Just this week, on more than one occasion, the issue of sharing personal details or revealing one’s personal life at work has come up in the form of a question. Does your personal life have a place at the office? Should one share more or less? Can one even fathom being honestly authentic and one’s real self or does the work persona always need to be in affect? Believe it or not these questions are not easy, for employees or leaders, but instead spur on more questions. Consider and answer the three questions listed here to find the right answer for your specific work atmosphere.
There is no question that stress exists in the workplace. Add to it mergers, major or minor changes, or even generations and the stress level increases. If a leader is walking around protecting or covering up who they actually are, that stress is already taking up most of your tolerance, not to mention energy. So if being the real you or sharing a personal detail or two has no place in your office, the real question becomes can you possibly be performing or leading at your best? If your life encounters a tough moment or two and you hide from all that report to you, they may wonder why you lose your mind at the smallest of things they do, followed by long lasting labels they may assign to you. If you can really leave out the personal and still perform at your best, your stronger than most, but you also may not be aware of just how much energy it takes to constantly hide behind the mask of the person you think you should be at the office.
With recent life happenings of my own that were tough to deal with, I found that by sharing just a small bit of detail, the best in others came shining through. Heaps of empathy, immediate understanding, and willingness to make minor schedule changes were all forthcoming and generously provided. Had there been no sharing of anything personal and I’d remained singularly work focused, there is a side of me and a side of them that neither of us would have ever seen. What will those you lead miss if all of the part of you that is personal is kept out of the office? Is there a favorite recipe over which you could connect? Do both of you have special needs children and that commonality creates a strong bond? Do you both share a love of animals? The range is wide on what personal means for others, but the point is to show we all have a life, we all have emotions and to begin to take action that shows without question, there’s a part of you that feels and has concerns and cares about people. Leaders who complain the most about a lack of employee engagement are often also those leaders who fail to engage anyone in a discussion of anything other than numbers.
If the answer to that is yes, then personal sharing may be worth reconsideration until such time as you can get a better handle on things. Part of the reason that so many create boundaries and companies create fraternization policies for what may or may not be shared personally in the workplace, is many confuse professional with guarded. They also confuse personal with overshare and misconstrue appropriate to mean boundary-less. It’s a fine line, to be sure, and one that will likely be different for each and every office culture. A few guidelines to keep in mind may be of value. When in doubt, leave it out is a powerful way to honor your instincts and prevent sharing some personal detail with the wrong, gossip mongering, coworker. Ask yourself do you want them to fix or listen, while also considering to whom you’re speaking. If you tell your boss about your marital issues, there’s a good chance, they’ll wonder exactly what you expect them to do about them. Perhaps you keep some of the more intimate details for the best girl or guy friend. If you’re a mess on your personal life or a bundle of emotions, those are not likely appropriate to show or share to much of the office. Is it okay, though, to say you’re struggling or need some time to deal with your emotions? I believe it appropriate in most cases, to say yes.
Whoever we are and whatever it is we deal with follows us around wherever we go and in whatever scenario we lead. Your personal life does go with you to the office. Yet, so many try to separate the work personhood from the one that runs the rest of our world and in truth, this is a talent only very few have actually mastered. You might be one of the tiny percentage who can compartmentalize and show those at work someone completely different, but chances are really much better that you are of the belief that showing them real authenticity is too scary or much too vulnerable. Consider these questions and challenge those beliefs because the truth is we might all be missing a good part of the qualities that make you, with a leadership title or not, so amazing.