During your time in the workforce, you might find it wise to rein in your personal activities and behavior, even if you’re not at work and what you’re doing isn’t related to your job. Consumers sometimes judge a company by the actions of its workers, even if those actions are positive, such as being politically active. Being discreet, or keeping your personal life low-key and less public, helps you avoid potential work conflicts or assessments of you that might not be fair.


The word “discretion” comes from the root word, “discreet,” which the Oxford English Dictionary describes as “careful and prudent in one’s speech or actions, especially in order to keep something confidential or to avoid embarrassment.” Discretion involves the choices you make to be careful in what you say or do. People who discuss their personal lives openly are said to be indiscreet or to practice a lack of discretion. A simple example of discretion is whether you excuse yourself and say, “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” or announce, “I need to go to the bathroom.”


Discussing others in the workplace shows a lack of professional discretion. Your words can damage a person, and they may make others wonder if you also are talking about them. In addition to not starting conversations about others, don’t participate in them or even agree with a negative comment someone else makes -- that allows someone to say you agreed that the target of gossip has a problem. Never discuss your pay, specifically or even just your happiness or unhappiness with your compensation. In some cases, such as a coworker being fired, discretion is not only sympathetic, but it also can prevent legal problems, which is why many companies don’t allow discussion of personnel issues. This is especially important for human resources employees.

Politics and Religion

Whether you follow Jesus or Mohammed or voted for candidate A or candidate B shouldn’t affect your performance as a bookkeeper, marketing manager or human resources director -- but it often does. Discussing religion and politics often involves justifying or defending one side, which can lead to the obvious conclusion that you think the other side is wrong. Even if you don’t argue about politics or religion, announcing yours is like wearing the football jersey of the college that just beat your boss’ team. Creating a personal blog outside of work can hurt your company if customers stop patronizing the business because they don’t like what you’re writing -- exercising professional discretion, you might write under a pen name.


Whether you are dating someone at work or outside your company, keep the details private. Bragging about your sexual prowess or complaining about your nagging partner doesn’t improve your coworkers’ lives, can be awkward for others to hear or simply might be boring. Additionally, if you let coworkers know you’re willing discuss the person closest to you, they won’t feel their secrets are safe with you. Avoid negative statements about your children, siblings, parents -- or even softball teammates -- to avoid the perception you can’t get along with people close to you.

Clients or Employers

Don’t say negative things about your company during your time there or after you leave if you want to maintain professional discretion. If a particular department is performing poorly or if the overall company is slumping, you show disloyalty and decrease morale if you gossip about the problems. It is more difficult to climb the ladder if management thinks you’re not a team player. When you leave a company, be discreet in what you say about it. Don’t reveal internal secrets or trash the company, or you’ll send a signal that you might do the same when you leave your new company. Some clients don’t want it known they hired you, especially if you provide management consulting, and you may not use their name in your marketing. If you are interviewing for a new job, showing loyalty to a business or client you worked for shows integrity and that you can be trusted. Discussing your company’s business outside of work also can have legal implications.