Word of the Day: “Overshare” in class and at work

What is it called when a person discloses something too intimate for the setting or social company? Teaching clinical psychology to college students is to truly experience the term: overshare.  “Overshare” describes the phenomenon that prompts the listener to think “TMI.”  I’ve started covering social norms about the proper level of personal disclosure for the classroom, in the first class of the semester.

Overshares in class

Here’s a true example: Andrew with raised hand at the beginning of class.

Me: “Yes Andrew.”

With Tom sitting next to him in class – Andrew: “Suzi, I wanted to let you know about Tom and me. We had a fight but we have decided that rather than being friends-with-benefits, we made up and we are going to be in a committed relationship.”

Tom is now looking a little green and the rest of the class is either uncomfortable or rolling their eyes.

Me: “Andrew, do you remember we talked about students’ relationship intimacy matters as being inappropriate for class disclosure?”

Andrew: “Yes . . . overshare?”

Me: “I think so. Let’s move on.”  Inside my head I am thinking, for the love of God!

Overshares at work

I find that some employees so needy for attention that they provide to coworkers excruciating detail about their physical illnesses, mental illness or intimate relationship issues. While some coworkers enjoy this kind of information  most would rather not have these pictures in their heads.

Workplace oversharing creates a dilemma for HR professionals.  Employers are prevented from disclosing any information about an employee’s illness or medical condition no matter what the employee has disclosed. HR professionals shouldn’t  discuss or comment. The idea is that with information about protected-class status  as general knowledge at work, it is difficult for an employer to prove that it’s actions did not consider this status. Once the information is readily available in the workplace milieu, it is really impossible to rein it back in.

Lack of general privacy

Facebook and other instant social media channels have encouraged oversharing and a disregard for privacy, generally.  I would like to see the pendulum swing back so that people in non-intimate settings might keep this kind of information a little more private.

Components of 360 Degree Workplace Culture

The purpose of my work is to use human resource and business operations expertise to create positive and quality workplace cultures.  In these ideal cultures, not only are company business goals more likely to be achieved but employees are happier and treated respectfully in all interactions.

3600 Workplace culture excellence

A 3600 Workplace Culture is when:

  1. The culture and organizational values are purposeful, promoted throughout the organization and truly inform employee behavior across all programs and departments;
  2. The culture and organizational values support employees operating at their highest level of functioning toward the achievement of company business goals;
  3. Talent management structures and policies reflect the “on purpose” culture and values at all points along the employment life-cycle: at recruitment; at new employee orientation; through the performance management program; in promotion decisions and very importantly; when it’s time to go, an employee must be moved out of the organization if they cannot or will not follow the rules of respect and integrity. The desired culture and values apply as much to employee relations as to customer relations.
  4. Work values include and promote honesty, integrity and lawfulness in all company activities.

Example of unrealized workplace culture opportunity

Poor or disorganized workplace culture results when an organization has articulated values but does not follow them.  I’ve worked with many companies who have a wonderful list of values and might even ask employees to sign a code of conduct.  Meanwhile there is a long service toxic employee talking about people behind their back and targeting employees that don’t agree with them. Another example would be a company with no stated set of values.  In this case, employees’ personal values will be quite varied, will not help focus employee efforts on company goals and at worse, lead employees to work against the company’s and co-worker best interests.

Years ago, I worked for a wonderful nonprofit that serves mentally ill clients.  Client needs were at the center of service development. Company policies and program standards were very high.  The problem was that one employee in a key, one-of-a-kind position, used her power to move fellow employees around like chess pieces on a board.  I once caught her red-handed starting a false rumor about a new employee and yet couldn’t get the CEO to conduct performance counseling with any real consequence.  She’s probably still there. The same would apply in a company that says client/customer needs are important but where the company fails to redirect the behavior of employees who mistreat clients.

Sorry to bring up poor ENRON, but this was a company with two separate cultural groups.  In high level leaders, the culture was success and ambitious goal achievement regardless of their consistency with legal and accounting standards. In addition, this group feared the financial collapse but kept it secret from others. The second culture included rank and file employees and a few leaders who did not know or understand the conspiracy to keep the secret of impending financial disaster.  Clearly, honesty, integrity and lawfulness were not even articulated in this company.

News of the World appears to have suffered from a similar lack of intentionally positive work culture and values.  In the absence of a positive culture standard and with the context of very aggressive reporting goals, it appears that some employees did not balance their activities with that which is allowed by law or what most would consider basic morals.

 The ideal cultural quality and excellence

In the ideal company, leadership will have spent time crafting a statement of desired culture and values.  These values describe the organization’s concept of sustainability; how the company sees success and quality; how the company sees the importance and value of client/customer relationships; and finally, how the company sees employee relations. Everyone working in the company would know, understand and agree with this desired standard.

The closest ideal company I’ve personally experienced was my family’s clothing business, A. H. Benoit and Company. Though the company folded in the 1980s as a result of shifting retail centers (away from down towns), leadership changes and economic conditions, but in it’s day, the historical culture and standards were excellent. I didn’t realize it at the time (I was barely in high school), but my years there would represent one of my best workplace experiences. A couple of years ago, we uncovered a company employee handbook from the early 1900s that articulated the connection between happy employees and happy customers! They were known for very high quality men’s clothing, excellent customer service and being a place that employees loved to work.  Many employees worked their entire career in this business. Thirty years later people still ask me if I am related to this business and then tell me of some fond memory about either working or shopping there.

Zappos is a modern example of cultural excellence we know about because CEO, Tony Hsieh has spoken publicly about the intentional culture he built there. He has implemented his 360 degree culture in a way that has facilitated tremendous, sustained success despite tough economic times. One example as I understand it is that Zappos monitors employee performance in the first few months and moves employees out of the organization with a generous severance package if it becomes clear that their values are not consistent with stated corporate values. They are wished well and treated with respect but not everyone fits with a given culture/values.

360 degree culture means determining what you want the workplace atmosphere be, how it can help you achieve your business goals and then implementing it in a comprehensive way so it becomes a part of the institutional personality.