A couple of weeks ago, we lauded the benefits of having a workplace BFF. But in a recent LinkedIn survey, half of Singaporeans said that they would at least consider sacrificing their friendship with a colleague if it resulted in a promotion, with another 40 per cent of millennials saying that they've had ulterior motives in befriending their coworkers.
While these statistics might inspire a bit of cynicism, they shouldn't be at all surprising -- people have been looking out for themselves, at the cost of others, since the dawn of time. But that doesn't mean you need to question every friendly gesture, or go around feeling paranoid that your colleagues are out to get you. We might not have any control over who we work with, but we can put a limit to how much they really know about us.
Safeguarding ultimately comes down to a bit of wisdom and discernment. The easiest way to make yourself an easy target in the workplace is by giving people too much access to information that they can use against you. Who knows what can happen when it falls on the wrong ears? To keep yourself from being pinned onto the sacrificial altar, keep mum on the following gossip topics.
1. Your salary
Let's get the most obvious one out of the way first. Under no circumstances should you reveal your salary, your bonuses, your pay cuts and your increments. Money inspires jealousy (when they make less) and arrogance (when they make more) where none existed. Even if your colleague straight up tells you how much she makes, don't feel obliged to return the favor. For all you know, she's quoting a false amount just to tease the truth out of you.
2. The results of your performance evaluation
If you've received a promotion, by all means, share the news with your friends in the office. There's no harm in doing so since the boss will announce it anyway (and they'd probably appreciate hearing it from you first). But a regular performance evaluation, with its usual ups and downs, should stay confidential. Otherwise, an especially opportunistic colleague could use your weaknesses as a means to step in and be the company hero. At least give yourself the opportunity to improve in what you're bad at before someone else "kindly" volunteers to take over.
3. Your career aspirations
Obviously, you shouldn't tell anyone when you are actively applying for jobs, lest you "mysteriously" get fired from your current workplace without a severance package. Even if you're content to stay put, however, you should keep your personal aspirations to yourself, especially if they'll take you on a drastically different career path. All it takes is one whisper for a cautious boss to question your commitment to the job and pass you up for a promotion.
4. Your relationship drama
As much as possible, try to keep fights, breakups, and love triangles out of the office. The last thing you want is to be perceived as an unstable or depressed person whose plate is too full for your team's most coveted projects.
5. Minor medical afflictions
While you should inform your boss about major medical problems (obviously they need to know if you've been hospitalised with dengue fever), everyday maladies like headaches, cramps, and a irritable bowel syndrome should stay between you and your physician. Sure, it'll be pretty apparent if you're feeling under the weather, but complaining about all these minor maladies may give your colleagues the impression that you're too weak to handle things. Who knows when a selfish colleague will warn the boss against sending you for plum out-of-office assignments and conferences out of false concern for your "weak constitution"?
6. Your finances and means of spending them
Are you constantly on the precipice of bankruptcy? Then stay even more quiet. No matter how legitimate your reasons for being low on cash are, people are going to assume that you're irresponsible if you can't manage to save. Nor should you tell your colleagues where the bulk of your finances go. Even the most ambitious person may think twice about selling out a single mother with four children, but they may feel less guilty about screwing you over if they knew that your pay increment would go to a Hermes bag or a holiday in the Maldives.
7. Your revolutionary ideas
This is a tough one. Say you have an amazing idea that would completely shake things up, improve efficiency by more than 50 per cent, and that would basically make you look like a hero. On the one hand, most of us would feel inclined to cling onto our best ideas so that we can present them as our own. Epiphanies are hard enough to come by without devious colleagues stealing them and taking the credit.
On the other hand, even the greatest schemes can benefit from another person's expertise and perspective. By sharing the seeds of it with your trusted colleagues, you may open the doors for an even better idea, one that has been refined to perfection thanks to a team effort. But how do you protect yourself from someone who ultimately chooses to be self-serving? Consider the person carefully before sharing, and when you do, make sure you document the conversation so there's a paper trail if anything goes amiss. At the end of the day, it's not so much about avoiding relationships (lest you miss opportunities for collaboration), but about knowing how to handle them with wisdom.