Be Social at Work, but…
Being social in the workplace is usually a positive—getting to know your coworkers on a personal level fosters teamwork and cooperation and provides for greater emotional support—but there is such a thing as sharing too much when you’re at work.
What’s appropriate among close friends or in the world of social media is not always appropriate for the workplace. This is be-cause employment laws ultimately govern relationships between you, your coworkers, and your employer. A legal/employment context exists and everything is subject to it. This necessarily alters the nature of social relationships at work. Different boundaries of communication and interaction exist that are not relevant outside of work. Below are some topics that you should approach with great care or avoid entirely.
Sexual Orientation: While no one should ever feel as though they must hide their sexual orientation, this is not something that needs to be volunteered or discussed at length in the workplace.
Sexual Activity: Your sex life is your own business. It is inappropriate to disclose intimate details of the frequency and nature of your sexual activity to coworkers.
Dating Activity: While it’s perfectly OK to mention dating, mentioning your preferences (likes, dislikes, etc.) can be offensive to those who don’t meet your criteria. Tread carefully.
Locations of Tattoos and Piercings: Giving these kinds of details can cross the line into “too much information” if not into sexual harassment.
Health Issues: While there’s nothing wrong with noting when you’re feeling under the weather, ongoing commentary on personal health issues are unnecessary and should be avoided.
Politics: Few topics provoke such intense disagreement. To avoid escalation and hard feelings, it’s best to leave your opinions at the door.
Religion: While you don’t have to leave your faith behind when you come to work, arguing over religion, needling others about their beliefs, or trying to convert coworkers to your own faith is out of bounds. Likewise, open mockery of religion and faith is every bit as inappropriate as workplace evangelizing.
Marital/Family Problems: Using your coworkers as personal therapists is a no-no. It’s also not likely to be as effective as professional guidance. If you’re having problems at home, your Employee Assistance Program can refer you to appropriate professional resources to get you the help you need.
Career Aspirations: This one is tricky. While drive and ambition are generally admired by employers, be aware that your financial or career aspirations might clash with others’. Avoid hard feelings by keeping your plans to yourself.
Jokes: Be very careful about jokes that come at the expense of particular groups. This is not limited to race, religion, sexual orientation, and other legally protected groups. A joke about obesity, for example, can be just as hurtful to someone who struggles with his weight as a racist joke might be to someone else.
Gossip: Avoid gossip and rumor-mongering at all costs. It is toxic both to your work environment and your career.
Be a “Change Agent” for Positive Communication
When weighing what’s appropriate to say at work, keep in mind that your direct audience isn’t the only group that matters. Anyone within earshot of your conversation must be considered as well. Just because an onlooker doesn’t say anything or appear to disapprove doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Help remind your coworkers of what might be inappropriate or offensive to others.
Keeping workplace conversations professional is often just a matter of discipline and awareness. If you’re an “anything goes” kind of person when it comes to sharing your experiences and opinions, stop before you get too carried away and read your audience for signs of discomfort.
Avoid the temptation to say something for “shock value” or to garner negative attention from those who may react with offense or embarrassment because of different values or life experiences.
Tip: If a workplace conversation is making you uncomfortable, head it off immediately with this non-confrontational statement: “I’m not comfortable with this topic. Can we please talk about something else?” You’ll find that most people are mildly embarrassed to have ventured into an inappropriate topic and will be eager to move on to something more agreeable.