Planning on Attending the Hooker’s Ball in San Francisco?
Or Fantasy Fest in Key West?
Do Yourself a Favor and Don’t Mention it at Work!
You may think using your private backyard pool au natural is a harmless, benign activity. Your boss may find it offensive and deviant. How do you know where to draw the line? In general, if it’s not something that you can read about in the Ladies Home Journal, it’s not an acceptable subject for workplace conversations.
Regardless of the newly “enlightened” attitudes that supposedly inhabit the upper floors of corporate America, we are still a country of conservative traditionalists. If you broadcast or otherwise advertise your unconventional behavior, you may find yourself banging into an unforgiving glass ceiling carefully installed by the HR department to limit your employer’s socio-sexual liability.
Still don’t know what I’m talking about? In plain English, if you want to avoid being judged as corrupt, warped, perverted, or depraved, don’t share the fact that you attended the Hookers Ball in San Francisco, the adult entertainment award show in Las Vegas, or any other event that suggests you participate in “alternative” social or sexual behavior. Trying to rationalize your presence with the claim that you only observe and never participate will not excuse your intentional introduction of gray-area or off-limit subjects into the workplace.
While activities tainted with a sexual connotation are obvious subjects to eliminate from workplace conversations, there are several other topics that should also be avoided. Regardless of how close your relationship with co-workers and supervisors, there are some things you should not reveal. Here are four seemingly innocent subjects that can come back to haunt you:
1. Your investments and alternative income sources. Maybe you do a little consulting work on the side, or edit manuscripts on the weekends, or manage social media for an on-line company. Although these activities are non-competitive and you work on them after work hours, they must remain a secret. Your employer will consider other income producing activities as threatening competition affecting your focus, interest, and time. In the myopic vision of management, an employee’s dedication to their job is always compromised when they engage in part-time, money-making activities. Corporations are jealous masters and they will not knowingly share their employees’ commitment with other financially-oriented “distractions.”
In management’s opinion, your off-hours should be spent re-charging your batteries so you return to work ready to perform at peak efficiency. If your supervisor learns of your involvement in a sideline or part-time venture, she’ll blame any indication of stress, overwork, or distraction on your outside activities, even though your symptoms may be the direct result of your day job.
2. Expressing dissatisfaction about your job, compensation, or a company policy or program. Occasional disappointment and frustration is part of every employee’s lot. It goes with the territory. In short, you’re paid to support and carry out the instructions of your superiors, whether you agree with them or not. That’s why it’s called a job – you trade your time, energy and effort in exchange for compensation that you can use to invest in your personal success. Occasionally, it’s not pretty or pleasant. But it’s a fact of corporate life. And once in a while, it’s going to suck.
For example, you may think you’re occasionally entitled to curse, vent, or blow off steam, but the result will hurt you. It’s the fastest way to lose your reputation as a professional. Make it a point to have others to see you as cool and collected under fire. Just because the conversation turns heated or you’re put under pressure, that’s no excuse for revealing your weak underbelly. Making verbal attacks and derogatory statements about others – even when they’re true – makes you appear fearful and emotionally immature. You’re demonstrating the other guy got to you, and you couldn’t handle it. Make a habit of dismissing the stupid behavior and comments of others. It demonstrates you’re operating on a much higher level, and in fact, have the capacity to handle much more intensive and serious situations.
3. Negative comments or innuendo about another employee. Never do it, not even to a trusted confidant. The moment it leaves your lips, it’s out there—a loose missile no longer under your control, and you never know when it could circle back and blow up in your face. Negative comments are a huge liability. They can not only keep you from being promoted, they can guarantee you a place at the top of the list for termination when the next wave of layoff or downsizing hits.
4. Serious personal health problems. With the exception of a rare case of the sniffles, you should project the image of perfect health, and yes, that includes maintaining a healthy weight. Although your health issues may be under control, talking about them at work can project the possibility of future absence in the event of a relapse. Smoking, overeating, and excessive drinking are liabilities, and we all know how employers feel about liabilities.
The bottom line? With the current trend of work-life integration quickly replacing the more traditional concept of separating our work from our private lives, employees are feeling a greater degree of freedom to share personal and even intimate details with their co-workers. But this can easily backfire when the conversation touches on controversial subjects or a topic with subjective ethical or moral implications.
Don’t jeopardize your career by falling below the standard of professional conduct expected by your employer. Even if such a standard isn’t formally stated or defined, it definitely exists, and your efforts to set an example will be appreciated and rewarded.