Lately I've been hearing a lot about 20-somethings who are too eager to tell all at work. Whether they are recounting their drunken exploits or their external job searches, their tendency to provide too much information is leaving many managers scratching their heads.
A human resources manager told me that several young workers had asked her how many times they could be absent before she fired them. Another manager was taken aback when an employee casually told him she was looking for a new job that should take six to eight months to land. And a senior manager, asking a direct report how he was doing, was treated to this: "Well, I haven't had sex for five years, so I guess I'm not doing so good."
Granted I have an opinion on this topic that might be more than a little skewed, but I honestly can't recall a time when I've walked away from a conversation with someone of my generation or even a decade or two younger and thought, "Who did you really say that?" Mostly I see this happening with young people who seem to have lost all sense of boundaries and decorum. Recently, however, I've heard a lot of professionals complain that the problem increasingly crosses generations. So why are more and more people oversharing personal information?
One explanation is that it's a continuation of online behaviour, or, as I like to say, Facebook in your face. Social media have made it the norm to tell everybody everything. The problem is that people are forgetting where they are (at work, not a bar or a chat room) and whom they're talking to (bosses, clients, colleagues and the public, not their buddies). And even if they know it's inappropriate to share certain personal information in a business setting, they do it anyway because everyone else does. So they think it must be OK (it's not), and they think that their boss and colleagues are really interested (they're not).
Others attribute the problem to people's desperate need for connection. The workplace has become our second home, so we want to make it as comfortable as possible, which often leads to a lot of sharing. We forget that it's necessary to maintain a certain level of professionalism.
I'm not saying we stop talking to one another about anything not related to work. Sharing some personal information is crucial to building trust and to forging relationships. But I think that some rules will help us control our OSD, or obsessive sharing disorder. Before you open your mouth about your personal life, ask yourself these questions:
Who's listening to me (a boss, a client, a colleague or a friend)?
Why am I sharing this? What's the point?
In this situation, would less be better?
I don't think I'm the exception here. Decency, common sense and just plain good manners will never go out of style. But, if they do, I hope I'm retired.