Sometimes you just don’t want to share what you did this weekend with your coworker—especially if it led straight to this morning’s secret hangover.
Although in an ideal world, we’d be able to draw a clear line between our home and work lives, the reality is that it’s never that simple. Your boss follows you on Twitter, family members frequently call you at work, and your colleagues constantly overshare or ask prying questions.
It goes without saying that it’s important to be on good terms with your coworkers, but if you allow your work relationships to spill over into your personal life, you may find yourself spending as much time on office drama as you do checking emails, which can prevent you from doing your job effectively.
So where do you draw the line between being sociable at work and keeping your private life private? And how can you do this without seeming like an insensitive jerk? If you’ve struggled with keeping your personal life out of the office, here are a few tips for maintaining a healthy balance.
IDENTIFY YOUR PERSONAL BOUNDARIES
Protecting your personal space and setting clear boundaries at work can benefit your mental well-being, reduce stress, and even improve office social dynamics.
Before you can separate your private life from work, however, you’ll need to know where your personal boundaries lie. We’re all different. What makes one person uncomfortable might seem trivial to another. What’s comfortable (or uncomfortable) for you?
Start by identifying some of the main things people do at work that make you feel uncomfortable or cause you unnecessary stress. Would you rather not be called at home after a certain time? Does it bother you when your colleagues gossip about other employees? Would you prefer not to discuss your religion, finances, or personal relationships at work?
Pssst, whether you’re starting a new job or currently dealing with weird office politics, that whole work-life split is tricky.
THEN ASSERT THOSE BOUNDARIES
Once you’ve defined your personal boundaries, you need to clearly communicate these to your managers and coworkers. If you’ve never set boundaries at work before, you’ll probably feel a bit uncomfortable or even guilty at first, but as long as you remain polite and professional, clearly outlining your boundaries will help prevent any misunderstandings in the long run.
Try this: If you notice that you’re being drawn into a conversation that makes you uncomfortable, communicate your boundaries by saying something like “I’m sorry, that’s personal,” or “I don’t feel comfortable discussing this at work.” Or if someone is constantly interrupting you with small talk, you could politely but firmly inform them that you need to get back to work.
It’s far better to be open and honest about your boundaries early on than to go along with something you’re not comfortable with, as this could eventually lead to feelings of resentment on both sides.
USE DIFFERENT SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES FOR DIFFERENT PURPOSES
If you’d like to separate your work relationships from your personal ones, it’s a good idea to keep them separate online as well. The easiest way to avoid overlap is to use different social networking sites for different purposes.
For example, Twitter and LinkedIn are excellent tools for developing your professional network, whereas Facebook is often better suited to sharing photos and news with your family and close friends.
Of course, it’s important to communicate these preferences to your contacts as well. So if a work colleague or client sends you a friend request on Facebook, you could politely explain that you use your Facebook account for staying in touch with close friends and family, then invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn or Twitter instead.
Similarly, if friends or family members share personal information or photos of you on the networks you’re trying to use for professional connections, you should let them know that you’d prefer to use Facebook for personal interactions.
ACCEPT THAT YOU’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO FULLY SEPARATE THE TWO
Because our work and private lives are so interconnected, fully separating them isn’t always a realistic goal. Research shows that enforcing overly strict rules about when and where we’re allowed to think about work or deal with personal issues can lead to unnecessary stress in both areas of our lives.
Instead of trying to completely separate your private life from your work life, make it your goal to find a comfortable balance by maintaining professionalism in your personal life while also setting realistic boundaries at work.
It’s inevitable that questions about your kids, marital status, or personal hobbies will come up occasionally when you’re at work. Rather than letting this stress you out, decide in advance how much you’re comfortable sharing with your coworkers or which topics you’re willing to discuss.
Once you accept that your work and private life will in some ways always be connected, you’ll be better able to manage your responsibilities in both areas and enjoy healthier relationships, too.
Do you prefer to keep your private life separate from work? If so, what have your experiences been so far and how do you enforce your personal boundaries at work? Let us know in the comments.