Oversharers Anonymous: What Should You Keep Private from Work?

Business.com / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Confused about workplace privacy? Here are some topics that should definitely remain off the table in an office setting.

For many people, the workplace becomes like a second home because of the large chunk of time they spend there each week.

The office is where friendships are formed and major life experiences are shared so, naturally, a certain level of comfort develops between co-workers.

This close-knit setting often makes being at the office feel like being around family, but the reality is that a professional working environment is not a family.

Consequently, there are definitely some aspects of your personal life that are best left off-limits while at work.

Basically, what it comes down to is being careful to maintain awareness about the types of things that are safe for you to share with co-workers and employers.

If you're unsure about what some of those things might be, here are a few specific and highly personal topics of conversation that should probably be avoided at work and left to discuss during after-hours socializing:

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Religious Views

Although many people tend to gravitate toward others who share their religious views, it’s not always a given that you’ll find co-workers who are religiously like-minded. Shared values may become obvious over time as you get to know someone, but asking probing questions or volunteering opinions about your own or anyone else’s religious background may be viewed as unprofessional at best.

In the worst case scenario, especially if your views are extreme or unpopular with the majority of your co-workers, voicing unsolicited thoughts could be labeled as harassment.  

Social Media Accounts

It’s natural these days for people to vent about the stresses of their day on social media. But even though your Facebook or Twitter account may seem like a safe haven to say whatever you feel like saying, we’ve all learned from the social media debacles of certain celebrities that the Internet may not be the best choice of forums to air dirty laundry.

According to Holliday Karatinos, a Florida-based law firm, all Social Media accounts are public record. So whether or not the negative statements you made about your boss or co-workers were meant in jest, if they are somehow discovered, they could potentially be used as grounds to fire you, or worse, sue you for defamation of character.

Even though that may be an unlikely scenario, why take the chance on having to waste time, money and energy defending yourself against what you probably intended to be a harmless joke shared between friends?

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Political Party Affiliation

Politics, for some people, can be a very divisive topic. As with religion, folks often feel very emotionally attached to their political leanings. Yes, political discussions can be invigorating and the freedom to openly have these kinds of conversations is one of the many things that make living in a democracy such a wonderful privilege.

That being said, it can be hard for some people to separate co-workers from their political views, especially when those views are diametrically opposed to their own. To avoid awkward or heated encounters, it’s best to only engage in political dialogue in a non-work setting. This is especially relevant in a hotly contested election year, but the advice should be heeded in any year, whether there’s an upcoming election or not.

Personal Group Associations

Like it or not, we are often judged by the company we keep. In a work setting, this can become all too clear if we regularly associate with people or groups that go against the general beliefs or sensibilities of company culture. Of course, it’s illegal for businesses to discriminate against employees for such associations, but displaying a judgemental attitude is a whole other matter.

Even if you can’t be fired for your personal beliefs and activities outside of work, you may face social alienation from supervisors and co-workers if recreational pastimes offend or strongly go against their moral sensibilities.

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Bottom Line

Be discriminating when sharing certain aspects of your personal life with others at work. While it may seem natural to speak freely about your lifestyle and opinions with co-workers as you get to know them better, be mindful of others’ comfort level and reactions to various topics of discussion.

Remaining true to yourself and your beliefs is important, but there are ways to do that without jeopardizing your job or alienating those with whom you work on a daily basis. By using a little discretion and learning that it’s OK to keep your professional and personal lives as two separate entities, you may be able to save yourself from experiencing uncomfortable or emotionally disturbing situations.

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