Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Secret crushes, one night stands and embarrassing illnesses: Is there anything we won’t share with our colleagues?

New research from Google Enterprise looks at the information we are (and aren’t) prepared to share with colleagues and finds

New research from Google Enterprise looks at the information we are (and aren’t) prepared to share with colleagues and finds:

  • Over a third (37%) of workers feel a colleague has shared too much personal information with them
  • We’re more likely to hear about colleagues’ dating disasters, one night stands or secret crushes than their suggestions for saving the organisation money
  • Over a quarter (27%) of those who don’t share their ideas about improving the business believe their organisation’s culture does not encourage idea-sharing
  • Company scandals, secret dislikes of colleagues and staff frustrations are amongst the talking points for office Christmas parties

Are water cooler moments getting too steamy?

The research questioned 1,000 UK office workers and found that 42% say a colleague has shared details of finding someone in the office attractive, a dating disaster or a one night stand.

Many of us are even happy to share inappropriate details about our personal lives with our bosses. Nearly 35% of senior managers and company directors say a colleague has shared an inappropriate photo of themselves or details of an embarrassing illness or sexual fantasy with them.

Shying away from sharing business ideas

But while we’re happy to share our personal information, many of us are less comfortable putting forward suggestions on how to improve the business. Only 30% of workers say that a colleague has shared an idea on how to save the organisation money, and just a third of workers say that a colleague has shared tips on how to be more productive.

When those who don’t share their ideas at work were asked what held them back, half stated that it wouldn’t make any difference even if they did. Over a quarter (27%) believe their organisation’s culture doesn’t encourage idea sharing, suggesting many see working culture as a barrier to collaboration and innovation.

“Sharing at work can be a force for good - as long as we strike the right balance between personal and professional. With online collaborative tools it is easier than ever for employees to collaborate and share ideas that will help improve their work culture and transform their business” comments Roger De’Ath, Google Enterprise Manager, UK.

Executive Coach and author of ‘What’s Wrong with Work?’, Blaire Palmer, added:

“The days when we wanted a clear distinction between work and home have ended. Long working hours and a generally less formal approach to work mean that our job is often our main social outlet so the line between what’s acceptable and what isn’t has moved. At the same time, people need to be aware that they are mainly valued for their contribution to the business, not their hilarious anecdotes and dating disasters. Companies should make sure they are encouraging staff to share their ideas, expertise and information across all levels and making the most of the online collaborative technology that can help them to do this.”

Festive frustrations

As we head into the holiday season, the research also looked into the kind of sharing taking place at office Christmas parties. It found that 30% of workers have listened to colleagues’ frustrations with the organisation, 24% have heard about a secret disliking for colleagues and 20% have been told about a scandal within their organisation.

Blaire Palmer suggests, “The Christmas party is traditionally thought of as a time to wind down and get to know your colleagues on a more personal level but it seems it can encourage an element of over-sharing negative issues from the workplace, which could be damaging to the business and staff morale. Companies need to make time to hear about these frustrations, collaborating with staff to address any issues throughout the year.”

Blaire’s top tips for where to draw the line with sharing in the workplace

  • Ask yourself if you ‘over-share’ when you are nervous: Often, when we feel intimidated by a situation, such as a meeting with the big boss, we try to compensate with over-familiarity. Follow the lead of the most senior person in the room. If they’ve shared something personal, you can. But definitely keep it clean!
  • Listen more than you talk: Sometimes we tell personal stories because we want to build rapport. If building rapport is important to you, you can do that by listening to other people. You don’t have to reveal a great deal about yourself to ‘connect’ with colleagues.
  • Focus on the positives: This research shows that middle managers hardly ever hear about what their people like about work and generally only hear moaning and negativity. Brighten their day by focusing on what you like about the company.
  • Remember that work-related social events are still work-related: Your colleagues cannot erase your behaviour at the Christmas party, annual dinner or after-work-drinks from their memories. By all means party with your colleagues, but remember you’ll have to see them in the cold light of day tomorrow.
  • If you wouldn’t say it in a meeting, don’t say it online: Remember that anything you post on a forum, social media site or write in an email to a colleague is there forever. Ask yourself if you’d mind it being published in the newspaper or whether you would mind if your mum read it.

Google’s top tips for work-based collaboration

1. Embrace BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): Enable employees to use their own devices, with the appropriate business security controls. Research suggests that people like to use the devices they are familiar with and are more productive when they are given the choice.

2. Allow employees to work the way they live: Use online collaboration tools to enable colleagues to work together in real time from wherever they are, inputting ideas into a shared online document at the same time. People can now do amazing work with the web-based tools that they use at home creating, sharing and storing files, allowing better interaction and working practices.

3. Don’t let location get in the way of seeing your colleagues: Enable employees to use online video. - this can help employees work across different locations and get to know each other face-to-face, without having to spend money on transport. Preventing employees from using such tools is the equivalent of asking them to write physical letters to one another.

4. Add a competitive element: Run competitions amongst staff encouraging them to suggest new business ideas that can save the company money, increase sales or improve the work culture. Employees should be given the opportunity to submit entries anonymously and all employees can vote for their favourite suggestions.

5. Be democratic: Run quarterly ‘Town Hall’ meetings where management share their overall strategy with their staff and encourage employees to ask questions and give their insights. It may be that more junior employees can give greater insight into how to improve customer relations, for instance, if they are dealing with customers on a daily basis.