There you are, standing by the proverbial (or perhaps even literal) watercooler at work. It’s the week after the holidays and y’know what, 2019 mostly sucked, but you actually had a pretty nice holiday break! And you know what else, you also had a pretty great New Year’s, too, and although you’re not usually the chatty type, you’re sort of waiting for someone to ask you about your holiday so you can talk about the fact that you had a little sex and that after the sex, you went and got coffee and bagels and that all of a sudden, this corporate sponsored cog-life turned out to actually be pretty damn sweet.
Standing directly across from you is your smiling co-worker — the nice one, the good one, the one that asks you how your weekend was because they’re actually curious, the one who casually and earnestly reminds you about meetings you might have forgotten about. “So,” they ask, “tell me about your holiday break? Your Instagram posts looked amazing.”
What do you do? Do you unload your life on them? Tell them that things got off to a rocky start when you found out your ex was getting married so you went on a bender the night before Christmas Eve and ended up snorting some white powdery substance that you’re pretty sure was detergent off the part of the sidewalk where some blend of human piss was lingering about? Alternatively, do you leave out the bad parts and tell them that you had the greatest New Year’s Eve of your life as a result of the simultaneous orgasm you reached at the stroke of midnight with a stranger that definitely wasn’t faking it? Or, do you just keep the details to yourself and do what most people do when in engaged in office chatter — just smile and say things like, “It was good, quiet, relaxing, nice”?
Ummm, my coworkers are basically like family, so obviously I’m going to be honest and tell them that I got laid, right?
But they’re not your family! Even if they seem like it — that’s according to Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume. “When you spend more time with your colleagues than with your own family, it’s hard not to divulge at least some details about your personal life — especially if you’ve become close friends with some of the people in your office,” she says. But still, consider them colleagues first.
So I shouldn’t say anything at all?
That’s too far the other way. Augustine believes that talking about your personal life with coworkers isn’t entirely a bad thing: “Giving your coworkers a little glimpse into your life outside the office can help to build healthy working relationships and establish trust with your deskmates.”
Plus, not sharing anything at all could lead to isolation, which is going to cause you a lot of problems, as per this collection of workplace tips on The Balance Careers. “The isolation can lead to job stress and dissatisfaction,” they report. “You may even earn the reputation of being a snob if your colleagues think you don’t want anything to do with them. That may be just as damaging as the other labels you would earn by sharing too much information.”
But of course, there are lines that need to be drawn, says Augustine: “Some topics are better off left out of workplace conversations.”
I’m assuming that by, “topics better left out of the workplace,” you’re referring to all the topics that include me having sex and partying my balls off, right?
See? You’ve got this. Yes, you’re absolutely right. “Your coworkers at large shouldn’t have intimate knowledge of your romantic escapades, your family drama or your health issues,” says Augustine. In other words, all those intimate details about binge-drinking in your childhood bedroom and using the stuffed animal to… well, anyway, I’m getting off topic here. Point is, those topics should be reserved for your non-work friends.
But like, how do I know exactly what’s off the table?
A good rule of thumb, says Augustine, is asking yourself, before you share something with your coworker, “‘Is this something I’d feel comfortable discussing with my parents or grandparents? Would I want this information shared in a company newsletter?’ If you’re not sure of the answer, err on the side of caution and avoid discussing these details at work.”
Just so we’re clear though, if I accidentally share a little too much (after all, I’m an average guy who likes to chat), how bad is that?
It really depends, says Augustine. “If you get carried away, you run the risk of causing some of your colleagues to feel uncomfortable at best and downright offended at worst,” she says. “Not only that, if you overshare, you risk having your professionalism called into question, and it can potentially sabotage your chances for advancement. It may not seem like a big deal, but sharing TMI with your coworkers can hurt your career.”
And since you’re the proverbial average guy, you really can’t afford to run the risk of falling below average.