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A Challenging Employee Behavior – Oversharing In The Workplace

Written by: Dana Gionta, Ph.D., Senior Level Executive Contributor in collaboration with John M. O’Brien, Ph.D

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Dana Gionta, Ph.D.

Workplace stress levels are continuing to surge, influenced by a variety of factors, including economic uncertainty, increasing business demands, environmental forces, personal difficulties, and societal unrest.


working woman talking on her smart phone doing secret gesture sign

As stress levels increase, individuals become less likely to take the time or make the effort to use their healthier coping skills to manage reactions and to behave skillfully. Instead, people often unconsciously default to old patterns and ways of reacting to manage the increasing stress they’re experiencing. This often leads to problematic behaviors that can cause disruptions in the work environment. One type of problematic behavior is related to “oversharing.”


What is oversharing in the workplace?

Some dictionaries define oversharing specifically in terms of information about oneself. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that oversharing is simply “sharing or revealing too much information.” We define oversharing to include three major components: (1). Talking too much, thereby monopolizing a conversation with others. (2) Sharing information about others in the work environment, including gossiping or complaining about one team member to another. This can be especially problematic if a boss is sharing with one employee about another. (3) TMI (too much information). This form includes disclosing too much personal information. Some representative situations include talking with coworkers about intimate marital issues, or sharing details about a personal traumatic situation without first checking if this would be okay. This article will focus on the third kind of oversharing.


People who are engaged in oversharing often have no idea that their behavior in this environment, specifically the workplace, is not appropriate and is likely impacting those on the receiving end. They do not realize that they are lacking boundaries in the conversation and may not have received any feedback about how their behavior is creating discomfort in others. This is especially the case if he/she is a boss oversharing with a direct report. In addition, this leader may have no idea that such behavior is a violation of certain human resource policies.


What causes oversharing?

Many factors can contribute to employees oversharing at work.


Overwhelm and stress. This is one of the most common factors. When individuals are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed, a typical coping behavior is to talk with others about all the perceived problems, which can lead to venting and ultimately oversharing.


Certain emotions are more likely to elicit oversharing. These include feelings of frustration and resentment, or a sense of desperation or urgency.


Burnout. Professional burnout (lack of accomplishment, emotional exhaustion, cynicism) is on the rise in a variety of professions. When people are burned out or highly stressed, they are more likely to violate professional boundaries and to be “leaking emotional distress” at work and at home.


Substance use. Many people turn to substances to deal with unhappiness, stress, or mental health issues. Overuse of substances can lead people to be more uninhibited which leads to saying/doing things they may later regret, including sharing too much personal information. Be aware that you may not remember things that you have said or done at a happy hour or office party.


Culture and Family Influences. The culture, family, and even previous workplace environments one has experienced over many years can often profoundly influence oversharing behaviors. What is perceived to be oversharing in the U.S. may be considered normal communication and interpersonal relations in other countries. In other instances, an employee may have grown up within a family environment where there were few boundaries and oversharing was just part of the everyday milieu.


Lack of awareness of healthy workplace boundaries. Knowledge of boundaries and the skill involved in setting boundaries is lacking in most employees because boundaries are not taught anywhere. We often do not learn them at home, and they are not formally taught in school or the workplace. Most of the time they are learned by trial and error, or if we are fortunate, from observing others who can skillfully identify, set, and maintain workplace boundaries.


What is the impact of oversharing?

Oversharing can have a variety of negative impacts on the individuals involved as well as the work environment. Some of these effects include:

  1. Decreased morale. Those who are experiencing the oversharing may feel resentful about being burdened with information and therefore distracted from work.

  2. Anxiety. If the information being shared involves safety concerns for an individual (such as sharing suicidal thinking), targets of oversharing may become anxious about what to do with the information.

  3. Blurred boundaries. Oversharing can lead to a lack of clarify about what is/is not appropriate to be disclosing to others at work. This can lead to an unhealthy dynamic among members of a team and decreased ability to focus on workplace projects.

  4. Awkwardness/Avoidance. Perhaps someone shared too much about themselves at a work function due to excessive alcohol use. When they return to work the next day, they may not remember how much they shared, and others now may feel uncomfortable around them given this information. This can lead colleagues to avoid seeing or talking to this person.

  5. Isolation. People can become increasingly uncomfortable with the person who is oversharing and avoid him/her, leading to isolation for that individual. In addition, others in the office may start to isolate from the rest of the team to avoid future interactions.

  6. Tenure and promotion – Individuals who are oversharing can be perceived as unprofessional or unfocused in the work environment. This negative perception can result in the employee not getting the promotion they desire and even being eliminated from the job.

How to know if you are oversharing?

People who are oversharing may not have any idea that their behavior is inappropriate. Perhaps they have never received this feedback from others or taken the time to reflect on their behavior. Are you oversharing? Here are some things to consider:

  1. Feedback from others expressing concern. Are people saying things to you such as “Have you talked to your doctor/therapist about this? Are you getting help with this?” These are direct ways that others are telling you that they are likely feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable with what you have just shared, and don’t feel qualified to be of help.

  2. Feedback from others expressing irritation. “You’ve talked about this before. What have you done about it?” Sometimes people get irritated in these situations and become more direct about the need for you to get help elsewhere.

  3. Jokes. There is an old Greek saying: “Two jokes, one is the truth.” If people are joking with you and saying, “TMI! TMI! (too much information).” They may be trying to send you a serious message.

  4. Nonverbal behavior of others. Are your colleagues not making eye contact with you when they see you? Are they nervously fidgeting when speaking with you? Do they have a look of concern or worry on their face? Do they appear to be avoiding you? Pay attention to what information others are giving you based on nonverbal behavior.

  5. Some colleagues may start talking with you about boundaries, perhaps indirectly attempting to educate you about what they are and why they’re important. Others may be more direct, indicating that you need them, though this is less common.

  6. Notice if others begin recommending certain books or resources to you. See if there’s a common theme among them, perhaps boundary-setting:). If this is the case, thank them and consider working with a coach or therapist to develop the skill of setting healthy workplace boundaries. My book, From Stressed to Centered: A Practical Guide to a Healthier and Happier You, has several chapters related to the skills of boundary-setting and assertive communication, both of which are needed to successfully establish healthy professional and personal boundaries.

How to know if others are oversharing?

One key sign that someone is oversharing is that you start to feel increasingly uncomfortable as you listen to what he/she is saying. If thoughts such as, this is “too much information” (TMI), “not appropriate,” “something you’d tell a friend, not a co-worker” arise as you are listening, you can take these as cues that this is oversharing behavior.


Another common sign is that you notice avoidance behavior in yourself. You find yourself wanting to leave the room or avoid being alone with this person. A contributing factor to this is not knowing how to respond to another’s oversharing. Avoidance is one way of coping, which may or may not be effective.


You may also feel increased frustration or overwhelm when the person begins over-sharing as you find yourself in a situation you do not want. Being on the receiving end of someone oversharing can also be draining and time-consuming, both of which can contribute to the aforementioned feelings.


Tips for entrepreneurs on ways to deal with oversharing

Boundaries: As an entrepreneur or leader, it is important to model and encourage healthy workplace boundaries and information sharing. Specifically, clarifying to your employees what is appropriate to share and what is better to talk about with HR or within an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).


Have a conversation with the employee privately to provide feedback and explore possible contributors to his/her oversharing behavior. See this as a coaching opportunity to educate the employee, helping them better understand what appropriate workplace behavior is, and get them connected to appropriate resources, if needed.


Talk to fellow entrepreneurs or peers in your industry and explore how they approach oversharing behaviors, if an issue for you, with their staff.


Have a general meeting with your employees to talk about this issue and have employees themselves offer potential solutions they feel would be helpful. Seek their input as to what factors they believe may be contributing to the oversharing communication in the workplace.


Consider a broader perspective. Perhaps see oversharing as a symptom of a larger systemic problem that needs to be addressed. This shifts the cause of the issue from the individual to a systems level, which in the long-term will likely be most effective.


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Dana Gionta, Ph.D. Brainz Magazine
 

Dana Gionta, Ph.D., Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine in collaboration with John M. O’Brien, Ph.D

Dana Gionta, Ph.D. is an executive coach, psychologist, motivational speaker and author spanning over 20 years. She is the founder of Dana Gionta Coaching, and specializes in boundaries in the workplace, leadership development, employee wellbeing and organizational performance.


With a diverse professional background in business, psychology, and health, Dr. Gionta provides coaching and consulting to senior leaders and high-achieving professionals in small to larger Fortune 500 organizations. In her life coaching and psychology practice, she works with individuals on areas related to relationships, career challenges, boundaries, wellbeing, burnout, and midlife transitions.


Dr. Gionta is the co-author of the book From Stressed to Centered: A Practical Guide to a Healthier and Happier You, and has been featured in Strategy and Business, Inc., Psychology Today, Inverse, PsychCentral, Expert Beacon and Lawline. She speaks nationally on topics related to workplace boundaries, employee well-being, work/life balance, burnout, and self-renewal. You can learn more about her services at: www.danagionta.com

Sign up for my biweekly email letter on Boundaries, Wellbeing and Courageous Change, and/or connect with me for a complimentary session to explore how I can help here: https://linktr.ee/danagiontacoaching


John M. O’Brien, Ph.D. is an executive wellness coach with Activate Success. Building on his 25+ year career in the mental health field, John helps both leaders and their employees create workplaces that work. He provides coaching and consulting to businesses around executive assessment, leadership development, well-being, practical mindfulness and managing incivility. You can find out more about his services at: www.activatesuccess.org.

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