Most of my co-workers are five-15 years my senior, married, have children, and live in the suburbs. Needless to say, they aren’t going on many weekend trips or weekday concerts. I, however, cherish my mini adventures to visit friends in other cities and late-night Hot Chip concerts (last night for example). I love my co-workers, but when they ask me about my weekend or what I did the night before, I find myself frequently telling white lies like, the “weekend was really relaxing”, when really I was boozing it up in Philly. I worry that revealing the truth will make me look too young and unsettled, emphasize my census status as single, or just simply make them jealous. Are those concerns valid or should I just tell the truth?
— A.W., Wrigleyville
I was brought up to tell the truth unless it’ll hurt someone’s feelings or lead to a bigger lie. Later on, I learned that it’s also acceptable to enhance reality when there’s a beat cop pointing a flashlight down the alley, asking whether you’ve been peeing somewhere that doesn’t flush.
While the third scenario probably doesn’t pertain to you (except last weekend in Philadelphia), the first two might. I doubt that co-workers will get particularly jealous of your escapades — they likely had their own — but you’re right to fret over appearing “too young and unsettled.” As much as most workplaces crave the creative energy that we young whippersnappers bring, managers continually nurse concerns that their less settled charges will bolt to join a tech incubator or start their own brand of cruelty-free apricots.
“There are many pitfalls to avoid when attempting to climb the corporate ladder. One of them is revealing too much about one’s self to co-workers and the boss,” says Michon Ellis, CEO of LimeGreen, a downtown marketing agency and a former hiring exec at McDonald’s. “From the boss’s perspective, it’s risky to promote someone who is perceived to be an adventurous soul all the time.”
But nobody says you have to tell the whole truth and nothing but. If you’re averse to fibbing but still want to take part in the office banter, just edit yourself vigorously. “Sharing details about a weekend encounter at a nightclub is probably a bad idea,” Ellis adds. “Continue to keep the weekend details vague and at a high level.” Best not to lie wholesale for all the reasons you learned in grade school — it’s a bad habit, it’s immoral, and you’ll probably trip over yourself later on. If you went to Philly, say so. But instead of recasting the ride you took on a barroom mechanical bull as “pet-sitting,” just skip that episode altogether and focus on the cheesesteak you wolfed down two hours later.
I’m one of the youngest people in an office of 1,400 (literally). I work in the Loop, which means I’m never far from somewhere to spend money. How acceptable is it to come back with shopping bags from my lunch break?
Whenever I wander around laden with shopping bags, people usually just toss change my way or yell at me to get a job. Since you’re already gainfully employed, I’m guessing your bags are filled with something other than blankets and unfinished crossword puzzles. To each his own.
“There’s two ways of looking at this,” says Barbara Pachter, author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette and a communications adjunct at Rutgers. “If you stick to your lunch hour, it’s your time. The flipside is that if you spend all of your time shopping, people may begin to wonder.”
The truth is that outside of wearing jorts on Casual Friday, few people notice one-offs in the office. Unless you have an office stalker — in which case you probably should have asked about remedying that — you can do most anything every now and again. That’s particularly true at a company with 1,400 employees, where you can bask in your relative anonymity. “You always have to look at the pattern of behavior. If it happens every once in a while, nobody’s going to notice,” says Pachter.
I’d tell you to bring a bigger purse on the days you plan to go shopping, but if you’re spending your lunch hour trawling the aisles at Macy’s often enough that it qualifies as a pattern, you likely have bigger problems than the derision of your colleagues.
Got a question about how to act around the water cooler? Tongue planted firmly in cheek, we’ll find an adult to answer it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org