When you have a manager who doesn’t know that sharing colleague’s personal information is a no-no, then it’s clear that you’re working under someone with boundary issues. From over-sharing with others through gossip to posting photos and other personal information online or even sharing personal data that could result in identity theft, there are lots of ways that people -- and in this case, your manager -- can cross the line and reveal too much about other people. Managers are not always perfect, but they can certainly do better than this.
Since you’re dealing with a manager, you’ll need to walk a delicate line here. You don’t want to be so forceful that you put yourself in jeopardy of incurring your manager’s wrath and giving you all the hated grunt work – or worse, firing you -- but at the same time, you can’t let the situation stand as-is. Your tactics, then, should follow a pattern of least-invasive to most-invasive when trying to handle it.
Here’s where to start in handling this very delicate situation.
1. Review Your Employee Handbook
In the United States, federal -- meaning U.S. government -- employees’ personal information is protected under the Privacy Act. With that, federal agencies are prohibited from sharing key information about their employees. Some states also have similar laws in place, dictating how employees’ personal information should be stored and what employers can or can’t say about their employees.
In the private sector, however, you may not fall under the same protections, and your company policies may be the place to start. Read over the employee handbook just to get a sense of what rules your manager might be breaking, what the consequences are and who you should turn to for help with the matter. If the problem you’re facing involves a person’s sensitive data, such as their bank account information (which they might be using for direct-depositing their paychecks, for example) or other information that could fall prey to identity thieves, the best course of action is probably to alert someone in your human resources office right away.
For other situations that don’t appear quite as dire, try some other techniques.
2. Write Down Infractions
Like any other misbehavior in the office, it doesn’t hurt to write down the details of what you’ve seen. In a notebook -- one that’s not stored in the workplace -- write down the times, dates and nature of each thing you see. If you need to talk to a higher-up about the problem, it can make it easier to remember the details accurately.
3. Shut the Manager Down Socially
If your manager is sharing details about your co-workers lives, it may be that you or some of your co-workers are sharing that information with the manager first. Remember, you don’t have to be best buddies with your manager. No matter how much pressure you feel right now about mingling with him or her socially, you simply don’t have to do it. Your manager is already crossing some ethical boundaries by hanging out with employees outside of work, but you don’t have to let that continue. You and your co-workers can create a united front and decide together that you can’t get together with your manager after work. What’s more, encourage your co-workers to end any gossiping or other social encounters they are currently engaging in with the manager during work hours. If you’re letting your manager in on juicy personal details about yourself or other co-workers, is it any wonder that the manager is going to feel compelled to share that information elsewhere?
4. End the Social Media Connection
In the realm of cutting off the manager from social situations, you may also have to cut him or her off your social feeds as well. Shame on you for "friending" your manager in the first place -- didn’t you know better?! If you have to go through the awkward process of unfriending your manager, do it as gracefully as you can. For example, you might send out a note to a bunch of people, letting them know you’re cleaning up your friends list. That way, the manager won’t feel singled out when he or she discovers that you’ve cut them off.
5. Meet One-on-One
Cutting your manager off from your social feeds and your social gatherings can help to reduce the amount of gossiping that’s coming from the manager’s direction - but if the information the manager is sharing goes beyond the personal, sometimes borderline-embarrassing stuff and crosses into sharing details about a person’s salary, work habits or other work details, you’ve gone into new territory and it might be time to put the manager on notice. Look at it this way: If that manager is sharing personal information about your co-workers, there is a very good chance that they’re sharing personal information about you as well. Not good.
Try to make the request for a meeting as casual as possible. In some cases, you may not need to formally request a meeting at all. If you have a regular review coming up, for example, it could be a great time to share some feedback. When the manager asks you if there’s anything you’d like to discuss, bring it up then. Say something like "I noticed X happening and I’m a little worried that might be too much information to share with X person," or "Is there a reason we all have to be kept informed of X’s personal information?" Instead of making it about a third party, you could also couch the question as one that’s about you. Say something like "I’d rather not have the rest of the staff know X about me," for example.
Since you’re bringing it up at a time when you’ve been asked to share feedback, this discussion might flow very smoothly. Your manager is in the wrong, after all, and he or she may appreciate that you thought to bring this up one on one instead of in a group session. You can also try to do the same thing over email, but remember that a lot can be misconstrued when you don’t have the power of non-verbal communication working for you.
However you handle it though, do what you can to turn it into a confrontation, but at the same time, hold your manager accountable.
6. Ask Another Manager for Help
You don’t necessarily need to go over the manager’s head and get him or her in trouble, but a roundabout way to do it may be to ask another manager -- who’s at a level about equal to your manager -- to discuss the issue with your manager. Share the details as you know them, and then ask that other manager for ideas about what to do. Most likely, that manager will realize it’s not up to you to deal with the misdeeds of your superiors, and will take the problem on as their own. Since your manager will be receiving feedback from someone who’s more of a peer instead of a subordinate, he or she may be more willing to absorb the information and to correct course. Plus, it will be out of your hands, and you’ll know you’ve done what you can to fix the problem for yourself and your co-workers.
7. Avoid Public Humiliation
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of letting the problem fester so long that you can’t take it anymore, and instead of handling it like a professional, you blow up, in public. The meeting during which your manager once again shares personal details about your co-worker may feel like the right time to blast that manager to a big crowd, but it’s not. Publicly humiliating anyone in the workplace is going to end badly, and in the case of your manager, it could get you fired for insubordination. So stop, hold your breath and wait for a better time.
See Also: Tips on Becoming a Great Boss
Having to work under a manager who doesn’t have the first clue about setting and maintaining boundaries can be a stressful experience. If you do choose to say something to that person directly, there’s always the slim chance that this manager -- who already seems unaware of the rules of the workplace -- will lose it and terminate you simply for trying to make things right. Those people are out there, but for the most part, managers tend to be real people who are capable of changing course and adjusting their behavior. Provided, of course, that you bring it up in the right way.
If that seems completely impossible, you might want to ask yourself whether this is a workplace you want to stay in for very long anyway. With a manager who’s likely to lose their cool over being called out -- and who’s probably over-shared personal information about you as well -- it may be best to start looking for another job at your first opportunity.
Has your manager ever shared your personal information to others? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments section below.