Tech & Work

When worlds collide: Mixing business and private lives

Do you mix your personal life with your professional life on a regular basis? Here are some instances where that can backfire.

George Costanza called it the Worlds Collide theory. In a nutshell, it means that a man must keep his personal life (i.e., friends) separate from his relationship side (i.e., girlfriend). Should the two worlds come into contact with each other (by means of his girlfriend becoming friends with his friends), both worlds blow up.

(Or as George said, "If Relationship George walks through that door, he will kill Independent George! A George divided against itself, cannot stand!")

I personally practice this same theory when it comes to personal life/professional life divisions. For right or wrong, I have never been comfortable hanging out with co-workers and my significant other at the same time. First, my co-workers and I have an awful lot of in-jokes that are born of hours and hours spent together during stressful situations. I always feel like my husband would be bored or feel left out. Also, I don't think it's particularly advantageous for me for my co-workers or my boss to bear witness to any relationship dynamics I have with my husband, whether they're affectionate or problematic. Can I really maintain professional dignity if my husband refers to be as pookums? (And, no, to his credit and physical safety, he doesn't actually refer to me that way.)

I don't think you have to have multiple personality disorder to want to maintain one image in one environment and a different one in another. It's like when a guy's mom trots out all of his embarrassing baby pictures to show his latest love interest, basically maiming his strides in the romance department.

Here's an example of worlds colliding in a problematic way: Years ago, I worked for a guy who would inexplicably listen to his voice mail at a volume so loud people in the next building were getting his medical updates. One day, I could hear his wife just reaming him about leaving a box of cereal opened on the table at home. Her tone was so sarcastic and I was so embarrassed for him I wanted to run into his office and fling myself over the speaker to muffle it out.

Even though I bore no ill will toward him going forward for being criminally negligent with his Corn Flakes, which in his household seemed to be a jailable offense, I found that I was thereafter a little uncomfortable around him-mostly because he knew I knew about the call.

Of course, that's an extreme case. But I do think that blending the personal and professional can be wrought with risk. What are your thoughts?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

11 comments
JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

My job is just a job, a way to make money. The fact that I love doing what I do makes no difference. My life is defined by my family and my church and, once I walk out the door, I don't think about work or my coleagues at all.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Unless, of course, I happen to have gotten the "milk and bread" phone call (on my personal, [u]not[/u] work cell). In that case, I'll do some shopping on my way out of the last store of the day.

Jaqui
Jaqui

keep my personal life and my professional life seperate. glad I thought of it. :D and yes, I did think of it all on my own, I caught flack from noe employer, for NOT telling him I was getting married. :D

HAL_9000
HAL_9000

Everything is relative - so this is a very subjective topic. Having worked for both larger and smaller companies I would say that the company size, team size, office culture and the dynamics of your relationships with both colleagues and spouse will determine whether they can handle being blended into one life or must be kept separate.

SKDTech
SKDTech

I have seen more than enough horror stories of people losing jobs or not being hired because of things they have posted online. As a result I do my best to maintain separate personal and professional identities only attaching my real name to those online activities which I don't mind a potential employer being able find.

marko.jovanovski
marko.jovanovski

I was of the same opinion, although, I've since always loved my work and my life, I was sharing it with the people I spend my time with. Now, I've realized that there is really no separation between work and private life, just a change in the environment. I think we have hard time in realizing the professionalism is not a life, it is only an required behaviour, for which you have signed a contract. You have to behave as the contract stipulates, and this is different from company to industry. People are social beings and having to be professional without socialising is doable, but for brief periods of time. I was in the army as well, and it is inevitable that bonds are being created. Separating on purpose the friends we have met at work from our private live and the opposite is really not really good as this just adds more distance to both of these worlds, where actually there is only one, your life, your friends from different circles. If we on the other hand insists that there are two separate worlds, than we should not forget that there are also other circles where we spend our time, like family, cousins, sport friends, ...and so on. Separation is adding unnecessary complexity to relatively simple question, ... If I like someone, should I present it to someone else I like, although from different environment? That's not so tough, ... no ?. I personally am happy at work and have a lot of good friends from work and in each relationship a moment comes where a decision to deepen or distance the friendship. Does this prohibits me from being professional ?

elizabeth.johnson
elizabeth.johnson

I'm friendly at work, but not everyone's friend. My employer pays me to do a job, and while I am there I do my best to stay focused on my job. When it's time to go home, I do my best to leave everything behind and focus on my family.

CaterinaAnna
CaterinaAnna

I like to think there's nothing in my private life that would shame me at work - or vice versa - so I'm not worried about distancing my online self or/and my professional self from my 'real' self, even though they can have markedly different moods sometimes. However, being a trusting soul, I've learnt the hard way that often one only has an illusion of intimacy with colleagues. In most cases (the military is an example of an exception) we experience only a limited set of circumstances and environments - albeit some stressful - with those we work with. I suspect that the picture we build of them is not necessarily as rounded as it would be otherwise ... but we're fooled into thinking it is by the amount of time we spend with them. Having been let down or backstabbed at work by a couple of people whom I thought of as friends I'm now much more circumspect in what I tell colleagues about how I feel about something or what I've been up to at the weekend. That's not, in my book, being unfriendly or behaving as a different person, just exercising discretion: they can have my facebook status updates, but not friends-only blog posts. And anyway - what right have I to assume they want to hear all that rubbish?

mjstelly
mjstelly

Existentially, yes. We only have one life that is separated into multiple aspects. However, I agree with Toni on this point. For most people, mixing professional with personal is mixing oil and water. I, too, was in the military. My Marine unit would deploy onto Navy ships for 6-month engagements out to sea, only to turn around for another 6 months after a month back home. Of course one has to get chummy with your co-workers. You're forced to because these are the only people you CAN interact with for half a year. It's not the same as a civilian work day where you can leave and go home. BTW, there is a professional mandate in the military, in the UCMJ, that codifies this separation. It's called fraternization and it's strictly forbidden. Too often, when mixing the two, the situation ends up not like oil and water, but like fire and gasoline.

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

I, too, have no compelling need for separation between personal and professional. I (for the most part) enjoy what I do, and I make every effort to uphold myself in a personal and professional standing. I do this, not so much, for outward appearance to others, but rather, because I feel it is right. I most certainly agree that professional 'friendships' are partly illusion at best. I have no issue sharing personal details with a great number of my colleagues though.

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