You come in your office on a Monday morning and you see two of your workmates talking about their recent weekend, showing their Instagram stories to each other as they do. Then they ask you about yours. Would you tell them about your very hot date last Saturday, or would you tell them it’s none of their business?
This was what learning platform Udemy tried to investigate after doing a survey with more than 1,000 workers asking about what kind of behavior is appropriate in the workplace. You would think that we all have a collective idea of what’s okay to do at work or not, but no. The lines are getting blurred and not everyone’s too happy about it.
According to Udemy’s research, there are a number of things that may make co-workers and even those in managerial level uncomfortable:
Today’s workplace doesn’t look the same as 10 years ago mainly because of the kind of workforce you see in offices, now that 40% of which are Millennials and Gen Zs. To entice these young professionals to work for them, companies are changing their workplace dynamics. You should no longer be surprised if you see your workmate go to work in shorts and sneaks, or that your office removes all the cubicles in exchange for open collaborative spaces with a pool table and foosball.
Because of this very casual setting, things tend to get too personal between coworkers. And social media plays a major factor in this behavior trend, too. Managers and employees are more pressured nowadays to follow each other on social media, further blurring the lines of professionalism between workmates. So you took a sick leave today because you wanted a spontaneous trip to the beach? Make sure you hide your Facebook update from your boss. You got hurt because your officemate didn’t invite you to her wedding? Tell her about it at work after she’s done with her honeymoon.
This “casualness” doesn’t sit well with a majority of employees, apparently. And it’s not even a baby boomer-Gen Z generational difference. The Udemy survey reports that people considered to be ‘social butterflies’ (think of the brunch-going, group cycling classes-taking types) are more accepting of casual behavior in the workplace as compared to ‘worker bees’ who prefer to keep their lives outside of work private. When the two groups were asked about perceived behavior appropriateness, it turned out the social butterflies were more accepting of too informal chats or messaging, gossiping, and talking about romantic relationships while at work. But what about the worker bees who feel uncomfortable with it all?
Seeing that this new dynamic is very much felt in today’s workplace and is starting to become a real issue between coworkers, how should the companies deal with it? There is no right or wrong in this situation, but it’s important that everyone’s expectations are managed, and managed well. Because the last thing any company wants is to deal with an employee who thought it was okay to tell his co-worker to his face that he was getting fat, or that work wasn’t getting done because of two employees fighting over a gossip, instead of actually getting any work done. It is a workplace, after all.