A post about an employee who was reluctant to “be vulnerable” with colleagues at work has been backed by users on Mumsnet, the U.K.-based online forum.

In a post shared on Mumsnet’s Am I Being Unreasonable (AIBU), user HangryBerd said: “My work is conducting training which tells us that we need to share our life stories, disclose what makes us ‘us,’ be vulnerable, share our emotions. If we don’t, we are told that we’re being anti-inclusion. My colleagues and manager are therefore having a go at me for being too private.”

The comments from the other workers were mostly “about me being too private and being nosey where I’ve declined to answer questions, so maybe I’m just being too sensitive to criticism there,” the user noted in a later post.

Worker speaking at table in office.
A stock image of a person standing up to speak in front of colleagues in an office setting. It’s easier to “establish and deepen interpersonal relationships” at work when there are clear boundaries, a life coach told Newsweek.
iStock / Getty Images Plus

“I’m finding this really upsetting as I’ll chat to anyone about many things but there are aspects that are very difficult to talk about. They’re nothing to do with work and quite frankly nobody else’s business. AIBU to stand my ground?,” the user asked.

An August 2006 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Communication Studies found that “supervisor–subordinate relationship quality was positively related to both the amount and quality of information employees received from their immediate supervisor.

“Regression analyses also indicated that the quality of information employees received from their supervisors and co‐workers was positively related to their job satisfaction and commitment to the organization,” the study said.

The user in the latest Mumsnet post said the push to share their life stories at work is part of a diversity initiative at an international company.

The poster explained: “The expectation is that we share information on things like serious mental health conditions and our relationship histories.”

Ali Greene, co-author of Remote Works: Managing for Freedom, Flexibility and Focus, told Newsweek: “The nuance of how much vulnerability to share at work is a personal choice; there must be a shared sense of trust within the team itself, something that is clearly missing when the poster is mocked by her choice of privacy.

“Sharing requires a level of psychological safety; however, in the beginning of a team’s life cycle, that first level of psychological safety has not been built,” she said.

Greene also noted “life stories” do not have to be synonymous with sharing personal information. For example, “sharing history about your professional persona” may help the team understand your background, working preferences and build trust.

Life and mindset coach Elizabeth C. Burrows told Newsweek: “Creating an inclusive workplace through personal connection sounds good in theory, but it’s important to acknowledge that the workplace isn’t equally safe for everyone. Vulnerability only creates connection when it is offered voluntarily…”

Burrows said you should not be afraid to set clear boundaries at work. It’s easier to “establish and deepen interpersonal relationships” when there are clear boundaries because they act like “guardrails for relationships.”

She said: “You’ll actually help your colleagues understand what’s off limits for you, which will reduce their chances of unintentionally hurting you.”

Career coach Kyle Elliott told Newsweek that while talking about yourself and your identity is a way to build trust and community with colleagues, “it’s a fine line that requires intention and nuance.”

He said: “Before sharing about your personal life at work, consider the goal of your disclosure. Additionally, ask yourself if it’s solely for your personal benefit, or if it supports a larger goal. While it’s okay to be vulnerable at work, you want to strike a balance and ensure you don’t cross professional boundaries.”

Career strategist Elizabeth Sandler told Newsweek “a common middle ground” can be found by asking people to share basic demographic information (ie where they grew up and how many siblings they have) and later move towards sharing their core values and strengths. “Co-workers need to know these things so they can maximize each team member’s effectiveness.”

She also noted that if a person feels very uncomfortable sharing about themselves, “then it could be a sign that they aren’t in the right work environment for them.”

Worker looking uncomfortable in office.
A stock image of a woman looking uncomfortable while standing up in an office setting. A post about an employer demanding a worker be “vulnerable” in front of colleagues has been criticized by users on Mumsnet.
iStock / Getty Images Plus

Several users on Mumsnet sided with the original poster.

Piffpaffpoff said: “Stand your ground. Or say what makes you you is your sense of privacy and leave it there.”

Veryverycalmnow agreed, noting: “This sounds shocking. Surely they can’t force this…Boundaries are different for different people…stand your ground.”

slamfightbrightlight wrote: “YANBU [you’re not being unreasonable]. This whole ‘bring your whole self to work’ trend is bulls***. Just let us do our jobs.”

CallTheMobWife said: “Tell them they aren’t being inclusive of all the people who have no desire to share their secrets to co-workers, and in fact they are being highly intrusive and discriminatory…”

Newsweek was not able to verify the details of this case.

Do you have a similar work dilemma? Let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured on Newsweek.

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