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6/5/2001

Keep It to Yourself, Sometimes

Kate Traynor

Knowing when to discuss your personal life and when to remain silent is an essential part of mastering the art of office politics.

When something happening outside of work affects your ability to do your job, your supervisor needs to know about the issue. But how much you need to reveal—and when to bring up the issue—depends on your individual circumstance. The advice given below, most of which comes from About.com Inc. and Careerbuilder Inc., addresses a few of the ins and outs of discussing personal issues with coworkers.

Financial troubles. In-depth discussions with your colleagues about your credit-card debt or loan-repayment problems are not appropriate at work. But if your wages are about to be garnisheed for child-support payments or other debts, let your human resources department hear about the situation from you first.

Divorce. Since the stress of a divorce can affect your job performance, it is a good idea to tell your colleagues about this personal issue. Giving coworkers the details, though, is usually unnecessary.

Pregnancy. It may be in your best interest to keep a pregnancy under wraps as long as you can. The pressure to commit to a specific work-return date can be enormous, and your decision about how long to stay home may change as the pregnancy progresses. But if you have or expect to have a difficult pregnancy, it's better to be open about the issue as soon as you suspect trouble.

Illness. In the case of a serious illness, an employee may need to weigh the personal benefit of openly airing information against the fear of other employees or the employer using that information in a detrimental way. If the illness prevents you from coming to work or fulfilling your job duties, it may be helpful to you to discuss the problem with your supervisor.