Getting Too Personal in the Workplace

Is there such a thing as too much information anymore?

People like to call out “TMI!” when they would rather not hear about personal details. But seriously, who doesn’t share too much these days – and is expected to do so if they’re being “authentic” or “transparent”?

So we have the guy at work sharing the details of a child’s impending birth, complete with daily emails on how many centimeters his wife is dilated. The woman in the next cubicle isn’t shy about sharing the details of her divorce, including the fact that the sex had been great right up until the end.

It’s enough to make you reach for the headphones and have them permanently attached to your head. Yet, if you’re honest with yourself, haven’t you shared too much information with others at work?

We all spend a great deal of time on the job, so it’s natural that we let slip a few personal details. But making a habit of it can be a problem, especially if your private behavior begins to affect how others see you professionally. Seriously, do you really think people will look at you the same in a meeting once you reveal you’re having incontinence problems?

Here are some ways to stay friendly with the people at work without compromising your professional image:

  1. Don’t only have friends at work. You need to be able to have friends to confide in, but those aren’t necessarily the people at work.  Go to lunch with your cubicle mates, but don’t fall into the trap of sharing your dating woes over a Caesar salad. If you begin to blur the lines and try to make colleagues into personal friends, it can be difficult if the friendship or work relationship fall apart. Everyone needs a break from the job, so look to other friends when you’re away from the office and you’ll be better off.
  2. Remember that authenticity isn’t for everyone. While you may believe that you’re just being honest and funny when you tell colleagues about how drunk you got at the Jay-Z concert, this isn’t necessarily information that reflects well on you. Your “authentic” self can be used against you by others who may be all too ready to tell the boss of your exploits or use it as a reason that you’re too immature to work on a big project.
  3. Avoid too many details. Of course you want to be friendly with people at work and some may inquire about weekend plans, for example. “We’re going antique hunting,” is fine. But then adding, “I just hope my husband doesn’t get into another fight like last time and punch someone in the face over a stupid vase” is too much. Think of yourself as the CNN ticker that runs across the bottom on the television screen and just give a brief fact before moving on.

 

Are there times when you do need to share personal details? Certainly.

For example, I know a woman who had breast cancer and wanted to battle it without anyone at work knowing. But soon the radiation treatments began to sap her energy, and her productivity at work dropped.

She realized she was hurting herself professionally by not sharing her medical condition. Some of her colleagues began hinting that she was becoming a slacker. She began to get odd looks when she would nearly fall asleep during meetings and when she declined happy hour invitations that she used to accept.

Finally, she told her colleagues that she was undergoing treatment and they were leaving her so exhausted that she often fought to stay awake at work. Colleagues immediately rallied around her. As soon as they noticed her becoming tired on the job, they would encourage to go rest and return when she felt better. Not only did this make her feel less stressed about her treatments, she says, but the compassion and support of her co-workers helped sustain her during a difficult time.

Remember, before sharing personal details about yourself at work, consider whether you want that information to be top of mind when it comes time for a teammate to consider whether you’re right for a big project. Privacy settings aren’t just for Facebook – you should also consider them for daily interactions on the job.

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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