telling a new employee that she over-shares

A reader writes:

I work for a small marketing company and we just hired a new person for an support / assistant type position. Everything seems to be going well, but she is over-sharing personal details about herself. For example, she talks about her period and also was showing off her new tattoo, which is located on her side from her chest to her hip.

Our company is pretty casual and we’re all friendly with each other, but I think that this quantity of information in the first 2 weeks is seriously hurting her chances of staying through the 90-day probationary period. I’m her coworker, not her manager, but is there anything I can do?

I think this depends 100% on your relationship with her. If the two of you get along well and you have the kind of rapport where  you think it would be taken well, you can give her a discreet heads-up.  But if you don’t really know her, you’re probably better off leaving it to her manager to decide whether to address or not.

Speaking of her manager, if you get along well with that person and she’s reasonable, you could say something to her — like, “Hey, I think Kelly is doing really well, but I think she could benefit from some guidance from you on what is and isn’t appropriate to share in the office” and then give some examples. You don’t want to do this if the manager is prone to overreaction, but if she’s a normal person who can navigate stuff like this pretty well, it could solve the problem.

But otherwise, I’d leave it alone and let it fall under the category of “coworker problems that are not yours to fix.”

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 54 comments… read them below }

  1. Malissa*

    I get showing off the tattoo, but how does someone get away with sharing about their period with out hearing the words “Too Much Information” anymore?
    Saying “TMI” the next time she crosses the line should get the point across.
    I have no problem being direct in those cases. Past experience has shown me that the subject usually does not come up again. Some people, my self included, just have no idea that others don’t care to hear about things.

    1. KellyK*

      It’s funny, I’d be less weirded out by the period talk than showing off a tattoo in a location that sounds like it requires partial stripping or pulling your shirt up a lot.

      But regardless of which is worse TMI, I think saying, “Wow, TMI,” is a perfect low-key response if she’s saying things that you don’t want to hear about.

      If it’s not that it bothers you, but more out of concern for her staying through her probationary period, I agree with what AAM said. It totally depends on your relationship with her and her manager what to say, if anything, and to whom.

      1. Jamie*

        “It’s funny, I’d be less weirded out by the period talk than showing off a tattoo in a location that sounds like it requires partial stripping or pulling your shirt up a lot.”

        Me too. As a woman if someone mentioned that had cramps that wouldn’t bother me, but I can see how it would a lot of people.

        As Miss Manners says (paraphrasing) – somethings are unmentionable for a reason, so we shouldn’t mention them.

  2. @acmtix*

    I agree these problems are not something you can fix easily, i’ve worked in IT for many years and i’ve met some interesting characters with terrible attitudes to sharing information.

    It would be an exceedingly boring world if we had nothing to talk about in the office and having a few “characters” around, as long as they are good at their work is fine and helps stimulate engagement between staff.

  3. L.A.*

    Any kind of taboo stories that are told at work are incredibly difficult to confront. It’s almost as though you can’t believe that anyone would share that type of information and then when it clicks through to your brain that you did, in fact, just hear a story about your coworkers’ (husband’s sex toy bin, personal item much like the former that she calls Big Red, sexual prowess, wish that she had known her star sign was the “sexual goddess” in high school to make her experience different, virginity, child’s pooping stories, manscaping/personal grooming*) they’ve moved on. Saying “yeew” or “umm….” or even “woah, tmi” doesn’t always work because I’ve found that people like this don’t understand that what they’ve just said is inappropriate and therefore can’t process your request to not share that kind of information and extend it to the other taboo topics. This girl might think, oh they don’t want to hear about my period, but my sex life isn’t my period so I can share that!

    I can understand that showing off a chest to hip tattoo is inappropriate in public – if someone REALLY wants to see it they can go into the bathroom to look at it, but what is she sharing about her period? If she’s just saying “Oh man, I have really bad cramps” is that actually a horrible thing?

    The other issue is whether or not this is a customer facing employee. While it’s not really enjoyable to hear these topics as her coworkers, it’s not as bad as if she’s sitting at the front desk and telling everyone who comes into the office “hey, my period is horrible today. Do you know what that’s like?”

    I’d mention to the new girl that you’re uncomfortable when she says things like that, but don’t tell her anything along the lines of “I think that this quantity of information in the first 2 weeks is seriously hurting her chances of staying through the 90-day probationary period.” Her actual manager may not have a problem with it or she may have already addressed it with her. I agree with AAM, this isn’t your issue to fix – it’s yours to tune out.

    *And yes, those are all personal examples of things I hear in the office.

    1. Jamie*

      “child’s pooping stories”

      Gross as that is, at least it was about a child. Can we pass an edict where I never have to hear about the effects of a co-worker’s diet on her digestion? When did this become a socially accepted topic of conversation?

      I agree that some people hearing TMI will just chalk it up to the person being fussy and ignore it. There is such a wide range of how people have their filters set – when at work err on the side of self-censorship, please.

      1. Kelly O*

        I will add that I’ve tried joking around about “over-sharing” and more serious “wow, TMI” with no success. I have even just walked away from conversations that went that way. They still go on.

        We actually had this big (and ridiculously embarrassing) meeting last week about “no more drama” in the office and how we were to either say “I’m not engaging” or “just grow a thicker skin and deal with it” related to the ongoing office drama.

        I told the husband it felt almost as humiliating as our whole homeroom class being “talked to” when I was in eighth grade because someone took apart the air conditioner in one of the classrooms and we all got the lecture at once.

        I have yet to understand why it’s so difficult for someone to go to the individual exhibiting the behavior and just say “hey, I know you may not realize it, but you’re making other people uncomfortable and you need to stop.” Especially when it’s something like exposing visible tattoos or talking about sex or bodily functions on a regular basis.

        So I guess my point is, just be glad you’ve not all been called into a conference room so everyone can get dressed down for the behavior of a few (and then in the week following, only the people to whom the talk should have been addressed are continuing the behavior.)

        Oh, and if this Kelly were going to get a tattoo, it would not be down the side. It would be on my forehead, and it would read “Really?” Because if I’m going, I’m going all the way.

        1. Alisha*

          I told the husband it felt almost as humiliating as our whole homeroom class being “talked to” when I was in eighth grade because someone took apart the air conditioner in one of the classrooms and we all got the lecture at once.

          There’s something special about eight grade, isn’t there? When I was in this grade, one young man would open the windows and throw the desks out them, and another would bark at his teacher when asked a question. We didn’t get lectured though – the “gentlemen” got expelled and sent to alternative school.

      2. littlemoose*

        No kidding. The other day my coworker came into my office and started yammering about a number of different things, but mostly about his gastrointestinal distress. Not appropriate anywhere except your doctor’s office, folks.

      3. Andrew*

        Almost as unappealing: stories about dog poop (quality / quantity/ possible parasites) and cat hairballs.

        And I have 2 dogs, so I do understand—-

      4. Jeff*

        Child pooping? Cat hairballs? Bah! I can beat *any* of these stories…20 or so years ago, I had a co-worker who loved to talk in a loud booming voice about all of her medical issues, with emphasis on female-plumbing and digestive problems. A particularly special moment came about when she decided to “share” about her recent hemorrhoidectomy about 10 minutes before lunch.

    2. Charles*

      “Saying “yeew” or “umm….” or even “woah, tmi” doesn’t always work . . .”

      And sometimes that is exactly the reaction they are looking for . . .

      So, if the TMI doesn’t work; just ignore them.

  4. Anonymous*

    Every office I’ve worked in has at least one over-sharer. It keeps things interesting and makes for great stories to tell my friends. When it does cross the line though, saying “Woah, TMI!” is usually enough to stop it from coming up again. However, there will always be the people that just don’t get it.

    Honestly, I don’t really view the period and tattoo as that big of a issue. Okay, I can see how the period issue might make male coworkers uncomfortable. I’ve worked in an office where one coworker told everyone about how she dyed her hair down there hot pink and another coworker horrified all of us with her vibrator stories over lunch. Both of those were definitely way too much information! Ugh.

    1. B*

      If you like the oversharer, it’s not usually a problem. Their stories are just a funny moment in the day. If they are annoying, though, it can be grating on everyone’s nerves.

      I think it’s funny that AAM says if the boss is “normal person who can navigate this stuff well” you should talk to them about it. In my experience, it’s more normal for a boss not to navigate this stuff well, i.e. overreact or avoid, avoid, avoid.

  5. Sophie*

    I work with an oversharer who has been employed in my office for 8 years. She also talks negatively about everyone in the office to everyone else, including using swear words and other derogatory language, all within earshot of the person she is complaining about. She regularly cusses out people when they do something that offends her (which is easy to do, as she is overly sensitive and defensive). She chews out customers on the phone. She’s been talked to about her behavior before but mgmt doesn’t like to fire anyone. My point is, even if you talk to the manager or the oversharer, be prepared that nothing may change, and daily tattoo showings may become a part of your work life.

    1. Malissa*

      That’s where the person I replaced went! Sorry. Do they also use their outdoor voice inside?

    2. A Bug!*

      How does this person keep her job?

      Actually, you know what, I don’t think I really want to know the answer. I don’t need another blow to my faith in humanity.

  6. Ivy*

    I think people can be a little too sensitive with this, but I would never over share because I know it makes other people uncomfortable. Mainly though, it’s unprofessional. It sounds like you really like working with her (otherwise why would you care if she is let go for over sharing). I would not go to management in that case. Going to management is saying that this bothers you and they may take it as a complaint against her (not what you want to do if you’re trying to save this girl). Just talk to her. Even say something like, “Listen Cheryl (or whatever), I’m a little worried about something and I want to talk to you about it. I really like working with you and I think you do a great job. The problem is, is that I know a few people in the office think that you over-share personal information like a and b. I even think management is concerned.” If you come off sounding like your thinking of her when saying this, I doubt she will be upset at you (maybe at herself, but that’s unavoidable).

    1. Sophie*

      I wouldn’t mention anything about mgmt being concerned, that might send her into panic mode. I think mgmt should speak for itself – even if they are concerned, it needs to come from them.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agreed. And if management hasn’t said that and the OP tells her that they did, and the coworker asks her manager about it, that manager is going to have a real issue with the OP.

        1. Ivy*

          That’s true. I didn’t think of that. I was just thinking that maybe her coworker won’t take the issue seriously, that she won’t realize her job is at risk unless management is brought up. Maybe she can say it in future tense? Something like, “I’m worried that management WILL become concerned if the others are.” Or does that fall into the same problem?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think the OP needs to bring the management into it. She can just say it’s problematic and explain why. I’d be cautious about pinning stuff on management when in fact it’s not a management-specific problem.

        2. A Bug!*

          On top of that, it will make the coworker constantly wonder what other concerns management has with her that aren’t being brought up directly.

          People need to be able to trust that their bosses will tell them when there’s an issue, and they need to be able to trust that their bosses aren’t gossiping about them.

          1. Ivy*

            I actually don’t think the “other concerns” thing is that much of a bad thing. You should be worried about what management thinks! They’re your bosses and they should push you to do great work! If you think that they might have “other concerns” that they haven’t brought up, then you should really reevaluate your work. Besides, she should be speaking to management, and asking about her performance regardless. Asking the simple, “Hey Bob, how did I do on x project” or even a general, “how am I doing?” You shouldn’t always wait until something becomes an “issue” to deal with it. Go to management before they come to you.

            Although I do agree with the gossiping comment. Management shouldn’t gossip (though they just might be, since OP seems to know the state of her coworkers employment).

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Well, I think the issue there if that if your coworker tells you that she’s heard management has an issue with you, and your manager hasn’t told you that, you’re going to logically assume that you’re working for a manager who won’t be straight with you when there’s a concern. And that’s really unnerving. (And so is thinking that they’ll talk to others about you!)

  7. sparky629*

    Not that I am defending the oversharer but she sounds really young to me. As in, this is her first adult job in an office environment.
    I think that maybe just maybe she doesn’t know how to behave in this environment since no one has told her (I think there was a post about this awhile back). Also, if she has only worked with others her age then these may have been perfectly acceptable topics of conversation.

    I’m on the fence about this one. I agree that it’s not her ‘problem’ to fix in the context of the business office but I disagree that she should stay silent.

    When I started in my first real job (the military) there were people who took me aside (not my supervisors) who gave me tips, pointers, etc on proper office/working adult etiquette. When I left the military I was miles ahead of other candidates because I was able to present a professional demeanor on interviews and in the work place due to the advice given to me by other more experienced workers.

    I think if you say it in a non confrontational or not-trying-to-be-your-mom kind of a way then it should be fine. My personal philosophy is I dispense the knowledge and it’s up to the person to do with it what they want. My part’s done and the universe is happy that I put positive energy out there. :-)

    1. Jamie*

      “Not that I am defending the oversharer but she sounds really young to me. ”

      I was thinking that, too. And there is nothing wrong with a little friendly heads up. Every office has their unwritten rules and I’ve certainly had friendly chats with new employees before they blew themselves up, since they had no way of knowing they were even in a minefield.

      The OP isn’t obligated to say anything, but there’s nothing wrong with a casual and friendly fyi.

    2. Ivy*

      Agreed! Part-time retail and office work are two different worlds! A young person going from one to the other may not know how to navigate. Especially if they are working with people close to their own age. It makes me believe that the coworker would really listen if you just sit her down for a casual one-on-one. Heck! I would be thankful if I was her (and maybe a little embarrassed). If she doesn’t take the advice in stride and is upset/defensive instead, then that’s not someone you want to be working with anyways.

      1. -X-*

        Different context, but related – we had an awesome intern where I work whose dress was not professional enough for some of the future jobs she was looking for. So I mentioned it to her nicely. And it turns out HR did too. And she appreciated it and changed. And as her internship wrapped up just got a good job with another organization!!

        There’s a lot to be said for being honest, especially with people who have potential to change.

  8. K.*

    It’s hard to know the balance to strike sometimes. I tend to go the other way – I’m a private person and tend not to say much about my personal life. (People who are like “I’m an open book! Ask me anything!” confuse me.) Some people read that as cold. It’s not that; I think I’m a pretty friendly person and don’t have trouble getting along with people, at work or otherwise. It’s just that … I don’t know, it’s easier to err on the side of caution than it is for me to overshare.

    Bodily functions, though, should stay out of conversation. I would discreetly ask a female colleague for a tampon if I were caught without one, but that’s it as far as talking about my menstrual cycle. I agree that you should speak to her directly – it sounds like you like her, and going over her head may come across as more confrontational than you mean it to be.

    1. Alisha*

      I’m closer to “too private” as well, but that is intentional, as I have some personal characteristics that a minority find offensive, scary, etc. Self-protection mechanism in my case, until I get to know a person well – not personal!

    1. Alisha*

      If it happened to be a tattoo of the LA punk band FEAR, I might just have to high-five the co-worker (after hours of course). for keeping tradition alive. Heh.

  9. KayDay*

    Speaking of TMI–it is also very awkward when you simply overhear very personal conversations. I was just in our office’s restroom that is share with a number of different suites….while I was there, two women I’ve never met from another company were having a conversation that, well, let’s just say I had to wait in the stall until they left because I am sure that my blushing was quite obvious.

  10. Just Me*

    I don’t know. I am kind of on the fence with it. Probably a little too much info for a newcomer but I am not sure I’d worry about it. I usually just let things like that roll.

    The OP says she might not make her 90 days because of it but I didn’t see where she is getting that from.

    If the OP is thinking of saying something to the manager then I am thinking she doesn’t know? I am unclear as to where the OP thinks the 90 will be an issue if the manager doesn’t see this over-sharing.
    ( It is also Friday so I am tired so maybe I missed it )
    OP – who is going to determine the 90 days issue with it soley being the TMI issue?

    1. Long Time Admin*

      It sounds like their office is more on the conservative side, and all this “sharing” is not being accepted well. Inappropriate behavior can make a big difference in whether someone stays on after the probationary 90 days or not.

      Way back in the olden days, new workers were gently mentored in appropriate office behavior by more mature co-workers. In this instance, the OP could simply tell the new girl that sharing so much personal information is not appropriate in that office. She needs to know!

  11. TracyB*

    In cases of personal information, so much depends on the situation I think. I work for a nonprofit in a department with 3 other women. The four of us have worked together for at least 10 years (great place to work – very little turnover) We have developed friendships over that time – watching our children grow up, marriage struggles, serious health issues, etc. If one of us mentioned anything about their period (though we are all at the stage of complaining about hot flashes) we wouldn’t think anything about it.

    It is a different scenario in a new job situation obviously and I am sure that she doesn’t realize that isn’t appropriate in your environment or she wouldn’t do it. Just short comment to her about how that isn’t the environment there is probably all it would take.

  12. JLH*

    This is a very person-t0-person thing. I’ve gotten into discussions with co-workers that other people would say “TMI”, but I was perfectly fine discussing.

    As you’re the one that is uncomfortable, what you need to do is go to her, directly and privately (email is okay), and say, “I was uncomfortable to hear you discuss your period and see you flash your tattoo. Next time, please do that out of my range of hearing/field of vision. Thanks!” If you make it about you specifically and not in general (as other people don’t have a problem with it), it’s likely to be met with an apology and a compliance of your wishes.

    1. Ellie H.*

      That is one of the grossest things I’ve heard in quite some time. I also don’t even really understand it.

  13. Jessica*

    I know. My jaw dropped when I heard the story. Work is the last place to share something like that (and really, I’m not sure if her friends would necessarily want to hear it either). She was wearing a maxi dress, so I guess that’s what she meant about covering up.

  14. Thebe*

    Wow, Jessica, your story tops anything I could possibly write, but we had woman in our office who was huge oversharer. A simple “Hey, how’s it going?” in the morning always sparked a 20-minute monologue about her life. The gluten-free diet drama went on for months. Then she started having kidney problems and everyday it was about the kidneys — we learned all about the kidneys. We’re a pretty friendly, tolerant office, but the people around her quickly started to look hunted.

    Funnily enough, she became engaged last year, and we all braced ourselves for the inevitable wedding oversharing, but she was really low-key and normal about that. Although frankly, I would have preferred that to the kidneys!

  15. Editor*

    Years ago, I got to work and related the dramatic story of the idiot on the road ahead of me. A co-worker turned to me and said, “You know, nobody cares about your drive to work. You tell us about it every day.”

    I was a little taken aback — I tried to be funny with those stories and my family members had always had told those kinds of stories at home over dinner — but I stopped talking about my commute. It took me a long while to recognize that I liked a little bit of conversation to start the day off, and that was my way of initiating it.

    Maybe the OP’s coworker has the same problem — she wants to talk to people at work and feel engaged, but she has no idea how to start a conversation (and perhaps she knows not to bring up religion and politics). I’ve been in some offices where the newspaper crossword and the comics were the conversation starters. Needing a topic of general interest is why so many people talk about sports at work and why so many used to talk about prime-time TV shows (remember Survivor’s first couple of seasons — talk about general interest and oversharing rolled into one — ugh).

    So maybe OP’s oversharer needs to learn to knit or quilt or make beer or something so she can obsess about something less disturbing. Ravelry for the office — what a concept.

  16. Student*

    I’d say to her, privately, something like this:

    “Dear, I’m so glad we have you around now, but I wanted to make a suggestion about how to relate with the other folks around the office. The other day I saw you showing off your tattoo to someone. Don’t do that publicly! The guys are never going to take you seriously if you flash that much skin. It’s sometimes hard to take, but that’s the price of being a successful woman at work – you cannot afford to come off as a bimbo. You are obviously a smart young women, so please keep your clothes on at work so you can move up in the company!”

    If she whines about showing off the tattoo, suggest she show it off somewhere that isn’t company property – like the beach.

    And I’m sure the management heard about her near-stripping at work. That’s a bit different than over-sharing about a period and bound to draw unwanted attention to her. Sex appeal doesn’t earn you promotions, but it does earn you a very special place in the office gossip mill.

  17. Julie*

    One time a bunch of us were in the trainers’ break room, and one of the guys asked if we wanted to see his tattoo. We said yes, so (after checking for supervisors) he undid his pants and pulled them down on one side to show us his Eeyore tattoo very high on his thigh, just next to his groin area. Mostly I was impressed that he would do something so outrageous, and the tattoo was adorable. We were all very friendly, so I THINK it was fine with everyone. He was a really nice guy, and everyone liked him, and I don’t think anyone else would have been able to pull this off (no pun intended!).

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