The Schism: How to Keep Your Work Life Separate From Your Personal Life

how to keep your work life separate from your personal life2018 Update: We still stand by this discussion of how to keep your work life separate from your personal life — but you may also want to check out our most recent discussion of work-life boundaries.

I read somewhere recently that people are well-advised to keep their office keys separate from their home keys. While I’ve never done that, I started thinking about the different ways that I have tried to keep my personal life separate from my professional life, and thought it might be a fun topic for an Open Thread.

1. Keys. I’ve actually always kept office keys on the same chain as regular keys (but on a separate ring if that makes sense), but primarily because I’m forgetful with keys and never wanted to show up at home or at work and realize I’d forgotten my keys for the appropriate locks.

2. Email. When I left my law firm job, it was really amazing to me how much personal email had encroached on my work email (perhaps because I had a work Blackberry but not a personal one). I swore, from that point forward, to keep my work email and personal email as separate as possible. Even now I do this — for example, I talk about contracts and IP issues re: Corporette a lot with my lawyer father, and I’m fanatical about keeping those conversations in my Corporette email. In addition to keeping things separate in a mental perspective, it’s also handy from a filing perspective.  (Furthermore: I’m sure you all know this, but there is no expectation of privacy in work email — anything you write can be read by the company, and I believe I read a statistic that 85% of employers do some degree of monitoring on work email, even if it’s just to search for keywords indicating terrorism.)

3. Clothes. When my younger brother started work, I strongly advised him to change into jeans when he came home from a long day at his conservative office — and I’ll advise you all to do the same! It’s a good way to signify to yourself, “I’m home, it’s OK to unwind.” (Also, if you’re eating dinner or snacking, it helps you keep your more expensive work clothes pristine for easier/less laundering).

4. Creative endeavors. It’s wise to keep your office for doing work, and your home for personal creative endeavors (whether it be a blog, a screenplay, or a business plan you’ve devised). In addition to helping to keep your dreams separate from the office, it avoids any confusion about who owns the creative work.

5. Social media. I don’t care how close you are with your coworkers — there is a line that exists in terms of what’s acceptable to share and what isn’t, particularly when you’re talking about something that can be easily forwarded or copied. For example, when I was dating I kept an anonymous blog about my adventures — and even though I was becoming really close with one of my coworkers (who is now one of my best friends, and heard about many of those adventures verbally) I never mentioned my blog to her at time.

Readers, what are your best tips on how to keep your work life separate from your personal life? What are the advantages/disadvantages to doing so?

Currently pictured: Stencil. (Originally pictured (2011): Ying Yang, originally uploaded to Flickr by Bibi.)

We asked our professional women readers: what are your best tips for how to keep your work life separate from your personal life? Do you think it helps your work-life balance, turning off work mode, or both? What boundary rituals and other after-work routines and habits have you adopted to keep things separate?


  1. I’ve found it is very advantageous to have a fairly long commuting time between home and office. That really helps you to keep them separate. Short communting time creates a difficult transition. If you are living with someone you like, you want to be able to be in an “UP” mood when you return home and walk in the door. If you have children, your dinner conversation should not center on the problems you have had at work that day. Of course many of us work at home offices and that is a different situation. Many of us also must take work home to do in the evening or on weekends.

    For my laws clients I have made a rule – they may call me at home, but it must be between 8 and 9 in the evening – weekdays only. They stick to the rule.

    • Legally Brunette :

      I’m the exact opposite — I HATED my 45 minute commute home, and now live about a 10 minute walk to work and love it. When I was pulling long hours, the last thing I wanted was to spend another hour on the metro back home. Fortune had an article several years ago where they interviewed several female CEOs, and when asked about the secret to their success, one of them responded that she had a 5 minute commute to work, which enabled her to spend more time with her family. That really resonated with me and I agree 100%.

      • Me too – I used to have a 60 minute commute, and now I have a 20 minute commute that is mostly walking. I feel much more refreshed and ready to relax after 15-20 minutes of walking than 60 minutes in public transit or (absolute worst) highway traffic. And that difference on a daily basis has translated into more exercise, more cooking at home, and more sleep.

      • I had a 90 minute commute plus waiting time for the cabs (up to 45 minutes). I did that for 11 months, and then I moved to a location 10 minutes from work and within 15 minutes slow walking distance. The least I can say is that I sleep more.
        I am still working on having a post-work ritual – mainly going to gym – to ease the transition.
        I also decided to start using my work laptop less and less but this means I would have to buy myself a personal computer or ipad which is not currently on my top priorities.

    • Wha!?!? The shorter the commute, the better! For me, at least. I can mentally disengage once I’m home. I find commuting to be the most mentally exhausting part of my day.

    • I can understand Nevadan’s point of view. All else equal, I would prefer a short commute to a longer one, but because I live in the suburbs and work in the city, I commute an hour by train each way. In the morning, I use that time to gear up for work, read emails, catch up on industry news, etc. In the evening, I use it to wind down, wrap up workday details, and then get ready to enjoy my evening. So it serves as a nice transition between work and personal life.

      So while I’d rather have a shorter commute, it’s definitely possible to make the most of a longer one and see it as a means to achieve some balance as opposed to just an obstacle.

    • I went from a 1.5 hr commute to working from home. My productivity is increased by at least 15%! More time for everything. It’s so great.

    • My dad used to say the same thing about a long commute being good for transitioning from work to home. But his “long” commute was 15 minutes driving compared to my mother’s 2 minute drive home from work.

    • Research, not Law :

      I do see Navadan’s point. I used to have a long bus commute, where all I had to do was sit. It gave me time to process my day or just completely space out. It was really nice to have that time where no one expected anything of me and I could arrive home feeling ready for something new.

      But I hated the commute and was so happy to change jobs and be a 10 drive from work! I love gaining 2 hours (or more!) to my day, but I do miss that time. I’ve been considering changing to public transit just for that reason.

    • Ballerina Girl :

      I think it depends on the commute. I have a 40 min commute on the subway and always get a seat and can read. I can’t say I love having a long commute, but I do love reading on the train. It’s kind of special “me” time where I refuse to do anything but read for fun.

  2. How do you manage that line between personal/professional in networking and building relationships? For instance, I avidly pay attention to the personal details that my clients share (kids, hobbies, trips, etc.) so I can try to remember them for future reference. But I hesitate to share details about myself since I’m a private person. Connection on a personal level does seem to be a key for creating relationships in business.

    • I think it’s really important to remain positive in explaining your personal details, whatever you decide those to be. For example, if you’re in the middle of a divorce, illness, etc – I would totally withold that information because those types of things will generate more questions, and more importantly, emotions from your business relationships. Compassionate people will bring those things up later, and it’s an easy walk from this to maybe religion (“I’m keeping your family in my thoughts and prayers”). By this time it’s likely your personal boundaries have already been breached.

    • karenpadi :

      I like to keep some hobbies private and make others public. I do crossfit which is seen as a crazy, trendy workout and is not something I want my colleagues and clients to associate with me. So that is a “private” hobby. My “public” hobby is scuba diving with my father–this hobby allows me to talk about my vacations when they come up and all the pictures are work-appropriate (I have clients who ask). Plus, no crazy questions about who my travel companion is and if I really travel alone.

      My colleagues have work-appropriate hobbies/kid events like training for triathlons/marathons, their kids’ hockey league, their kids’ ballet shows, golf, and music/electric guitar collections.

      • Anon in NC :

        I also do Crossfit and find that my colleagues (virtually all are men) like to talk about it and enjoy hearing about the less than traditional workouts etc. Glad to know there is another Corporette/Crossfitter out there. Do you do Paleo?

        • karenpadi :

          No, I get about 3-4 days in and can never eat enough while feeling like my brain is incapable of working (I was seriously afraid to drive). Yes, it’s supposedly part of insulin withdrawal but it affects me so much that I will live with my addiction, thank you very much. Plus, I can’t eat eggs everyday without getting a migraine headache. My physician said it’s a protein sensitivity.

          I figure it’s healthier (for me) to eat a small serving of complex carbs with a normal-size portion of meat and a salad with lower-fat dressing (e.g., evoo) and get my calories in a way that my body doesn’t punish me for it than to attempt to get all my calories from lean protein and avocado (where I end up eating 2-3x as much calories and fat and feel sick). I have cut down on carbs and dairy in the spirit of paleo and do feel better, though.

          I’ve found that a really good carb for me is sourdough bread. It’s usually made without chemical leavening. Someday, I might tell you my chemical leavening nutritional theory. ;)

          • Oooh… I would love to hear your chemical leavening theory. I’ve been dabbling in Paleo (i.e., did pretty well with it for about 2 months and then went to Italy on vacation, ate my weight in pizza, and have been struggling to cut out the processed carbs and sugar ever since…) and am of course becoming very curious about CrossFit now that I’m in a city that doesn’t have it…

          • Anon in NC :

            I hear you on the challenges with it…I think I will incorporate some of the eating plan but don’t think I would want to live my life 100% – far too many interesting and enjoyable things to eat in this world:)

        • And so anon :

          I don’t do Crossfit, but dip into Paleo and IF blogs.

    • Last Responder :

      It’s so hard, even with co-workers. I’ve had great friends at work, but I’ve also been called “aloof” because I wasn’t overly chatty with others. And for good reason, some of my coworkers and superiors would have used any personal information against me.

      It’s tricky. I like the idea of having interests you share with people in the workplace and others you don’t.

  3. Goodness, I wish everybody had that view on social media. I’m 27 and mostly work with people a little younger, and the expectation is that everybody will be Facebook friends. As it happens, I don’t have a Facebook. I’m very glad of that, otherwise it would have been very awkward to explain to my coworkers why I didn’t want to share everything with them.

    • i have a separate facebook friends list for coworkers that is heavily restricted so they can’t see my wall or any images/videos/etc. coworkers that i don’t feel comfortable friending back at all just languish in my friend requests inbox. it’s been pretty manageable so far.

      • If only that were possible. It would be considered incredibly unfriendly in this environment if I had Facebook and DIDN’T share pictures.

        • how would your coworkers know if you even had pictures on facebook or not? maybe you just choose not to use facebook to share photos? (i don’t ever post status updates or photos on fb!)

        • And so anon :

          If I were in that kind of workplace (I hate places that push phony friendship on everyone), I, too, would have my “work” FB account and a “real” one, under a different name of course, for my friends.

    • Re social media, for me LinkedIn is for coworkers and business contacts, Facebook is for actual friends and folks in my social sphere, period. No work people on Facebook unless we actually socialize out of the workplace, and even then not while we’re working at the same company.

      • This is my MO also, and it works really well. I periodically have work contacts try to “add me as a friend” on Facebook and I just send them a message that says, sorry, I limit my Facebook friends so I can keep my kids’ pictures and details of their life private (which is true – I post a ton of stuff about my kids on Facebook to share it with far-flung relatives), so can you add me on LinkedIn instead? No one has gotten offended, so far.

        One of my best friends made the mistake of accepting friend requests from basically everyone she knew, and now she has to majorly self-censor on Facebook to avoid posting anything that might “offend” someone. There’s no real way to go through and de-friend without potentially upsetting someone, either, so she’s kind of stuck. Better not to accept the requests in the first place (I have the same philosophy for people I haven’t seen since middle school who try to friend me).

      • This–I have several ex-coworkers friended, but any current coworkers get told I prefer to use Linked In for work purposes. I have all my FB posts locked down, and want to be able to say I’m feeling lazy or hating work or whatever, without worrying about them seeing it! It’s easier for me though, because I work from home, so I don’t see coworkers often and chat about personal life stuff.

      • This. The only work people I have as Facebook friends are actual friends that I socialize with and would see/hear my photos/updates anyway. But then, I’m kind of strange in that my only Facebook friends are real-life, I see them pretty regularly friends. I don’t have a lot of people I sort of know as Facebook friends.

    • Many of my co-workers are my Facebook friends. However, I only accept friend requests from co-workers that I consider to be friends and would never friend a boss.

    • Research, not Law :

      Ugh, tell me about it. Just because I’m under 30 doesn’t mean I want to be your FB friend.

      I have a strict no-coworker rule. And I will tell people that nicely in person if they request to be my friend. I can tell that some people think it’s odd, but most people understand. Since it’s a universal rule, I at least don’t have to deal with hurt feelings.

      • I quit FB in part because of these concerns. The other 80% was that the only ones of my “friends” that ever post are those that I would never been in contact with if not for FB anyway, but I was addicted to reading all their ramblings anyway. So glad to have those 15+ minutes a day back.

        • Agree with Research, Not Law. I’m a school administrator and have a no-coworkers, no-parents, no-donors rule. Sometimes people are offended when I tell them, but it mostly works. Hard because I live in a smallish town…not a lot of personal/professional separation here!

  4. Ekaterin Nile :

    Part of the reason I left Facebook is the work/personal overlap. I don’t want to be Facebook friends with the partner I do most of my work for if it means I suddenly have to start managing all kinds of lists and privacy settings, nor did I want to explain why I declined his friend invite…

  5. Diana Barry :

    I am not friends with bosses on Facebook – not ever! I am fb friends with one client’s kids, but the client is also a distant relative.

    I keep personal email separate for the most part. I do have everything open on my computer at once, though – I don’t not look at my personal email/websites during the day at work.

    I find work clothes much less comfortable than regular casual clothes, so changing is the first thing I do when I get home – plus, the kids would destroy my work clothes if I kept wearing them at home!

  6. Regarding FB, I just tell co-workers that it’s strictly for personal use for me, so if they’d like to connect on social media, I can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, or my blog. There’s no need for them to know that I’m excited to grill a feast on Saturday night, or that I just kicked butt and feel great after boot camp. They can, however, know which articles I found interesting on Forbes, or recommendations for blogs via Twitter.
    I also make a point not to check work email over the weekend. There are rarely situations that my work is an “emergency”, with the exception of tradeshow items that need to be ready on Monday. So, I’ll usually log in on Sunday afternoon to make sure my team arrived and my materials arrived, but other than that, 99% of my work can wait until Monday/business hours. I know that not everyone has this luxury, but if you have it, take advantage of it!
    Since my commute is super short, I usually plan to “veg” when I get home by watching a TV show, checking FB, and generally being lazy for at least 30 min. Then I deal with working out, dinner or class/homework.

  7. friends – most of my friends aren’t in my field and I really enjoy that b/c it means that we can hang out and not be tempted to talk about work.

  8. Email Hygeine :

    Another good reason (OK, 2) to keep work and email separate:

    1. If you work in the public sector, your work email account may be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

    2. If you work for a private employer, have you checked your employer’s computer use policy? Have they reserved the right to view your email? Do they do it? Are you comfortable with what they will find?

    • Ha – I always think about some poor contract attorney having to scroll through the inanities of the 2,700 emails currently in my inbox (not to mention the hundreds or thousands in my sent items) during doc review, in the event that my employer gets sued. Poor, poor fictional doc reviewer!

      • SF Bay Associate :

        #2- this is SO TRUE. In my experience, the absolute worst are electrical/software engineers. After doing a doc review, I know everything about them from what work projects they were on and other legit email, to where they are thinking of buying a house, to who is cheating on their wife, to whose kid is flunking math (scandal!), to what kind of dog they are looking to adopt, to their porn preferences. The latter was the most prevalent – it is SHOCKING how much porn engineers at companys we all know are swapping all day. And because they are mixing their porn WITH WORK communications in the SAME EMAIL, it’s not filtered out and we get to review ALL of it.

        Ruby, most of your personal emails will probably get filtered out and we’ll never look at them at all. I try to craft the best filters possible so I don’t have to waste time reviewing obviously irrelevant docs.

        • Yeah, but I wouldn’t rely on a filter. Just DON’T use your work email for personal emails. Period. It is not worth a colleague/friend/random person reading through your divorce/dating life/etc.

          • SF Bay Associate :

            Absolutely true. One cannot rely on the filters, which is one of the many reasons why I do not use work email for personal matters under any circumstances. I merely mention the filters for the same reason I mention it to clients suddenly realizing what personal information is in their email – most of it will get filtered out in an effort to keep review costs down, I am totally uninterested in your personal emails, and I look at thousands of emails so I’m not going to remember what I saw anyway. All that said, don’t use your work email for personal emails.

          • Alanna of Trebond :

            But that’s the BEST part of doc review!

        • Oh, I actually don’t use my work email for personal stuff at all (so easy to just have gmail open in another window and avoid this all). But if my company ever got sued, they’d have a thousand emails of “Is that meeting on the 9th floor or the 8th?” and “Anyone up for Starbucks?”. “I’m in”, “Me too!”. “Meet at the elevator at 3?” and “I can’t go but can you get me a mocha?”. Ad infinitum.

        • Last Responder :

          Never rely on a filter. The things I have seen as an occasional document reviewer. — The endless porn, the discussion of the sex lives of teenaged children, the resumes and cover emails (one of which was sent my someone with whom I went to law school many years ago).

  9. There seems to be a consensus that work/personal lives should be separate, but wouldn’t it e easier to juggle if they weren’t? If your co-workers and business contacts were also truly “friends” wouldn’t networking be easy? Obviously there may be people in your day-to-day work with whom you would prefer not to socialize, but isn’t that true in your personal life, too? (I assume everyone has at least one less than charming relative or in-law or spouse’s childhood friend who they see from time to time.)

    • anon in nyc :

      I think it’s easier to juggle when things are more mashed up. One example: I used to carry a Blackberry and a personal cell phone. I switched to an iPhone, have everything (work, home, etc.) all on the same device, and am much happier. Work-life balance is hard enough without adding in the extra stress of keeping everything separate.

      • Anonymous :

        I agree. Sometimes it is easier to make personal phone calls from work during business hours regarding doctor bills, etc. Then, in the evening, I can catch up on work that is not dependent on business hours. If someone wants to read the occasional “love ya” email to my hubby, well, more power to them.

  10. AccountingNerd :

    I try to keep my personal life separate by not friending anyone on facebook and keeping my profile set to where people can’t find me even if they search for me. It also helps that I’m only one of a handful of people here under 30.

    I like keeping my work life away from my personal life, but it’s hard when you live in a small town and run into the Inspector General of the agency you are auditing at the Piggly Wiggly on saturday morning. I frequently run into co-workers and upper management around town, and it’s made me think twice before leaving the house with dirty hair and work out clothes.

    • AAAAAAAA this is my life! I will never forget running into our Board Chair at the local grocery on a Sunday afternoon…I was wearing a ratty t-shirt and bleach-streaked sweatpants, hair dragged up into a messy bun. The cherry on top was the previous evening’s eye makeup — not so classy. Thankfully for me, he was wearing basketball shorts and a tank top. I think we’ve both silently agreed never to refer to that incident again.

  11. Is anyone else surprised to see so much discussion of Facebook and social media on a post about “personal” life? I don’t use any of those sites, and don’t consider “virtual” socializing to be part of my “personal” life.

    I’d love to see more discussion of the actual, physical personal life and how to separate it from work. I have a job where the email never lets up, even though it’s pretty easy for me to take a day off here and there, in part because it’s so easy to reach me if needed. I feel burnt out and frazzled even though I really don’t actually work more than 45 hours per week. And I can’t stop thinking about work, even after I leave the office and am doing other things. Anyone else like this?

    • I think for a lot of young people FB has really invaded our personal lives. I actively try to restrict the amount of time I spend on there as I would prefer to really spend time with my friends in person.

      Also I would note that when someone friends you on FB, whether it be a client, networking contact, or family member (hello parents) that you don’t want seeing what your friends are posting on your wall or posting then it can create a problem that didn’t exist before. Some people feel that FB should be used for all contacts. Those of us who were some of the first on FB are quickly finding this concerning and moving farther away from using it constantly.

      • I’m 28. I guess people are using Facebook at my work, but if they are, I don’t know about it.

    • “I feel burnt out and frazzled even though I really don’t actually work more than 45 hours per week. And I can’t stop thinking about work, even after I leave the office and am doing other things. Anyone else like this?”

      Right there with ya! I find myself waking up at 2 am worrying about a particular issue, have stress induced acid reflux (no more coffee, boo!), and have started grinding my teeth at night. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I can tell you I honestly have thought about hanging up my “corporette” hat and just finding a job to pay the bills for a little bit. Hopefully some of the brilliant ladies here have some advice!

      • Ruby and L –
        Just want you to know I feel for you. It really is hard when a job you don’t love (I’m assuming here) infiltrates your waking and sleeping hours. One thing I would do during a particularly stressful time in my practice was make lists and keep paper and pen by my bed so when I thought of something, I could write it down. Something about putting the idea down on paper let me not dwell on it. That’s a small thing and not a complete fix.

        Have you been like this in a previous job/internship or is it unique to this job? Just wondering if it has popped up with this particular job and maybe related to duties that are a part of this job or if it’s something that you struggle with because you are awesome overachievers. :) Maybe you could start there and then start to note the specific situations that invade your thoughts at all hours. What are they? What specifically is stressing you about them? Is it a person, a project, certain tasks? Or is it the job in general? Maybe if you can pin some of this down, you can make decisions about what to do next.

        • I actually do love my job. It just gets overwhelming. If I didn’t love it, I probably wouldn’t care enough to worry about it at night.

        • I love my job, but there are just certain aspects that unfortunately are out of my control. And I have no control over the workflow.

          • Yes, this. So much this. If I had the ability to turn down projects my life would be 100% better.

      • Super-stressed anon :

        Yep, me too. I’ve recently decided that it’s my stress-coping skills, and not my job, that needs an overhaul. Because I love my job, but I’m just too enmeshed in it and I’ve nearly lost myself in the job. To that end, I’m starting a yoga class today (thanks, Living Social coupon!). I’ll let you know how it goes.

      • I hung up my corporette last month. I used to work in insurance defense as an attorney. I LOVED my job. I LOVED the cases I worked on and the assignments I had. But it was so stressful and the billable hours were taking a lot of time away from my family and my personal life. Not to mention my commute was 2 hours each way. I made a quick decision and transplanted myself away from this work environment. I now work as a paralegal in a tiny law firm. The job itself I do not like nearly as much. But my short commute, my family life, and my personal life have improved ten fold. I still worry about whether I made the wrong decision but I know I did what was best for me at this time. I hope to transition into an attorney position in the future (my employer hired me with this intention).

        It was a huge leap of faith and I am having a very interesting journey as a result.

    • Research, not Law :

      First off, unless checking email outside of work hours is required for your job, don’t do it. Deal with it in the morning. The only time I check is if I go home early and want to respond to something that may have come up during the work day, or if there is something unusual going on that requires more attention. If you really can’t wait until morning, establish an “office hour” in the evening and check only at that time.

      I suggest you come up with some ritual for denoting the end of your work day. I can speak from experience that you need to just turn off that part of your brain. It could be as simple as blaring a favorite song on your commute or walking your dog when you get home. After-work dance or exercise classes did the trick for me. Something about changing into completely different clothes and using a completely different part of my brain. Not to say that I never think about work outside of work, but it’s minimal on a typical day.

      • It is required. It is soooo required. Meh.

        I go to yoga after work every day… and then I come home and check work email and put out a fire or two. I’ve tried talking to my boss about my workload, but no dice so far. Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone!

  12. Anon for this :

    On the separating work life from personal life in a small town front:

    Reviewing medical records, I saw that several clients use the same behavioral health place where I am a patient. (I’m an atty and I’m reviewing their medical records as part of their cases.) I don’t go there for therapy but go there for medication. Currently, I’m newly diagnosed with a new issue and I’m going every 3 weeks or so for a check in on how the new med is doing.

    There are 5 docs and they all share a waiting room. I always get the first thing in the morning appointment but I am always stressing about running into my clients there. It makes me sad because I wouldn’t be upset to see them at the gym or at the gyno but for some reason seeing them at a mental health place seems so intrusive. It hasn’t happened yet but it could.

    Thoughts? My current plan if one was to walk in while I was waiting is to just say a polite “hello” and continue reading my magazine.

    • I would explain this to your doc on the phone and ask if there’s another place you could waiting room. You can tell her you’re concerned about your own privacy and running into people you would prefer not to run into, without disclosing anything about your clients. I’m surprised to hear that a mental/behavioral health place has a large waiting room. I go to therapy and my therapist schedules very carefully to avoid having people waiting together.

    • Anon – your strategy sounds fine to me. I also live in a small town and while I never ran into anyone from my professional life in my pyschologist’s waiting room, I ran into my psychologist himself a couple times around town. We said hi and went about our respective business.

    • Anonymous :

      Your plan is perfect.

      And remember, as you enact your plan (as needed) you are striking a blow for the de-stigmitization of mental health needs and mental illness.

      In the same way that people might be private about, but not ashamed of their bodies’ inability to properly produce insulin or lactose digesting chemicals, we need to be to allow that not everyone’s brain functions exactly the way we might like and that getting help is better than not getting help.

      Feel good about the fact that you are taking care of yourself and don’t be ashamed of it!

  13. This is an interesting topic for me, since I recently embarked on a huge career transition, moving to a relatively small town to be a general surgeon. Futher complicating this, my husband and I now work at the same hospital, are in the same practice and see overlapping patients.

    Essentially, it is impossible to separate personal and professional life for me here, and while I love parts of it, there are other parts that I’m less comfortable with. For instance, I ran into one of the nurses in the grocery store — I was dressed in a less than professional manner, and had this realization that I may want to be more careful; it’s one thing to run into a nurse looking like a schlub, it’s another to run into a patient.

    My husband and I have always had a lot of shop talk between us, but we are trying to limit it to after our 2 year old goes to bed. That also gives us a couple of hours in the evening to decompress, and then if we have to return to issues, it sometimes seems less intense and urgent.

    My personal phone is my professional phone — part of being here is being available 24 hours a day, to whichever physician in the community needs me.

    So yeah, no boundaries here. But I trail run during the day, work four days a week, and love the community. It’s a toss up!

    • Haha–that reminds me of my mom rolling her eyes at my MD dad’s refusal to so much as go pick up a box of ice cream if he was wearing his yard work shorts! We frequently ran into patients at church, and my sisters and I were aware that the good behavior expectations were somehow even more important during those greetings/conversations.

  14. Blonde Lawyer :

    Anyone (lawyers, doctors, accountants) end up friends with or socializing with clients? At my prior job it seemed common for the attorneys to become friends with the business clients. My new job is more family law/PI. I have met a few clients that I could see myself being friends with if I met them in another setting but I have never considered trying to establish a friendship outside of the office.

    Do you think whether this is done depends on the type of law? It seems borderline unethical to hang out w/ your criminal law clients lol but no one seems to care about hanging out with your white collar clients. Instead that is networking!

    • Lawyer here. I don’t, but my boyfriend (also a lawyer) has a few clients who have become friends (with the purely social meetings starting after the case ends). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but even so I’ve always found it to be a bit strange. I can’t imagine making the jump from lawyer to friend.

      • I actually think this is somewhere men have us when it comes to client relationship building. I find it awkward also, but, the “rainmakers” at my firm count their clients as friends, and get lots of repeat buisness and referrals as a result.

  15. I am pretty avid about trying to keep my work and personal lives separate. (1) I don’t friend coworkers on Facebook, ever. Even if I know that they’re on there, I don’t send friend requests, and I would politely decline theirs. If they want me to know about how their Saturday bbq went, they’ll tell me over lunch. (2) I try to train my friends and family to use my personal email, not my work email address. It’s less convenient, and checking a web-based email program (or my smart phone) at work is more obviously not-work than using the company’s Outlook, but I’d rather be caught on the web than with a zillion personal emails in my work Inbox. YMMV. (3) I try very hard to not give my clients my cell phone number. I’m in tax, not heart surgery, so questions can usually wait until I’m in the office, and does someone really want to discuss their tax return while I’m at the grocery store? Right now it’s a luxury I try to protect. I offer to stay late/come in to the office on Saturday if that’s the timing that works for a phone call, rather than having them call me at home. (This is where I like having a very short commute. It’s only a quick jaunt to the office.) (4) I have a separate laptop for personal stuff. Work gave me big powerful laptop, but I prefer to lock it in my desk at nice. For evenings or weekends where I check Facebook, read blogs, and generally surf the net, I use my own little netbook. I can install the software I want, and I don’t have to answer for the brower history to anyone. If I’m travelling, I might just take my work laptop (unless it’s a true vacation), but to the extent that I can, separate computers. This has the added bonus of making me less likely to check my work emails on a Sunday morning.

    • I never give my cell phone to clients. Same situation – most of the stuff they need to call about, even if urgent, isn’t truly an emergency and can wait until the next business day.

    • Barrister in the Bayou :

      I just discovered google voice today after a client asked me to text him a phone number because he was really busy at work. I downloaded the app after I signed up on the computer; they give you a phone number and you can use it for free for texts and calls, and you can route the texts and calls to your existing cellphone.

      I felt like a flippin’ genius today!

      • I’m so glad you mentioned this — it’s a great solution for me that I hadn’t stumbled across before. Thank you!

    • I never give my cell to clients, either. Sometimes (I’ll give it to the other side where we need to negotiate an agreement over the weekend; and everyone at work has it on the intranet; but never ever do I give it to clients. Except for the one who pulled it off of her caller ID and then proceeded to call me every two hours while I was sitting in my dying family member’s hospital room … to discuss a completely non-emergency issue … super.

      As to work email/personal email – this is not legal advice, obviously, but my understanding is that you have zero, zip expectation of privacy in your work email account, whether there is a stated policy or not, and if you are using your personal email account your employer can take screenshots or read whatever is showing, but cannot capture your password and go into your personal account unauthorized (I think there was a case where that actually happened – yikes).

      • Most employers have keyboard-capture software, which allows them to see every character you type, whether in professional or personal accounts. So do keep your emails separate, and it’s usually fine to read your personal one at work, but beware of confidentiality! If they want to, they can see what you typed into your personal account about what a schmuck your boss is and how impatiently you’re awaiting that job offer :-).

  16. I carry two devices with me – work iPhone and personal blackberry. Some people look at me as if I’m crazy but it keeps me from having to comply w/ work protocol on the BB (people, you should read the policies your work puts you about your computer, files on the computer, 3rd party devices).

  17. anon professor :

    What I find most awkward is running into students in the relatively small town we all live in. Nothing like having your kid throw a tantrum in a restaurant when the server is in the class you teach! We’ve stopped hiring students from the school as babysitters, housesitters, etc., because of a few uncomfortable incidents.

    • Research, not Law :

      LOL, been there! I miss teaching, but not that aspect of it. I had one particularly eye-opening run-in with a student which my friends laughed about for months. I learned to be more selective in my activities, but then I was arranging my life around where I might see students (in the small university town, which is limiting enough)

    • It’s even better to run into them in bars.

      One of my prof friends went with students when she got her latest tattoo. That seemed oddly line-crossing to me.

      • Heh… Nothing like hearing across a crowded bar “You’re my physics TA!”. (At least I was only a lowly grad student.)

    • My worst was having a student who obviously hadnt even tried to find info in the textbook chapts assigned or class notes try to pin me down about items on the study guide while I, a single mom, was picking up meds for my sick 3-yr-old at THE grocery store.

    • Running into therapy patients around town — really awkward. I’ve definitely modified where I go (or at least am really mindful when I go places where I know there’s reasonable odds of running into patients).

  18. Joy Sargent-Smith :

    In keeping your work and personal communications separate, there’s a good legal reason to do that. With new e-discovery rules out there, if you do business on your home computer or personal phone it could be subpoenaed and be discoverable. Better to keep separate phones.

  19. Recently Downgraded :

    I’m slightly confused by most of these – I didn’t realize an associate could have a personal life in this market. By the time I get off from my 2nd job in the evening that I need to pay my student loans, all I can think about is sleep. Weekends are spent catching up on non-billable and marketing tasks. I deleted my FB page because the constant flow of people having fun, going on vacation, and generally being happy was overwhlemingly isolating to me.

    • You sound so sad! Even if the news from people became isolating to you, I hope you’re still in touch with your close friends on phone, e-mail and the odd meetup. Hopefully things will improve.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      You are not alone. I know many others that quit facebook for the same reason. Don’t forget, most people only put their happy life on Facebook. Their real life may be much different.

  20. I have sort of the reverse question about Linked In: What about linking to people with whom you are purely socially connected? I have had several Linked In requests from non-work friends and acquaintances. Is it weird to link to people whose work is completely unrelated to yours? Also, I feel like a bit of a mean girl, but one request came from someone who is smart and well-respected in her (completely unrelated) field, but also kind of crazy and I don’t want to be associated with her, so I guess I’m kind of looking for an affirmation of my decision.

    Thank you to Corporette and the hive mind for finally getting me to sign up for Linked In in the first place. Once I did it I realized it was smart to do it now and develop a profile rather than scramble to set something up if/when I’m looking for a job. Still need a head shot though. Any recs in DC?

    • LinkedIn was my Facebook before Facebook became open to the general public. Most of my friends were in some kind of IT, but they added me even knowing I was a CPA, so it’s an odd mishmash. (Though now I just let people think I’m a great networker.)

    • You absolutely don’t have to friend anyone on LinkedIn that you wouldn’t in real life, or that you have doubts about. Basically, anyone on LinkedIn may be asked for a recommendation about you, informally, without you even knowing. “so how do you know her? she’s applying at our company, do you think she’s crazy :-)?”. Anyone who might emit a negative opinion about you should not be listed in your friends.
      I’d add that you want to be careful not to friend people at new jobs too quickly – it’d be ankward to defriend someone who’s turned out to be a raving maniac at work, but you’d definitely need to do it, at worst after they leave.
      That said, I do have a few LI-friends that I have not actually worked with, but met through common work in an association. That’s work too, they can testify I’m not crazy if push comes to shove :-).

  21. I never used to worry about work-life balance/separation before becoming a mom. Now I feel the division much more (ie, a kid forces you to have a life outside work) and also feel much more pressure to have clear boundaries (academics are generally not prepared to talk about kid stuff). Toughest for me is deciding what to say when I’m wiped and not getting things done when I planned to. A close second–responses to male colleagues who flout what “great dads” they are the few weeks out of the year when the kids are at their house.

  22. I wrote about the importance of pseudonyms for this recently at the wonderful project.

  23. (I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of pseudonymity lately, and in fact your blog is one of the two that keeps coming to mind — Marginal Revolution being the other — as an example of a place where not just pseudonymous but sometimes wholly anonymous commenters, without even a login, can create a really thoughtful and supportive and interesting comments section, even on controversial topics, because the bloggers (that’s you!) do a good job setting the tone and building a relationship with the audience. I’m impressed at your ability to do that. Hope someday I have the knack.)

  24. As far as physical space at the office, I always made a rule that I didn’t want to have more personal objects in that space than I could comfortably carry to the car if things went bad (I’m talking about photos, books, art, mementos, awards, etc.). Silly, huh? Not really. I have quit more than one job and nothing slows you down faster than thinking about having to spend extra hours sorting and packing before you can make the get-away!

    Also, I think its just about mutual respect. The employer pays for that physical space in order for someone to accomplish work. It’s not, nor ever was, “my” office. Many women treat their offices like second homes. I have always thought it looked rather tacky.

  25. one thing to consider: don’t post anything on facebook you wouldn’t want your boss to see. with FB’s increasing inability to respect privacy and their ever-changing privacy settings, what you think is private may in fact be open to the whole world to see.

    i rarely update FB, but i have an anonymous twitter and blog (i know anonymity doesn’t really exist, but i don’t share the links with anyone i know and never type anything tha could identify me through a google search). that way i can be FB friends with coworkers and bosses without being afraid my big mouth will ruffle feathers.

  26. busy&happy :

    One of the best books I ever read was The Working Mother’s Guide to Life, by Linda Mason. It’s full of thought-provoking advice and one of the chapters discusses work-life balance. She raises the point that some people are separators (like me) and others (like my husband) are blenders who keep some aspects of their personal lives active at work, and vice versa. I think the key is to figure out which style works best for you and then conscientiously structure your days along those lines whenever possible.

    As for the discussion about commuting earlier in the thread, I find it really helpful to stop at my door before I walk in, take a deep breath and mentally move into ‘home’ mode before I open the door to the chaos of dinner and homework and baths and more.

  27. What do you all do about people within the same company, but not the same department? I have a few of these – a woman I met on the first day of our company’s orientation who I get lunch with regularly, an old friend of my husband’s family whose work function sometimes overlaps with mine, but we mainly talk about a shared hobby. Is it a bad idea to be FB friends with these people? And how do you handle emails that are both work and personal in nature? (“I have a question about this policy…. and how was your race this weekend?”)

  28. In today’s society where many things are gauged through social media and social networking it’s very important to keep in mind what information is going where. To separate personal from professional life online i suggest using different sites for the two areas and keep them separate. For instance I use FB for personal use while I use LinkedIn and for professional things.

  29. Having watched and been party to more than one layoff where people had to leave swiftly and immediately and could not ever return to their desk or computer, I stay prepared to go. So, I keep a copy of my contacts lists in both personal and work email addresses. I print out or forward all the useful work email to my personal email. Have some personal stuff on my desk but nothing sentimental. It’s sad that this is how it is but also it is sad that employers have to so careful about lawsuits and retaliation that exiting employees are treated like criminals.