Navigating Taboo Topics in the Workplace
The workplace has changed dramatically since the traditional days of the 9-5 cubicle farms. Despite flexible schedules, perks, and benefits that make the work week a little more manageable, many people working full-time spend as much time with their colleagues as they spend with their friends and families — if not more.
But no matter the sense of community in your office or how close you may feel to your colleagues, certain topics are off limits when it comes to your professional life.
From sharing salary information with colleagues or connecting on social media to disclosing details of your personal life or political point of view, certain taboo topics can be disastrous when raised in the workplace.
Let’s look at some common workplace situations and how to navigate them successfully:
1. Salary and Compensation
Rule No. 1 is to never discuss your salary with a coworker. Not only can this potentially violate company policy (many companies prohibit employees from sharing salary information), but it can also have culture-damaging repercussions. For example, if you make more than your counterpart, disclosing that information can result in a toxic work environment and tension in your working relationship.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that salary negotiations are based on multiple factors: prior experience, certifications and credentials, additional responsibilities, and particular strengths someone brings to a role.
If a colleague approaches you about your salary, politely decline to discuss it. You can, however, suggest ways for the colleague to do a little research to help them negotiate their own salary.
2. Social Media
Chances are the majority of your coworkers are on social media. Being on LinkedIn is expected from a professional perspective. Since it’s a business-oriented social network, it’s okay to connect with your coworkers there. That said, if you have a side business in addition to your day job, you should be mindful of any potential conflicts of interest. Be up front with your employer about it.
When it comes to platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, the line is blurrier. If you maintain an appropriate social media presence and take precautions with privacy settings, connecting with coworkers on social media doesn’t need to be a big deal. Be careful though, as letting your coworkers into your personal life via social media opens the door for people to make assumptions about you that could affect your work life.
3. Personal Details (Relationships, Health, What You Do in Your Free Time)
It’s important to feel safe at work and to be able to share the challenges you may be facing. This can sometimes create a community of support and trust. In many cases, though, it’s best to provide an overview of a personal problem rather than a fully detailed picture. Furthermore, personal issues should always be framed in terms of how they could affect your work. Anything beyond that should be left out.
When it comes to conversations about politics and religion, there must be an understanding that people need to maintain respect. If that does not seem to be the case in your office, it’s best to refrain from divulging your points of view.
Today’s workplace certainly presents more opportunities to bring your full self to work, but some things are best kept private. Tread cautiously, and remember that while there are many factors at play — employer, sense of community at work, etc. — it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Alyssa Hammond is director of undergraduate career education and outcomes at Bentley University. She is also host of the career advice podcast Counter Offer, recently named one of the top 10 higher education podcasts.