People use different sets of rules to determine appropriate behavior. They have their own internal rules, many of which came from their parents and other adult role models. They also must follow business ethics -- rules or standards that guide behavior in the workplace. A major difference between rules and boundaries is that you can set your own boundaries with people, but these may not correspond to the rules of your workplace and profession.
Some people have joined a profession that requires them to follow ethics rules associated with a professional practice. For example, social workers must balance the responsibilities they have to different people based on the nature of their relationship to each person. In some situations, they may have a conflict because they are related to someone in both a personal way and a professional way. According to their professional ethics, social workers should recognize such potential conflicts of interest and take steps to avoid them.
Work may require keeping professional boundaries in place, which may be particularly difficult in areas where showing empathy is part of the job. For example, a social worker has to maintain her boundaries and avoid becoming too personal with her clients. While a social worker's goal is to take steps to best facilitate each client's growth, if she allows herself to get too friendly or shares too much personal information with clients, the relationship could overrun one or more professional boundaries. This overstepping might produce decisions that go against the best interests of both client and professional.
In some workplace situations, you may have to decide between the ethical guidelines your workplace offers and the personal ethics you hold away from the office. For example, a professional resume writer working exclusively for one service might decide to break his employer's rules about not writing resumes for non-clients and fix the resumes of family members and close friends. While the employer may never find out, the writer would have violated the workplace's ethical guidelines. In this situation, he might have decided that his relationship to the family member or friend was more important than the employer's rule.
In the same situation, a personal boundary would have helped the resume writer to avoid an ethical dilemma. The writer could have decided she would not help friends or family members rewrite their entire resume because her professional skill is valuable and she deserves to be compensated for it, or because she felt the family member should do the work himself. However, she might be willing to make a few suggestions or point a family member or friend to appropriate resources for improving a resume. In your own personal situation, you must determine the boundaries between your professional and personal lives, as well as how to relate that to the ethics that govern your business operations.