These day, many companies provide internal chat apps that allow employees to communicate instantaneously with one another. They’re great for collaboration and other office activities that require quick give-and-take. In some companies, though, people share just as casually — one might say “carelessly” — as they do on Facebook or Twitter. Apps like Slack offer private channels for private chats, but nonetheless, a company’s most-used channel can become a place where everything and anything gets said, from work-related topics to the highly personal.
The problem isn’t only that there is non-work-related content in the company’s primary chat. Going personal on topics that are only of interest to some can leave others feeling like outsiders. Jokes tend to lead to increasingly frantic competitions to see who gets in the last, best laugh — this may be fun at a bar, but it’s just more work at work. And from a privacy point of view, we can’t forget that work-chat software may allow employers to archive conversations or allow eavesdropping on private channels.
So Why Do So Many People Keep Oversharing?
In the most basic terms, work chats are just another place where we attempt to negotiate the boundaries between professional and personal relationships. People enjoy connecting with others and always have, and struggling to find the appropriate balance is nothing new — people have been looking to locate that line as long as there have been companies.
What’s new is that a friendly work chat can feel a lot like being on social media, even if it’s hosted by your employer. Since we all have well-developed social media habits at this point, once our fingers start flying on the keyboard, it can be difficult to maintain a sense of context.
But Why Do We Overshare Online in General?
University of North Carolina professor Brian Southwell spoke to Fast Company, offering three reasons that online conversations invite you to get into things you’d be unlikely to mention face-to-face.
“Interpersonal cues like body language are filtered out, which means you can quickly type and click without getting a disapproving look from someone.”
“We often cultivate networks of like-minded people online, and we know what they post, and so it can seem safer to post a comment that will be read by known friends and family than to say something in person to someone whom you don't know that well.”
“It is easier to include a link to content in a social media post than in a face-to-face conversation, and including links can make you feel confident and credible, which encourages people to speak up.”
It would seem that we can get better at this if we take advantage of private channels for personal topics — bearing in mind the boss may be listening — and always take into consideration everyone participating in a chat before we hit enter.