In recent years there has been a blurring of professional and personal boundaries in the workplace. Traditionally, the office was a place of business that was quite distinct from the home. These days, things are not as simple.
Workplace cultures tend to be more relaxed and colleagues, in many settings, are on more familiar terms than in previous generations.
Workplace cultures vary, and some workplaces may tolerate or even encourage people to openly talk about their personal lives.
People’s personalities, however, vary. What if you don’t feel comfortable about talking about your personal life in a workplace where people tend to be quite open?
Some members of staff, particularly managers, may wish to present a professional image and would rather keep conversations work-related and not share too much about their personal lives.
At the same time, however, they might still wish to form good relationships with their colleagues, and not appear aloof or stand-offish.
So how can we keep our professional and personal lives separate?
Firstly, it’s important to set boundaries. Be clear with yourself about the areas of your life that you are prepared to talk about with your colleagues.
Areas that you may not wish to talk about include:
- your love life
- your family life
- your social life
- your religious beliefs
- your political beliefs
- your medical history
It’s also worth bearing in mind that your colleagues might not feel comfortable talking about such issues, even if you are – so questioning people on their religious beliefs, love life etc. might not be appropriate and could cause offence or conflict.
If you want to keep your personal life separate, then don’t take personal phone calls in work. Doing so might invite questions and frequent calls will also look unprofessional – and can even get you into trouble.
Similarly, don’t use work emails for personal things. It may be against office rules and remember, your boss can look at any work emails you’ve sent or received.
If things are difficult at home, it can be hard not to let it show at work. Coming to work stressed or tired, is likely to be noticed and colleagues may ask questions.
Some people find it helpful to talk to a friendly colleague about their problems but not everyone wants the attention.
Don’t try to deal with home-related issues when in work unless urgent. It will draw attention to you and risks looking unprofessional.
However, there is a danger that an unwillingness to ‘open-up’ to your colleagues can leave you looking stand-offish and unsocial.
Instead, focus on ‘safe’ topics of conversation, which may include:
- current affairs
If conversation, either in groups or one-to-one, turns to personal matters which you find uncomfortable, you could politely excuse yourself from the conversation or deflect attention from yourself. If people persist in questing you about your personal life or things you are not comfortable about, it might be best to explain politely that you don’t like talking about your personal life in work
These days many of us put a lot of information about ourselves on social media, often without considering the consequences of who might see it. When using social media, you should:
- check your privacy settings
- not put material online that you would not want people (colleagues or otherwise) to see
- consider engaging with colleagues on some social media platforms but not others (e.g. Facebook for friends; LinkedIn for colleagues)
Fundamentally, what you share with colleagues is up to you and you should not feel pressurised into talking about things that you find uncomfortable. Remember that your colleagues also have that same right. If your workplace culture allows it, you may wish to ‘open-up’ to your colleagues, provided they are happy with you to do so, of course!