In most offices, the break room is the refuge to any and all employees who just, well, need a break. It’s where they can come to check their problems at the door, if only for a short period of time, in order to regroup and be able to face the rest of the day without absolutely losing their minds. Knowing this, there are certain topics that are not just taboo, but completely off-limits around the water cooler. Unless your goal is to completely alienate yourself from the rest of your colleagues, you should never find yourself discussing any of the following.
It shouldn’t be a shocker that discussing religion at the office is a huge no-no. Just because we have the legal freedom to practice and talk about any religion we choose does not mean you should feel free to do so during work hours. Openly discussing the religious services you attended over the weekend is likely to alienate at least some of your colleagues, if not most of them. Of course, this especially applies if you know for a fact that some of your colleagues practice other religions that celebrate differently than you do. While it’s okay to be proud of and celebrate your religion, do so in a personal way that doesn’t step on others’ toes.
However, if someone else probes into the religious aspects of your life in private conversation, you should feel comfortable discussing it with them in a non-threatening way. For example, a colleague who knows you celebrate Jewish holidays might go out of his way to ask if you did anything special for Rosh Hashanah. Of course you should be comfortable discussing your celebration with him, but do what you can to keep the conversation simple and to the point. Answer in the same way you would answer him if he asked what you did over the weekend.
Again, this is a no-brainer…or at least it should be. Politics have absolutely no business entering break room discussions. Given a room full of people, there’s just about a 0% chance that every single one conforms to the same political ideology. Bringing up any controversial political topic is bound to create tension in the room. And, although you probably know this, it’s worth noting that most political “debates” quickly devolve into shouting matches that go beyond the scope of what the discussion actually began as. It’s better to leave your political opinions at home, so you don’t end up drawing lines in the sand at work over something that has absolutely nothing to do with your job.
Not only can political discourse at work cause major tension within the office, but it can also cause colleagues to lose respect for one another. Those who get along with each other well enough might think twice about their working relationship once they discover they have opposing political viewpoints. While I highly doubt many friendships are forged based solely on similar opinions on gay marriage or abortion, it’s safe to say that many relationships have been destroyed when opposing perspectives came to light.
3. Your Sex Life
You’re not in high school or college anymore. Absolutely no one wants to hear about your sexcapades over the weekend. First of all, what you do in your private life is your business, and your business only. Would you want to hear about a colleague’s sexual experiences? Then why would you think it’s appropriate to bring yours into the conversation?
Second of all, talking about your sexual encounter from Friday night is just plain embarrassing not only to everyone involved, but it should be completely embarrassing to you. Like I said, it’s not like you’re in high school and sex is something new and worth bragging about. Unless maybe for you it is? I’d be willing to bet that the more a full-grown adult talks about sex, the less experienced he or she is. Have some dignity, and save your mouth from outing yourself in the process.
Lastly, if anything you say offends anyone else in the room, be prepared to have an embarrassing conversation with human resources about appropriate employee conduct. This isn’t a frat house or bar. Even if your words were taken out of context, they still came from your mouth, and could end up getting you fired.
Talking about money at work serves one of two purposes: to alienate your entire group of colleagues, or to alienate yourself from the group. Simply put, if you’re conversing with equals, you probably all make the same amount of money. You’re most likely preaching to the choir about “how broke you are until Friday.” Why bring up something so negative? All you’re going to do is remind everyone else how broke they are until Friday, also.
Of course, if you get a raise, you definitely shouldn’t bring it up in casual break room conversation. Not only will it make everyone around you jealous, but it’ll also cause them to watch over you like hawks, reporting every little mistake you make to your supervisor. You might get along well enough, but your colleagues are not your true friends. The minute they think you’re taking advantage while they get left behind, they’ll turn on you.
5. Personal Problems
Woe is you. But woe is everyone else. Seriously. Everyone has other crap to deal with in their life that they leave at the door when they walk into the office. Not only does whining about your own personal issues remind your colleagues of their issues, but it also makes it seem as if you think your problems are more important than theirs.
Furthermore, your peers are not your therapists. They don’t need to have a burden placed on them to help solve your issues. Like I said, they have their own problems to deal with without having to figure out how to solve yours as well. Unless you want others to start coming to you with every little problem they face in life, deal with your own obstacles on your own time.
6. Unsavory Activities
Maybe you still go out to the bars until two in the morning every Friday night, or you lost your rent money playing poker last night. But you should never, ever let anyone know about that part of your life. Regardless of what industry you work in, you should absolutely hold yourself to the highest standard during work hours. Don’t get caught up discussing your trip to Vegas, even if other colleagues are sharing their old college stories around the water cooler. You never know who’s listening and who will use this information to their advantage. If a promotion is coming up and your boss finds out you still take advantage of late night happy hours at the local “gentlemen’s club,” your chances of moving up the corporate ladder shrink significantly.
7. Bad News
I already discussed the importance of checking personal business at the door, but it’s also worth mentioning that you should never discuss other people’s bad news, either. Maybe you heard that a coworker’s father passed, or her mother is undergoing surgery, but this is their business. Even if you mean well, you need to respect your colleagues’ privacy. You wouldn’t want everyone knowing your business, right?
As stated in the introduction, the break room is where employees go to get away from it all, at least for a brief minute. Keep the conversation friendly, fun, and casual. Avoid controversial topics that you know are just going to stir things up. Even if you’re lucky enough to work with people you consider to be true friends, leave the private conversations for happy hour instead.