Workplace Survival: Managing Your Privacy

CMA* Manoeuvre: I like, and am on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. What I am aiming for here is to caution users about the risks of full disclosure of their lives while using these tools.

I used to think my Baby Boomer mother was ridiculously guarded about her
privacy, especially at work. I used to think she was the product of a
stuffy, slow generation.

Mom, you were so right, and I was so wrong.

We're in an amazing age with beyond-instant communication, where everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame every day in cyberspace. With that comes great responsibility and vigilance.

I'm not for a moment promoting that we shut off our phones, disable our
profiles, and stop socializing with colleagues. The other extreme of
becoming a corporate hermit can be just as damaging to your career.
You need to be social to gain some trust and camaraderie, and you also need to be strategic about what you share and with whom.

Privacy in the Cube:
During my years in cubicleland, I've noticed a shift in people's levels of
disclosure while on the phone or chatting with colleagues. I and my
contacts have had the unfortunate pleasure of hearing others not even
try to hide the details of the following:
  • How sexual they were or weren't on their date the other night
  • When their prescription cream used to treat an STD has run out and they need to get a refill
  • Laughing about driving home drunk and the things they ran into on the way
  • Which coworkers they've slept with
  • That they're going to the bathroom to purge their lunch so don't come looking for them
  • Working with attorneys to have their parole completed and expunged from their criminal record, etc.

Yes, they make for great "would you believe?" stories to go home and tell our loved ones. The downside is that people remember these things and that can later influence if they want to promote, hire, or recommend them.

Privacy Online:

Is it necessary to friend everyone we work with? Think of it this way; if you want to risk venting on your online social profile about a bad day at the office, a colleague, etc., you may as well send a mass email at work and cut out the middle man.

Instead of having your coworkers listed as your friends, you can use LinkedIn. True, we do make genuine friends at work; however, have you checked whom they have listed among their friends? Are you comfortable with their network viewing:

  • Postings about your work rage?
  • Photos from that crazy trip to Vegas?
  • Perhaps you played hooky from work one day and went and posted what a great time you had at a baseball game or a concert**? (**A practice which I do not advocate! You could get sooooooo fired for that!)
Do you really want anyone to be privy to how you spend your personal time?

Furthermore, potential employers can google candidates without their knowledge. Like it or not, this can influence their decision to move forth or take you out of the running, and you'll never know. Heck, I'm the first to admit that even
this blog you're reading can certainly affect future possibilities in my own career, which is why I keep my personal anecdotes and examples as anonymous and general as possible.

Social Networking and Professional Networking are,
and should be separate.

You should be the one to decide when you cross-network, and not leave the
option open to everyone who googles you or finds you on Facebook.

The Bottom Line:

By disclosing every detail of your life, you've given away a lot of power
and privacy. We're observed and tracked enough already, so why would we
want to add to that? So, the next time you feel like posting how your
recent trip to the bathroom went or what you really thought of your
coworker's haircut, think about if it's worth everyone knowing, or just a
quick text message to a trusted friend.

*CMA = Covering my Assets

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