Do You Keep Your Personal Life Private at Work?

how to keep certain parts of your personal life private at workKeeping aspects of your personal life private at work may feel necessary to you, or it may just be a personal preference. Maybe you’re worried that certain information about your life outside of work will make you a source of coworker gossip, or lead people to stereotype you, or even cost you your job. Or maybe you feel that some parts of your personal life simply aren’t anyone’s business. We thought it’d be interesting to talk about the things that readers prefer to keep quiet at the office — and why. Readers, do you keep certain parts of your personal life private at work? What parts, and why? 

We’ve frequently discussed this issue in the past, including discussions on how to deal with nosy coworkers, and LOTS of talk on medical issues (how to announce your pregnancy at work, decide whether to tell coworkers about your miscarriage, deal with frequent doctors’ appointments, make time for therapy, share a diagnosis like ADHD or autism), handling political talk at the office, and more.do you keep your personal life private at work

The posts linked above highlight many possibilities for topics you’d rather your coworkers didn’t know about — but of course, there are many other issues that you might only feel comfortable discussing with friends and/or family members. So, do tell: Do you tend to keep your personal life private at work, or are you more of an open book? What would you rather not reveal to your coworkers? Health problems, religious beliefs, family issues, unusual hobbies or activities, political opinions, tattoos/piercings? On the flip side, is there anything you’ve discovered about a coworker’s personal life that made you see that person differently, either in positive or negative ways?

I connected with several women who shared aspects of their lives that they feel they shouldn’t or can’t share at work. That information included everything from mental health conditions to political views. I enjoy the series “25 Famous Women On” at The Cut (they do similar roundups with not-so-famous women, too), so here’s “14 Women on Keeping Your Personal Life Private at Work”:

1. Helen M., Seattle: “One thing I typically keep to myself is that I attend church. I’ve found it exhausting to combat the assumption that practicing religion [equals] conservative and/or fundamentalist. This is not just at work but also socially.”

2. Natasha C., Rochester, New York: “My workplace is very conservative, so I keep my LGBT status and liberal political leanings very quiet, except among a few, who also keep these secrets. You just never know what people will do to hurt your career because they don’t agree with your ‘lifestyle choices.'”

3. Ashley Austrew, Omaha, Nebraska: “I don’t talk about my depression and anxiety with coworkers, even though I am a writer and have written about it quite a bit. For some reason, talking about it makes me feel like they will see me differently, even if I know they’ve probably read things I’ve said about it.”

4. Kerry, New Jersey: “I have Type 1 diabetes and am legally blind in one eye. Oh, and I’m a transplant recipient. And chose my profession based on how long I was projected to keep my eyesight at age 22.”

5. Karin, New York City: “I don’t feel like explaining my whole life to coworkers; they usually don’t share my interests or life experiences so it’s more likely to cause them to view me as an outsider. And that doesn’t help my career prospects. Once you become ‘other,’ you’ll never be seen as part of the team and they’ll get rid of you first.”

6. Chris M., Rhode Island: “I’m a quiet person, so I probably don’t share a lot unless in a one-on-one discussion with a coworker that I am comfortable with. I don’t discuss my husband’s depression and limit what I discuss of a personal nature with anyone in a position above me. I should add that I’m in a manager role, too, so I try to walk the line of what I present to others carefully. I want to make sure people feel comfortable coming to me, so in that way I share some of my personal struggles in way to help them know they are not alone, but I pick and choose what I share carefully.”

7. Allison R., Chicago [formerly of San Francisco]: “I keep any strong feelings I have that comment on other people’s life choices private (religion, politics, drugs, last name-changing, etc.) but I have a few colleagues I talk to about most things, as we are friends. Though in San Francisco especially, most people would joke about drugs at my workplace a bit. Generally things that are too opinionated, I try to keep to myself.”

8. K.G., Pennsylvania: “The fact that I’m actually a pretty soft-spoken and quiet person outside of work. I’m way more assertive and direct at work than anywhere else (working on extending that to my personal life).”

9. Yu, California: “Something I don’t tell my colleagues is that I’m a pole dancer. I do it mostly for fitness purposes, since pole requires lots of strength. I perform in dance studios’ showcases occasionally. At my previous workplace I told my colleagues and my supervisors because it was a very supportive environment. I’m at a new place now so I’m unsure about revealing it yet.”

10. Sarah A., Ardmore, Pennsylvania: “My queerness, my mental health problems (I’ve always been told talking about my depression and anxiety could scare away potential employers), my weight, my income (this is a big one, I feel like people casually talk about their expenses and other things that make me super uncomfortable to discuss), my outside-of-work attire and tattoos/aesthetic.”

11. L.R., Alabama: “The fact that I am leaving the job as soon as possible because I dislike this town and my spouse detests everything about living in Alabama. Everyone I work with is a lifer who loves it here.”

12. Sara B., Maryland: “Working with two male physicians who are both older (and have more experience) than I do, I am careful to appear confident in my decisions, even when I’m more like 95% confident most of the time. I am generally too quick to share my insecurities with coworkers and I believe this is something more common to women in the workplace. Also, I save my complaining for home.”

13. A.L., Boston: “I’m non-monogamous/polyamorous. I live with a partner of six years who has another partner of five years.”

14. J.M., Indianapolis: “I don’t reveal how nerdy I really am. My line of work tends to value ‘cool,’ and I am decidedly uncool. I get excited about stuff nobody at work could ever identify with. I really have to tone this down at work and fake coolness.”

Let’s hear from you, readers: Are you careful to keep aspects of your personal life private at work, or are you more laid-back about it? If it’s the former, is that because you learned the hard way that being open about some things can be risky? Have you shared things at one employer that you’ve kept quiet at another? Do you reveal details to work friends that you’d never mention to your boss? (To go with  yesterday’s discussion on the idea of having distinct wardrobes for the weekend you vs. weekday you  – how different do you choose to look when you’re “off-duty,” if at all?)

Comments

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  2. Europe in winter :

    Hello, planning a weekend trip to Paris in January (accompanying my husband who has a work event on a Tuesday). We will arrive Friday. I’m not that excited about being in Paris for the weekend (were there fall 2016 and did most major sites/museums). I am looking for suggestions of other places to spend a couple days that involve a train ride (not another flight). It will be winter, so I wasn’t sure whether Versailles would be enjoyable, but that is one idea. (I loved Versailles when I visited in 2016!) Very open to other suggestions based on your experience. Thanks so much.

    • “I’m not that excited about being in Paris for the weekend”

      I’m not sure how this is humanly possible! The best part of Paris is once you’ve crossed off the Major Tourist Stuff and can just wander, eat and drink. I personally did not enjoy Versailles other than the gardens, but then I’m not one who loves looking at old beds etc. If you MUST escape Paris (!!!) maybe Eurostar up to London? Super easy.

      • Europe in winter :

        So where in Paris do you think we should go? Maybe the problem is that I haven’t escaped the touristy spots. Need some advice about where else to situate ourselves and what to do.

        • Anonymous :

          the catacombs!

        • None of this is exactly “oh I’m passing as a local” or unheard of, but it’s a few ways we’ve had relaxing days in Paris:

          – Choose a “destination” spot for lunch at a trendy modern French place like Frenchie or Septime (only open weekdays; reservations open 3 weeks in advance) and use it as an excuse to have a pretty walk there from your hotel/apartment. Side note: I prefer doing fancy lunches to fancy dinners because you get the inventive food at a more reasonable price and it feels so VERY indulgent to have a long nice lunch w/ a bottle of wine.
          – Cafe-hop your way around the Left Bank
          – Check out smaller museums like the Marmottan (Monet) or Carnavalet (history – if it’s reopened by the time you get there, I think it’s supposed to be finished with renovations this fall); use your museum of choice as a starting point for a walk. I like Rick Steves’ walk suggestions as a starting point.
          – Walk down a market street like Rue Cler or Mouffetard and gradually assemble a delicious dinner

        • One of my favorite things to do in Paris is just wander. Inevitably you’re going to turn a corner and it’s like “Oh! The Eiffel Tower is right there!” or “Oh! It’s the Louvre, just right here!” Or, my favorite, “Oh, this little bakery is super cute, and this is the best jesuite/eclaire/croissant I’ve had in my entire life and I’m now eating here three times a day for the rest of my trip.”

      • Equestrian Attorney :

        Agreed, Paris in January could be super charming if you avoid the sites and just wander or focus on some slightly off the beaten path attractions (I personally favor smaller museums and lesser known-sites which are less likely to be crowded, and you can explore some of the less touristy areas).
        Short train ride away: Loire valley, Bordeaux, Reims (champagne!), Strasbourg, Lille (cute Flemish style downtown), LaRochelle, Lyon (history, excellent food, laid-back vibe) or obviously London or Brussels (both easy).

    • Anonymous :

      Monet’s house in Giverny. Nothing will be in bloom but still a wonderful place to visit and it is a cute town.

      • Senior Attorney :

        +1

        But you can stay in Paris and just walk around and have a great time. We walked from our hotel next to the Louvre up to Montmartre and it was so fun to go through the neighborhoods. We passed through one neighborhood that was all the textile and button and trim shops and it was just so cool.

        Also shopping in the Marais district can’t be beat.

        And finally we did a cheese tasting class at Paris By Mouth that was a blast.

      • Anonymous :

        They unfortunately close at the end of October for the season.

    • Read A Moveable Feast by Hemingway and then go to some of those places. That was my plan for three days in Paris and I loved it. I mostly just walked all day and treated myself to very nice meals.

  3. Gail the Goldfish :

    I had one coworker at my old job who actively refused to share any information about their personal life. Like wouldn’t even tell you where they were going on vacation if you asked. It was offputting, to say the least.

    • Anonymous :

      Wow. I was sitting here thinking I don’t share much about my personal life at work, but that’s just extreme. I’ll happily share the basics when appropriate, I just avoid anything controversial or that I consider very personal. Some element of small talk about personal lives is normal and necessary at work, just like in any human interaction.

    • Anonymous :

      Last year I went out of state for a funeral and I was kinda cagey about it with my coworkers because I didn’t want to talk about it. When I got back they practically shamed me because I said I didn’t have a great time when they asked. When really, I get super anxious about my family, and just did not want to talk about it at all.

      I hate how much people pry at our very gossipy office. And I’ve heard my co-workers discussing other people going on vacation in a less than positive light. So, I find it just easier to not say anything.

      Alternatively, if I told my boss where I was going on vacation he would tell me a list of places that I should go to and then look at me with disappointment when I didn’t go there.

    • My old supervisor thought it was inappropriate to ask “did you havd a nice weekend” and would not answer that question if someone asked her, as it was too personal. Of course, asking what your weekend plans were was totally verbottten. She had a son who was roughly my age, and I’d bet money that we knew people in common. However, she didn’t share his name so I never found out if I knew him. It was odd

  4. Spanish shoes? :

    I’ve recently fallen in love with 2 brands of shoes: Pikolinos and Hispanitas. I’ve looked at Italian shoes before, but always been frustrated they were too small. So far it seems that these Spanish brands might actually fit my size 10/41 feet. Are there other brands from Spain that I’m likely to like?

    • Chie Mihara, Corso Como, Rieker, Naot, and for an unusual choice, l’artiste by spring step. Not all Spanish but similar styles.

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      – all the Mascaró family (Pretty Bailarianas, Ursula Mascaró, Mascaro)
      – El Naturalista
      – Martinelli

  5. Concerned over Caffeine :

    Paging coffee drinkers. My BF has caffeine problems. He can’t get to work without it, but… often he drinks too much and can’t sleep and sometimes needs a beer after work to chill out. He works from home (or Starbucks) and has been struggling to put in the long hours on a project because of this. Not sleeping at night makes it harder for him to do work during the day and then he drinks even more coffee.

    I know there are probably some real psychological issues at play including depression and anxiety, however he doesn’t have insurance. So anything other than over the counter sleep aids are out of his price range.

    How do you manage 40-60 hr work weeks and continue to perform at a top noch rate?

    • Probably not the answer you were looking for, but my husband was similarly dependent on caffeine (and naps a lot and has trouble sustaining momentum over long periods of time, but was otherwise a functional human being) and has been diagnosed with fairly severe narcolepsy. I also waited until he got coverage through my insurance to get him treated and kind of wish we had done it sooner, although I’m not sure we could afford it so I understand the struggle.

      • This is probably very close to the problem. Sleep Apnea runs in his family. The “Trouble sustaining momentum over long periods” is the root of his problem and why he props up on caffeine. Cross my fingers he gets the job offer he is expecting in the coming months. Benefits!

      • Anonymous :

        I was dependent on caffeine, and it turned out to be a medical issue. Now I take a med that does the job of caffeine but better–but only after my one morning coffee wears off!

    • Coffee lover :

      I’m not going to address the psychological issues, but if you think there are real issues, please look into low-cost therapy options like text or video appointments and/or basic health insurance.

      I had a professor in college who would tell us the first step when you feel like you need something, always, is to drink water. Thirsty? Water. Tired? Water. Hungry? Water. Drink a glass of water, wait 20 minutes, and see if you still want whatever it is. I have strayed somewhat over the years (see my handle) but I always come back to this wisdom. So I keep a big water bottle at my desk and refill it throughout the day. If I want another cup of coffee but the water bottle isn’t empty, I finish it first.

      I’ve also had some success with reducing caffeine by enjoying my regular coffee in the morning, and then switching to half-caff or tea as the day goes on. You still get the hot beverage and ritual of your cup of coffee without all the caffeine.

    • Does he drink coffee later in the day? Maybe he can start weaning off the coffee and switch to decaf coffee (which still has some caffeine) or other similar drinks with lower caffeine amounts after 6pm, then 4pm…until he isn’t so wired at night.

      He could also try switching to Macha lattes which I find to be a better alternative because they have a steady release of caffeine and don’t give you that caffeine buzz/spike.

      Maybe another option is to workout after he is done work to burn off the excess energy instead of having a beer to relax. Isn’t alcohol supposed to help you go to sleep faster but not actually sleep better or longer?

      Hope this helps

    • Anonymous :

      Don’t drink coffee after 4 p.m., and don’t have alcohol or anything else with sugar at night during the week.

    • Anonymous :

      40-60 hour work weeks are not hard. He has a mental health problem and an alcohol problem, not a coffee problem.

    • Anonymous :

      If he “needs” a beer after work, that’s an alcohol problem, not a caffeine problem.

      • its more of a once a week (or less), “I need to unwind, want to go to happy hour?”

        I guess I should’ve been more specific on the sometimes. Other days it’ll be “I need to unwind, do we have any ice cream?” or “Can you make spaghetti?”

  6. I think it’s weird when people refuse to ever give any details about their lives or don’t interact socially AT ALL with their coworkers. Small talk is a normal part of the society we live in and is part of the price of admission.

    • Right? The workplace doesn’t need to be a tell-all confessional, but I’ll admit that I would find it very odd and off-putting if someone offered zero details about who they are outside of work. It doesn’t have to be heavy, and you can still keep your personal business personal! TV shows, books, music, pop culture, hobbies, interesting places you’ve been over the weekend … anything is fine, just show that you’re a human being once in a while!

    • givemyregards :

      Agreed – I’m pretty private at work, but I’ll definitely chat about vacation, random TV shows, etc. Maybe this makes me weird, but the one thing I am a little cagey about is my birthday. I mean, I won’t refuse to answer if someone asks, but I find workplace birthday celebrations, bridal showers, etc. really awkward so I just try not to mention it. I’m already dreading that if I ever have a baby there will be no way to hide the evidence, haha.

  7. My personal thoughts on politics are kept private. I am a South Asian Muslim who has dark skin (ie I am immediately recognized as a visible minority even though I do not wear hijab) in an industry filled with conservatives Tomi-Lahren type women. (After 6 months of working in this hell hole, I finally got what black women mean when they say thaat feminism is for white women!) While some probably suspect that I am not a fan of the Orange One’s policies, I keep my mouth shut.

  8. When our GC came to talk about sexual harassment (and sadly we work in a field where it’s very common) the only advice given was to never share any personal details etc with coworkers. If a coworker asks “hey, any fun plans this weekend?” We were instructed to inform them that this topic of conversation is not relevant to our work and could therefore be inappropriate. Apparently in order to avoid harassment we should all become corporate drones!

  9. I have multiple sclerosis (MS) and was diagnosed 8 years ago. Since then, I have only told around 5 people with whom I work (at job #3 since diagnosis)–extremely close friends all. I’ve only told 1 person at my current job. Many people don’t understand MS, and might leap to the conclusion that it would prohibit me from doing my job well. So I keep my mouth shut.

    I also have a crappy marriage, and while some of my closest friends know, I’d never say word one about it at work.

    • Senior Attorney :

      I’m sorry about your marriage. I was in the same boat for years. I was generally pretty open about my life but I didn’t breathe a word about the sorry state of my marriage.

    • Anonymous :

      I’m sorry. Best of luck and I hope you get support from your friends! I’m starting to work through some crappy stuff too. I enjoy talking to coworkers, so I try hard to chat about impersonal stuff and take pleasure in their fun stories, so I think people don’t really notice I’m not letting out much thats very personal…the work friends help me get through.

  10. Belle Boyd :

    I try not to say too much about my personal life at work… Blame it on a gossipy co-worker. She’s the one who shares WAY too much about her own life, to the point that it’s embarrassing for everyone pretty much every time she opens her mouth (you name it, we’ve heard it, even though we’ve tried not to. The concept of TMI is totally lost on this woman.) Give her one tiny little insignificant detail about your own life, though, and she’s turning it into a story that Shonda Rimes would kick herself for not writing into one of her TV dramas.

    Yeah. I was on vacation and came back to work to find out I was out for a b 00 b job. (Trust me, my girls don’t need any kind of work.) I had the guys in our shop leering at me for WEEKS. It’s allergy season and I’m running around sniffling with kleenex in hand. All of a sudden, I’m hearing how sorry people are that my latest relationship didn’t work out. Oh? I didn’t know I was dating anyone. When my mom died, she told everyone I was the one who had cancer. I had our corporate office calling me and sending me information about disability.

    Everyone knows she’s a headcase, but come on… some things are just too flipping much.

  11. Rainbow Hair :

    I am kind of weird and I like keeping parts of myself *for* myself, but I’ve got pretty good at revealing enough stuff that is work appropriate so that I seem to share, but without really giving myself away. “How was your weekend?” “Awesome! Kiddo started a new dance class and she was so excited about her new shoes!” [discussion about children and after school activities]… instead of “Awesome! Kiddo started a new dance class and I saw Artist for another tattoo and then I had some quiet time to work in the garage on my latest weird project!”

    • I try NOT to share my personal issues at work, but since the manageing partner has me out in the Hamton’s most weekends, he and Margie know how unlucky I have been with guys, and his brother lives next door to me and he also knows that I am not haveing s-x with anyone recently. So once they start talking, b/f you know it, Lynn is giveing me tips on how to snag a guy, and Frank is more then willing to do whatever he can to do a body check on me! FOOEY on that! In short, it is difficult for my s-x life to be private at work. FOOEY!

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