No, I’m not that interested in your personal life

Even though my spouse and I own a small, “mom and pop” business, we are consummate professionals who prefer to keep the lines between business and personal interactions clearly delineated. Our employees have often seemed confused about our formal approach to business, due to our small office environment and our casual attire when working in the office. We have been regaled over the years with all types of employees’ drama, for example, “My girlfriend wants to get an abortion now that I have gotten her pregnant; what do you think I should do?”; “I’m going to need some time off work, even though I have not earned it, because I want to get breast implants; is that okay with you?”; “My ‘life partner’ wants me to look as young as he does; do you think a man my age should dye his hair and use Botox to please him?”; etc. etc. etc. My answer to these questions is always different from the answer I would like to provide, that is, “Why in the world are you telling me this? Do you really think I need to know the inner most secrets of your personal life? And, most important, what exactly does any of this have to do with your employment at Magnus?”. Neither my partner nor I encourage this type of over sharing behavior on the part of our employees, however, partly because our employees are comfortable working for us and partly because I am a psychologist who, as it seems, is never off duty when it comes to helping people, we are subjected to these encounters again and again. The bottom line is I would like for the employees to concentrate on working while they are at work, just as they enjoy their personal time when they are off work. I truly am not interested in anyone’s personal life outside my close circle of friends and family. I truly am not!

We have heard some strange, and somewhat extreme, things from employees and having operated small businesses, it is hard for me to know whether this sometimes sharing of extremely personal information is “normal” in larger environments.  I find it hard to believe that it would be, especially given the hierarchy in large businesses; that is, sharing these things with the CEO would seem very strange!  But, even with less extreme examples I have been surprised at how open and eager to share, some employees, and applicants, have been.  I have always been one to play things “close to the chest,” so maybe that is why I find it strange.  But, we have had to counsel some employees that they are hired to work, not engage in story telling about their personal lives, their recent dates, their weekend activities, etc.  There is no doubt that personal issues impact work, both the good ones and the sad ones.  However, for employees, it is important to consider what is said and how it might be received.  For employers, being cautious about setting the tone of the office as being too personal can be very dangerous.  For me/us, we are at work to work; while not wanting to seem insensitive to employees’ personal issues, as a rule, we try to be very careful to stay away from non productive discussions about personal issues.

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