40 Topics You Can't Discuss at Work

The office isn't a place to let your hair down.

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Karen Burns
You spend a lot of time at your job. Maybe most of your waking hours. Ideally, your boss and coworkers become your friends, which is nice.

But be careful! Never forget that you can’t totally let your hair down with work friends the way you might with family, old schoolmates, your book group, your buddies, or your cat/dog.

[See 15 essentials to getting hired.]

Why? For one thing, the workplace is a public place and public rules of decorum prevail. For another, a lot of subjects--even ones commonly discussed or ones you see referred to on TV--can turn around and reflect badly on you. They can besmirch your reputation or damage your chances of promotion. Sometimes they can get you fired. At the very least they can cause coworkers to avoid or dislike you.

So, check out these 40 topics that shouldn't be discussed on the job. Some of them are no-brainers. Heck, most of them are. However, all of them have actually been brought up in the workplace at one time or another. You’ve probably heard them yourself. (Note: The last seven are not so very horrible, but the problem is that these are topics that some people tend to go on and on about, and that’s why they made the list. You’ll understand when you get there.)

[See 25 tips for acing the lunch interview.]

  1. Your politics
  2. Your religion
  3. Your salary
  4. Your medical history
  5. Your sexual exploits
  6. Any workplace gossip
  7. Any plans to quit
  8. Your aches and pains
  9. How much you just paid for something
  10. The progress, or lack thereof, of your therapy
  11. Your blog URL
  12. How much time you spend on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  13. How messy your house is
  14. Your extensive knowledge of curse words
  15. The fact that you’re ovulating, PMS-ing, or having your period
  16. Your hot flashes
  17. Gory details of any major illness or accident
  18. Your Viagra side effects
  19. Your tax problems
  20. Your criminal record
  21. How much you hate a thing
  22. Your difficulty in digesting any food, and symptoms thereof
  23. Your, or your wife’s, fertility treatment
  24. Your, or your wife’s, miscarriage
  25. Your messy divorce
  26. Your expertise in filching office supplies
  27. Your penis size
  28. Any odd/quirky/weird habits
  29. The state of your undergarments
  30. Your fear that you’re going to lose your job
  31. How much you hate your job
  32. How much you hate your customers
  33. How much you hate the boss 
  34. Your cute kids
  35. Your adorable pets
  36. Your last, or next, vacation
  37. Your new house, boat, car, computer, etc.
  38. Your home remodel
  39. Your wedding plans
  40. Your diet
  41. So are you wondering what is OK to talk about?

    Well, you can discuss the work at hand as much as you want, of course.

    [See the 50 worst job interview mistakes.]

    You are also free to make chitchat about hobbies and interests, the movie you went to see last weekend, the great book you’re reading, the class you just signed up for, current events (be a little careful with this one), the weather, sports, art, history, music, or, on a limited basis, Nos. 34 through 40 above.

    See? That’s a lot!

    Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.