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THE QUESTION

My life is full – from raising kids to helping out elderly parents. I try not to bring my personal life into the workplace but I find it's almost impossible not to as I become closer to the people I work with. The fact my colleagues are familiar with my ups and downs hasn't presented a problem yet. But I don't want to seem weak to those who make decisions about promotions, and I wonder if it could hurt me in the long run. I want to be professional, but I'm also a very open, extroverted person. Should I tone it down at work and keep my mouth shut about my personal life or should I just go ahead and be me?

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Sheila Copps

Former deputy prime minister

Being yourself is always the best bet in the long run. That said, work time should be devoted to ironing out work issues. So if you do have some close relationships and wish to explore home-front challenges, use your lunch or coffee break to provide limited updates on your personal situation.

It always helps to show an interest in your co-workers as well. Conversation should always be a two-way street. They may be experiencing some of the same problems and can share insights into how to survive in the sandwich generation.

But remember, above all, your working relationships should be just that. Crossing the line with too much personal baggage will hinder your opportunity to be taken seriously in today's competitive work environment. Less is more.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Bill Howatt

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Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

To answer your question, evaluate whether you may be breaching either of these two guiding principles of professionalism with respect to personal boundaries in the workplace:

Awareness of when you share personal information

Employees in the workplace balance two modes: work-mode activities they get paid for, and personal-mode free time (such as breaks and lunch) when it's appropriate to have personal conversations. Do you engage others in your personal conversations in work mode?

Know your audience

It is appropriate to share personal information with a trusted peer with whom you have developed the type of relationship where you both are comfortable sharing personal information. Do you openly share personal information with all peers, whether or not you have developed trusted, two-way relationships with them?

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If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, then I suggest you change your behaviour and start practising these two guiding principles.

To be viewed as a mature professional you need to prove to your senior managers that you can balance home and work, meaning you do not bring your personal issues into the workplace.

If you need help developing these skills, take action (such as hiring a life coach). The fact is, if every employee spent a large percentage of their work time on personal issues, no work would be done.

Most employees will never adhere to the above principles 100 per cent of the time, but the higher the percentage they do so, the more the decision makers will view them as professionals.

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