Digital Stalking and Office Boundaries

Digital Stalking and Office Boundaries

If you are part of the millennial generation, you probably have an expansive social network. You may not put too much emphasis on protecting your own privacy, and you are very good at online research and at finding personal information about others.

For example, before you accepted your new job, you carefully checked out the organization, its business practices, and its top leadership. You did a thorough search that didn’t stop with business issues. You also know what the CEO’s house looks like, where it’s located, and what it’s worth. You know his age, his wife’s name, and the names and ages of his children. You may also know his salary and benefits, the causes he supports, and activities he participates in.

How valuable is this information in the workplace? Is it an asset or a liability? Well, it depends on what you do with it.

Most employees have a curiosity about their leaders. At the same time, these leaders, especially if they are from a different generation, may value and guard their privacy. This can result in
some awkward moments, and can even have a negative impact on your workplace success.

There are some important guidelines regarding using the personal information your sleuthing uncovered. First of all, don’t use it to impress others or to add to office gossip. Some people may see your research into the personal lives of others as intrusive, even creepy. You don’t want to be thought of as a digital stalker.

Second, don’t make the assumption that knowing personal things about your boss or the CEO gives you the right to be more familiar, to act like a friend or close associate. If you find yourself alone in an elevator with your boss, don’t bring up a fact you have discovered online. Don’t comment on her family, her home, her activities, or her background. If your boss wants to have a personal conversation, she will initiate it. Even then, be careful about revealing what you know about her.

Another mistake millennials make is assuming they can ignore established workplace boundaries. Yes, the boss may have an “open door policy,” but that doesn’t mean you can walk right in and tell her how she could do things more effectively. You may dislike hierarchies, but that doesn’t mean you can disregard the “chain of command.” You may disagree with some company policies, but you can’t selectively decide which ones you will follow.

It may take time and patience to understand and adjust to a new workplace culture, especially one that seems outdated, even stifling at times. You may disagree and dislike various aspects and rules, but don’t immediately start criticizing the way things are done. As the “new kid on the block” you lack credibility and experience, and you may sound like a whiner, not a team player. That’s not a label you want as you start your new job. Finally, recognize that there are workplace boundaries at all organizations. Be sure you understand the boundaries, both the stated and the unstated. Clueless is another label you don’t want.

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