You spend most of your waking hours together, usually no more than 5ft apart. You can finish one another’s sentences, but often you don’t need to say anything at all, because they truly understand you and know that slight flicker of your eyebrow means “WTF?!!”. You are completely in sync when it comes to making cups of tea and they know exactly when it’s wine o’clock….even if that comes as early as 12 on a Tuesday. Yep, those all-important colleagues.
As a bug eyed 23-year-old starting my shiny new job in a law firm, I distinctly remember the moment a Senior Director made a comment about how he spent more time with his Assistant than he did his wife. “What an overreaction” I scoffed. He was clearly obnoxious and showing off; maybe he wanted me think he was a “big dog” that was working crazy hours. Six years later, I know exactly what he means. (I should also point out I was convinced it would be the exact same as Ally McBeal and was severely disappointed when everyone was so normal and the toilets were not the source of all interesting conversations and spontaneous dance routines).
Thanks to sky rocketing office rents in London, we spend on average 10 hours a day in cramped, poorly lit offices with our colleagues. All three of my “office mates” claim they are introverts (apparently it’s a Russian thing) yet I know more about their inner thoughts, fears and state of their bodily functions than I do my own. I can list what vitamins they are taking, know that one pretends to be highly allergic to coriander and another is constantly cold. Not only can I name their extended family members but their childhood pets too. I’m quietly confident that I could crack the security questions on their online banking – I have amassed that much information on them.
My boyfriend recently commented that he finds it bizarre that I WhatsApp colleagues the same way I might my friends – even on weekends. I put this down to him being an accountant (a notoriously dull bunch, right?) but he got me thinking: What is too much information in work? And, what counts as oversharing?
Office rules 101 says not to discuss politics, religion, salary or how crap the guy two offices down is. But what does it say about relationships? Home life? Tinder? Is it too far to tell people what you really did this weekend?
My recently divorced boss certainly missed any form of memo. The filter-less man recently started dating again and decided he would leverage off the inside knowledge of the three women he sits with. Tinder messages were discussed in depth, responses carefully crafted, the dates were dissected in more detail than what you’d expect from a bunch of schoolgirls after a night in Wesley. It was fun at first – it beat talking about financial models- it was only when we planned the “are we exclusive” conversation during my performance appraisal meeting that it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, it had gone too far.
I absolutely get it, for some the ability to be yourself and talk openly makes it easier to drag yourself out of bed in the morning. A new mum of twin boys commented that she felt such relief musing freely in work about the gross things her kids had done; that where other mums might judge, her colleagues were in stitches at her 18 month old chewing on a dead mouse the cat had dragged in.
Others have pretty uncomfortable experiences of oversharing, like a friend who sits through her manager’s marital spats on loud speaker. Given every office environment is different, perhaps watercooler whispers for one team is open free flowing banter for another. In either scenario, the boss should probably keep the gory details of his love life to himself.