You know, of course, that every single one of your colleagues has a life outside the office. Some people are more open to sharing details than others.
In fact, many believe that a significant other’s job title, a child’s acceptance into an elite university, an upcoming move to a new area of town, or even a simple weekend recap is information best kept to themselves.
But I disagree—and I can make a strong case as to why getting to know your co-workers on a personal level is good for your career.
1. It Reduces Stress
Of the nine different teams that I’ve worked on over the course of my professional career, I’ve been open about my life outside the office with about half of them.
My reason for evasion was consistent; the decision was always rooted in fear: fear of judgment or rejection leading to some unforeseen negative consequence. I wondered if my teammates who were married with kids and living in the suburbs for the great school districts would relate to the new guy who moved in from out of town and lived in an apartment in the city with his girlfriend.
If they didn’t relate, would I be the team outcast? It may sound silly, but it was stressful stuff!
In hindsight, I can see that I was overthinking it. I didn’t need to reveal every detail about my relationship with my partner—our ups and downs and everything in between—but I also didn’t need to dwell in a place of secrecy.
I think I’d have experienced a lot less stress and anxiety on a daily basis if I’d allowed myself some leeway, if I’d been comfortable coming in after a tough weekend dealing with my noisy neighbors—rather than just stewing in my own bad mood and pretending like everything in my life was always great.
2. It’s Revealing
We’re all so much bigger than our 9-to-5 identities, so acting otherwise ultimately feels inauthentic. The truth is, our hobbies and interests tell others a lot about us. Perhaps you thrive on weekends as a hostess who throws awesome get-togethers. Maybe you’re a little league umpire, or a marathon runner. Whatever it is that you do when you’re not working is a part of your character.
When you can relate to your colleagues beyond spreadsheet data, status reports, and best hiring practices, you begin to see them as multi-dimensional, and this can help you work better as a team.
Plus, it might be hard to see how your DIY house renovations could benefit your day job, but look a little more deeply, and you’ll see that the skills utilized in your recreational pursuits are often ones that you’ll call upon in some tangential way as you tackle assignments.
For example, a person on your team who’s super passionate about photography may be an asset when the company decides it needs to revamp all of its promotional marketing materials. The more people know about you, the more likely they are to call upon you to help with a new initiative or project.
3. It Allows You to Leave With Support
No one has their entire career mapped out in front of them: You could get laid off, fired, or decide to quit when you get passed over for a promotion. You could make a decision to find a new job when your boss leaves or when a particular co-worker becomes more than you can handle on a daily basis. The point is, there’s a lot of professional unknowns.
But if you form real relationships with people throughout your career, you never know how they may help you down the line. Instead of feeling like you have to build your network from scratch, you’ll have one in place should you need to relocate for your spouse’s job or get laid off
If you proactively keep others up-to-date with what’s going on in your life, who knows how they might be able to help you down the line when you’re making a career transition. Individuals who you connect with on an intimate level are the ones who’ll be more likely to serve as excellent job references, write LinkedIn recommendations for you, and enthusiastically introduce you to their contacts.
If you’re ready to go beyond standard work talk, but aren’t sure how to do it (or don’t want to commit to a weekly happy hour) consider striking up conversation in the kitchen or connecting on social media. You don’t need to invite your entire team to your housewarming party or Facebook-friend every member of your department right away.
Start off slow if this is unfamiliar territory for you. Grab a coffee with a colleague—not an hour-long lunch. Instead of making the first words out of your mouth on Monday morning, “Did you get my email?” try, “How was your weekend? Do anything fun?”
Once I started opening up among my colleagues, work got better. We spend so much time at the office that it just makes sense to be your authentic self.