7. Who is Dating Whom?
Most companies have a policy about work relationship – that is, they are often frowned upon. Realistically, relationships can end badly and this can spill over into the workplace. More generally speaking, this restriction is there for the benefit of the company and does not take into account the reality of life. Office conversations often do involve the private lives of colleagues, but they are best avoided if you can.
People are social creatures and spend long hours in their workplace. In fact, some people may speak about their work ‘wife’ or ‘husband.’ Office romances, flirtations, dating, and even affairs, are pretty common in many companies. It can be tempting to want to hear the latest gossip! Is Fiona, from management, seeing Alan, in sales? What about Sally, the new temp, in marketing? You fancy her a lot and she seems to like you, right back. Should you ask her out?
Crossing the line, between your business and your personal life is a very risky move. Think carefully before embarking on any relationships with your colleagues. Your private life will be open for public discussion and scrutiny. People will question your relationship and ability to be neutral when it comes to your partner, or someone you are dating, and any work-related matters. Especially, if you occupy a senior management role, people will be suspect you may favor that person.
In the same way, gossiping about colleagues and their personal lives may come back to haunt you. Conversations and comments about people’s personal lives are just that – personal. It’s better to keep your private opinion to yourself. Yes, you may be outraged that you have been skipped over for promotion and suspect that your colleague is sleeping with the boss, but, unless you are ready to head down to your HR department and make a formal complaint, you are advised to keep quiet. Make your complaint official or share your views to your friends and family.
8. Straight? Gay? Bi? Gender?
Sandy, from PR, had one too many at the last office mixer and drunkenly announced that ‘She kissed a girl, and liked it…’ Now everyone thinks she is a lesbian. She is married, with two small children. But, you never know…. The office is swirling with rumors that she is secretly a lesbian and going to divorce Tom, who will be so shocked.
Are your straight? Are you gay? Your sexual orientation is your business and, yours alone. Similarly, whether Sandy really prefers the company of women is really nobody’s business but hers. People’s sexuality is not a taboo subject at all. However, it is for many people, a private subject that should not be the topic of conversations at the proverbial water-cooler.
It’s not a question of tolerance or respect or about keeping things under wraps, rather, it is a question of privacy. Rather keep your views to yourself when it comes to sexual orientation and gender. Whether you hold traditionally liberal or conservative views on these subjects is immaterial. Rather keep your views to yourself when it comes to your work environment, regardless of how liberal you believe your company is.
The same goes for a person’s gender identity. It is not a public conversation but a private journey that he or she may be on. Darryl from auditing, used to be Sandy, from auditing, and that is entirely Darryl’s business. Whether he is a proudly fully transitioned man or still on his journey to changing his gender, or still looks much more feminine to you is not important. Keep your views to yourself and rather share your opinions outside of the workplace.
9. How Much Is Your Salary? Don’t Show Me The Money
Never, ever, ever, ask someone how much they earn? Recently, some top UK broadcasting salaries were made public. Outrage followed. Women were paid less than men, some staff with paid much higher than others for doing a similar job. The national broadcaster had a lot of explaining to do. Some explanations were offered regarding the discrepancy in numbers.
The broadcaster listed the market-related salaries some of these individuals could have made working in the private field, as well as their experience and value to the company. You may be surprised to hear that you are being paid more for your role than your colleague. Your company may have taken into account your experience and education, and offered you a higher salary than your colleague who is doing the same job as you. Or, it could be the reverse situation. Perhaps you are earning less.
Asking somebody how much they earn is a big taboo subject for the workplace. Your salary is confidential and so is your colleague’s. If you want to know how much your Boss is making, feel free to search online to get an estimate but never ever ask anyone what their salary is.
It is very impolite to do this in western culture. Conversely, in the East, discussing money is not viewed as a taboo subject when it comes to salaries or income. In China and other Asian countries, the cultural beliefs and views money are quite different to the West. It would not be considered impolite for someone to ask you about your salary. Generally speaking, along with religion, politics, and people’s sexual orientation, asking someone about their salary is a big – no. Just don’t do it. Ever. Never.
10. Your Health
Unless you have had to chat to HR about a health issue that is affecting your work, your health is entirely your business. It’s much better to keep your health issues private than chat about them with your work colleagues.
Yes, you have a bladder infection and need to hop to the ladies room every five minutes, but really that is only your business and nobody else’s. Similarly, that Helen from PR is going to see the gynae about a suspected infection is probably something you would prefer not to know. Keep your health issues private and avoid sharing your health issues unless it is absolutely necessary.
Are you asthmatic, or diabetic? Do you have allergies that may be triggered? In these type of cases, you can tell your colleagues, but avoid sharing your daily health issues, unless they are going to affect your work. Similarly, if you have a medical appointment, it is entirely acceptable to share only that. It is your private business about who you are going to see. Your boss doesn’t need to know that you are going to see your psychologist, dentist, or have a smear.
Less is more. Keep it less. If you have a serious medical illness, then, and only then, may it be necessary to inform your HR department. Your health is confidential and sharing your health status may affect your work. It is your decision about how you approach the matter. Generally, your health is your private business and should remain so unless it is going to affect your work. Then, and only then, should it be something that you should share.
11. Your Life Story
You may have had rocky relationships in the past, survived bankruptcy, started an online business, and still do all this while being a single mother of three. You are a hero to your family, to your friends, and community. At work, you’re just Jane, from admin.
It’s not that other people don’t recognize your personal achievements, it’s just that your work colleagues have their own stories and are the main character in theirs. Be judicious and selective about what personal information you choose to share in the work environment. What you may be proud of and can’t wait to share with other people, they may simply find without sounding terrible harsh and irrelevant.
Yes, your work colleagues will become a part of your broader social network and you may make good friends but your personal life story will not enthrall them in the same way as your close circle. Rather keep your personal history to yourself. You may choose to share some of your life history with your colleagues outside of work but be selective about who you share to and what you choose to share.
It’s far too easy for people to exaggerate or embellish further on what you share. Before you know it, HR may be calling you in to have a discussion with you about your work ethic, and the time you spend outside of work on another business. Rather keep your life story to yourself, friends, and family.
12. Are You Getting Divorced, or, Having Marriage Counseling?
Like your health status, the status of your marriage is private. It is nobody else’s business but yours, and of course, your spouse’s. Yes, you may have been arriving at work with bags under your eyes and been off with ‘food poisoning’, three times over the past month, but that does not matter. Sharing your marital woes invites disaster.
Your personal life and the status of your relationships is just that. Personal. Sharing your problems with colleagues may be something that you are sorely tempted to do, especially if you need emotional support. However, this is never a good idea. Yes, your colleagues care about you and wish you all the best for both of you, but there is a boundary that needs to be observed between your personal life, and your work life. As difficult as it may be to get through the day and to work, that is exactly what you need to do. Do not talk about your problems at work. Your work colleagues are not the right support for you, either. Rather talk to your friends, your family, priest, or professionals.
It’s not that your work colleagues don’t care or won’t listen, it’s just that their priorities are not the same as yours. Rather take time off if you need to and than come to work if you are not coping. Your colleagues may offer you the wrong advice or worse still, tell you to divorce or leave your husband, or, wife. Well-meaning advice from colleagues may also lead to future awkwardness.
Sandra, from marketing, confesses that she thinks that you should definitely divorce your spouse and then lists the reasons why she found him, or her, annoying, at the last work Christmas party. Her candor, though well intended, could compromise your working relationship and that is the main difference to remain aware of. Work relationships are just that, and you may compromise them by sharing your personal life with your colleagues. You may mean well, but the end result may be disastrous. Rather keep your private life strictly private.