sweetie' or 'honey' may be comforting to that employer, or it might suggest a more personal interest than you intend. It might also point out that you favor one employer over another. Some employers may find the use of nicknames or endearments offensive 
  • Avoid using terms like 'honey' and 'sweetie'. 
  • Ask your employer how they would like to be addressed. Some may allow you to use their first name. Others might prefer a more formal approach: Mr., Mrs., Ms, or Miss. 
  • Remember: The way you address a employer indicates your level of professionalism.
Touch: Touch is a powerful tool. It can be healing and comforting or it can be confusing, hurtful, or simply unwelcome. Touch should be used sparingly and thoughtfully
  • Use touch only when it will serve a good purpose for the employers. 
  • Ask your employers if they are comfortable with you touching their arm. 
  • Be aware that a employer may react differently to touch than you intend. 
  • When using touch, be sure it is serving the employer’s needs and not your own.
Tone of Voice: Take a moment during your workday and listen to the sounds of the voices around you. You may hear sounds of annoyance and frustration but you will also hear sounds that are encouraging and cheerful. You can contribute to an atmosphere of fear or one of caring through the sound of your voice. It is a choice we all make every time we speak 
  • Be aware that the tone and volume of your voice is a reflection of your emotions.
  • Adjust your voice to convey comfort and caring.
  • The sound of your voice can be a powerful tool in caring for an employer.
Space: Caregiving involves close physical contact, especially if you are the one bathing and dressing your employer. Sometimes this closeness may be uncomfortable for you or your employer and you may each have different ideas about what is the appropriate amount of personal space.  
  • Get to know the limits of both you and your employer's personal space.
  • If your employer wants more physical closeness than you feel comfortable with, find other ways of meeting your employer's needs (e.g., finding a friend or relative who likes to give massages to come for regular visits, taking employer to spa for massage).
Time: As caregiving often becomes a full time job, it is easy to lose your down or renewal time. Not having the ability to recharge yourself can lead to caregiver stress and decrease the quality of your care. 
  • Learn how much time you need to recharge and try your best to stick to it.  It might be that a weekly outing to the movies or dinner with a friend is enough, or maybe it's a half-hour walk every day.