Sharing at Work Can Be Good. Oversharing Is Not. There is a fine line between asking about someone's weekend and TMI.
- Many people enjoy sharing stories about their lives with coworkers.
- But it can go too far when we drone on about our kids too much or talk about things like sex.
- Pandemic lockdowns didn't help younger workers who might not have learned what's OK at work.
This article was originally published on Business Insider.
The quality of the woman's work had been sliding.
Yasmin Sampson-Da Rocha pulled the woman into yet another meeting to try to figure out what was going on. Finally, the woman broke down: In the span of months, the woman's father had died, she'd broken up with her boyfriend, and she'd had to move to a new city.
Sampson-Da Rocha, a communication consultant in London, responded that had these challenges come to light sooner, she could have helped cut the woman's workload before she fell behind. Sampson-Da Rocha left the meeting thinking it was time to do a better job of sharing more details about her own life so that those reporting to her could do the same.
"It's still such a taboo to say you're struggling in some way," Sampson-Da Rocha told Insider. "COVID eliminated some of this but there's still very much the divide of personal and professional life."
The pandemic has scrambled so many things. At work, it let many of us literally see into our colleagues' lives — the good, the bad, and the naked. That messiness might have made us relate to one another more as humans, yet it's also left many of us unsure of where the line is on what's acceptable to share at the office. What seems clear is the office overshare isn't likely going anywhere.
Sampson-Da Rocha, 35, is glad about that. She's trying to tear down the stigma around talking about what's actually going on in our lives. If she has crippling period pain, she'll say so. Earlier in the career, she would have said it was a stomach bug.
If her toddler is sick, Sampson-Da Rocha will say she has to go pick her up and will be back online by a certain time. Sampson-Da Rocha will be honest but not go overboard: "I don't need to go into the ninth level of detail of the stomach bug that they've got," she said.
For Sampson-Da Rocha, there is a litmus test. "I"m not going to walk into work and lay bare every single good and crappy thing that has happened in my day, but if I need to do something that affects my work or something is affecting my work, then I will be honest about it," she said.
Most of the time, what she sees people get wrong is talking about themselves for too long.
Young workers don't always have good examples
Shannon Duvall, 39, head of people and culture at CallTrackingMetrics, a marketing-services company, told Insider she's been surprised by how much some of the Gen Z workers she's encountered are willing to reveal in the workplace.
"I would never have gone into work and told my boss I got really drunk over the weekend when I was 24 years old," Duvall said. "They're not understanding how that impacts their brand."
Sometimes the oversharing isn't about boozy weekends but about motivations that can undercut standing with the boss. Duvall said one young worker recently went into a meeting and asked for a raise after clearing the company's 90-day probationary period. "He's like, 'I think I'm going to need a raise soon. I really want to buy a nicer apartment.' And we're like, that's just not how that works," Duvall said.
Duvall said she's generally in favor of having workers share more about each other's lives and having a more casual approach to the office. It's little surprise that some boundaries would blur, especially for young workers. "They don't remember a time before the Facebook or the Instagram to be able to delineate between work and what you share in personal life," she said.
What is truly TMI?
One Reddit user complained last year about coworkers who "talk nonstop" about their kids. "There is not a day that goes by that they either tell a 'funny' story about their kids, share a picture of them with no clothes on (????), or complain about them. I've run out of fake smirks and fake laughs to give. It's really their entire personality and it's sad," the user wrote.
Other online complaints talk about someone a cubicle away sharing intimate details of sexual encounters. One woman, introducing herself to a coworker, described herself as kinky. Scores of social posts talk about coworkers who go into way too much detail about their medical conditions.
Another man told Insider about a colleague who disclosed, during an elevator ride at work, that she was engaging in an explicit sexual practice so she could get free rent. "I could never look at her the same way again," the man said.
Part of the urge, at least in the US, to share more than we might have could relate to the fact that so many Americans are lonely. And many of us benefit from having work friends — or even a work spouse.
Sampson-Da Rocha said the pandemic helped pry open insights into our coworkers. "Suddenly we got this, you know, through-the-keyhole experience into people's day-to-day lives," she said, referring to remote work. "We saw their kids coming in and out of frame. We saw what their casualwear looked like. And I think it enabled our interactions to be far more human."
Sampson-Da Rocha thinks that though it might make for some awkward moments, she's happy that, bit by bit, mores are loosening over what's acceptable at work.
"I would still take the slightly oversharing versus the someone's struggling at work because they haven't communicated what's going on," she said.