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13 things to keep to yourself at work

  • Story Highlights
  • Over-sharing personal information at work can hurt your reputation and career
  • Recruiter: Woman gave too much information and it made her hard to place
  • Keep your medical history and your love life private
  • Revealing your salary and political beliefs at the office is not a good idea
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Anthony Balderrama writer
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Be careful about spreading gossip because it could hurt your career.

Be careful about spreading gossip because it could hurt your career.

Do you know what TMI is? Chances are you're either guilty of it or have been its victim. It stands for "too much information" and it's making daily life awkward for people across the country.

Just think back to a recent uncomfortable conversation you had with someone -- a friend, family member or total stranger. Things were going well until the other person just laid it all out there: an unnecessary peek into his or her financial situation, sex life or health problems. No matter what you do, your view of an oversharer is forever changed.

If you haven't suffered through one of these conversations, your time will come ... or you are a walking diary.

Painful chitchat on a train is one thing, but workplace TMI is its own monster. At work, oversharing can damage your reputation, make your co-workers avoid you in the hallway and even damage your career.

Here are 13 things you shouldn't share while on the clock:

1. Medical history: Hospitals and human resources departments are prohibited by law from giving out your medical information for a reason. People have a tendency to adjust their behavior when they find out you have, or had, a medical condition. They might treat you like a sick child or make you an outcast.

2. Confidential work information: Hey, did you hear who's getting fired? You -- because you couldn't keep private information to yourself.

3. Plans to quit: When you're hunting for a new job, don't let co-workers know. Loose lips or devious motives can mean your secret search finds its way to the boss.

Possible outcomes: you're let go before you're ready or you're quietly pushed out, which is what happened to Ron Doyle. He mentioned to some co-workers that he and his wife were deciding if one of them needed to quit. Doyle was just thinking aloud and had no intention of turning in his resignation letter quite yet.

"Within 48 hours, I noticed the meetings through the office window -- every administrator present except one -- me," he says. "Communication on critical issues came to a halt and the separation was palpable."

When he eventually quit, everyone was surprised. He explained how ostracized he felt, but they insisted that they had no idea they were acting that way toward him. "Never tell them you might leave -- subconsciously or otherwise, they'll act as if you already have."

4. Online venting sites: If you use your social networking profile or a blog to release frustration about your personal and work life, don't send your co-workers a link. You'll have to clean up your digital dirt (even more than it already should be) and censor yourself from now on.

5. Matters of the heart: Soap operas are fun to watch on TV, but they're not fun to live. Your reputation will suffer if you come into the office in tears one day because you broke up with your significant other and then you dance down the hall the next week because you met the love of your life. Your love life isn't as interesting to anyone else as it is to you, and people may be unable to separate your romantic life from your professional one.

6. Politics: You've seen how out of hand political discussions can get with your family at the dinner table. Do you really want to start that kind of drama at work? Keep in mind that while your family is obligated to love you no matter what, co-workers are not.

7. Salary information: Money's a weird topic in our culture. As eager as we are to find out what other people make, we're not as ready to divulge our earnings. Salary is associated with worth, and when your salary's known, it invites speculation of whether you're being over- or undercompensated. Why are you getting paid that much when another person with the same qualification earns much less?

Vicky Oliver, author of "Bad Bosses, Crazy Co-Workers and Other Office Idiots," also cautions that your accomplishments can be downplayed if this information is public. "You don't want your co-workers to snivel about how you 'don't need the money' every time your boss wants to give you a bonus." Avoid the drama and gossip and keep your salary to yourself.

8. Religion: See politics.

9. Your privileged life: Along the same lines of keeping salary information to yourself, your enviable pull with society's high rollers should also stay private. Although you have the good fortune to know powerful business leaders and social butterflies, bragging about how many doors they've opened for you will tarnish your image.

"Don't rub your privilege in other people's faces," Oliver warns. "People should be rewarded on the basis of merit." Bragging about how you got into an Ivy League school or even in your current position will put doubt about your qualifications.

10. Therapy sessions: Keep your visits with a therapist a private matter. Petty co-workers can start rumors about you or make snide remarks behind your back. No need to put yourself in that situation.

11. The Rubik's Cube that is your personal life: When Marci Diehl worked as a recruiter, she encountered a job seeker who came in to register with the staffing agency -- and she still remembers her over a decade later. The woman came in and explained that her boyfriend was waiting outside with her child because she didn't have a car and that speed was of the essence. Also, her son was not the boyfriend's child.

"Somehow in this tale about the boyfriend, she told us that the boyfriend was not a happy camper, because her 6 year old slept with them every night -- and they'd only been going together for a few weeks," Diehl remembers. Naturally, the agency had a difficult time placing her because she was a risky employee who didn't know when to keep her thoughts to herself.

12. Gossip: One of the big reasons you want to keep important information to yourself is to avoid the gossip it can spur. Well, don't play the gossip game either. Spreading rumors or secrets that you'd want kept secret isn't going to help your career.

13. Your Chris Rock routine: In an episode of "The Office," Michael Scott gets in trouble for repeating, verbatim, a Chris Rock stand-up routine full of racially charged jokes and cuss words. Comedians get paid to be edgy, daring and even offensive. You get fired for it.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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