Should we leave our personal life at home?

If you’ve ever had a job, I’m sure you’ve heard someone say something like this:

Leave your personal life at home
No more drama. Leave your personal life at home.
(Source: When people problems become profit problems)

I always remember my manager at my first ‘real’ job sitting us all down and telling us ‘you must leave your personal life at the door when you come to work. It’s unacceptable to bring your personal problems to work with you.’  I didn’t understand this: did she really expect us to just forget who we are?  Were we supposed to become robots who did nothing more than the tasks listed in our job description?

We’re often told that we should keep our personal lives separate from our work lives, but I don’t agree that we should leave our personal lives at the door when we go to work. In fact, I think we should encourage employees and colleagues to share more about their personal lives. Here’s why.

Family life and creativity

Aside from the fact that it is unrealistic to expect people to just forget about their family and personal lives for 8 hours a day, should we really want them to?  What are we missing out on if we don’t share in these things?  Architect Iris Regn and artist Rebecca Niederlander are investigating the relationship between family and creativity in a project called Broodwork.  Their research shows that family is ‘a pivotal influence to produce profound and unexpected work.’  In her TED Talk, Anne-Marie Slaughter argues family life is undervalued in society, particularly in the workplace. She recognises that employees who are also caregivers are not only more patient, adaptable and efficient, they also have a wider range of experiences and contacts.  Put simply: family life helps with creative practice.

It’s better for business

All good businesses have a broader purpose than to make money, but at the end of the day we all need to make a living, so the job needs to get done.  Allowing people to share their personal lives (good and bad) at work doesn’t have to mean that the job doesn’t get done. In fact, it can help to build better teams.

In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg says that having a strong and well-connected team helps people to feel more motivated: ‘Sharing emotions builds deeper relationships. Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about. To really care about others, we have to understand them – what they like and dislike, what they feel as well as think.’

A team who is well connected not only work better together, but are more committed to each other. If people like each other they want to help each other and in order to like each other they need to understand and connect with each other.

I’ve witnessed this first hand. Over the last few years, we’ve changed our focus when hiring new staff from looking for the person with the best skills for the job to looking for the person who is the best fit for our team. Don’t get me wrong, ability to do the job is crucial, but team dynamic wins every time.  We now have a fantastic team who work very well together and who are always willing to help each other out. They relate to each other on a personal level as well as on a professional level. They are not expected to leave their personal lives at the door.

You don't build a business, you build people and then people build the business.

We’re all human

At the end of the day, business is about people. Yes, we’re at work to do a job, but we’re all human. We all have good days and bad days, highs and lows, fears and dreams.  If we want the best out of people, it’s only fair that we support them through their highs and lows.

We spend a lot of time with our colleagues. If we’re going through a hard time, it’s nice to know that we have some support. While we might not be able to solve each other’s problems, moral support goes a long way.  Professional decisions are often driven by emotions. Allowing and encouraging our employees to express their emotions enables us to have a better understanding of their needs and can help us to tailor solutions that work for everyone involved.  In turn, this is more likely to lead to satisfied and loyal employees.

Its not all negative though, we should share in the good just as much as we should support people through the bad. One thing I love about taking my daughter to work is that my colleagues have watched her grow with me.  I wouldn’t be my true self if I came to work and acted like she didn’t exist.

I often hear of parents who feel like they have to hide their family when, for example, they leave work early to get home for dinner with their kids or or come in late after a class assembly. We’re all going through the same thing, so why should we have to hide this in a professional setting?  Surely it will become easier to manage parenting and a career if we are all open and honest.

Employees who have a supportive workplace are more likely to return the goodwill in the employer’s time of need.  Not only that, showing that we are human can only make us more relatable and, therefore, better leaders and mentors.

As Sandberg says, ‘an all-business approach is not always good business.’  We should accept and encourage people to be their full selves at work. This means both revelling in the good and supporting through the bad.


  1. Living Life Our Way | 3rd Feb 17

    Yes, I totally agree with this! It is good to open up and connect in all areas of our life x

  2. Lauren | 4th Feb 17

    If your employer hopes for you to embrace your role as more than just a job, then they have to reciprocate and become more than just your boss.

    The best companies I have worked in were those that valued me as a person, and not just a worker. Happy workers are good workers.

  3. Jo - Mother of Teenagers | 4th Feb 17

    I totally agree. The key to a successful team is the personal relationships you develop and that cannot be done by donning a work specific mask each morning. Also the amount of you spend at work requires you to open up as an individual too. I have made some of my best friends through work. Really interesting read. #PoCoLo

  4. Hayley@ Mission: Mindfulness | 4th Feb 17

    Yes – we are all humans and not robots! Research shows that people who are ‘surface acting’ all day are much more likely to suffer from a high-level of stress than those who can be honest about things that are going on at home etc. Really good post (as ever :-)) xx

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 5th Feb 17

      I’m not surprised! Acting like everything is ok when it really isn’t is hard work! xx

  5. chickenruby | 5th Feb 17

    i think there are pro’s and con’s with this. one spends 8+ hours a day with colleagues and one can’t help but sharing personal information, and of course some of these colleagues become very good friends who are involved in your life outside of work also. It is also good to let colleagues know if things are bad at home, not necessarily the details, but if you’re having problems in a marriage, or financial difficulties or sick children, your colleagues need to know you may not be firing on all cylinders. The problem comes from over sharing and letting your emotions get in the way of work and causing problems within the organisation, such as erratic or argumentative phone calls, inability to do one’s job because personal life is taking priority. I’m sure over the years I’ve missed out on promotions and job offers because my face just hasn’t fitted into the existing team and this can be dangerous, because as people leave the team changes anyway. Popping over from PoCoLo.

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 5th Feb 17

      I agree to an extent. There have been many days where I’ve been unable to do my job for personal reasons. Having a good relationship with my colleagues, such that I can share personal details with them, has absolutely saved me. Having said that, a line must be drawn somewhere. Thank you for taking the time to share your views, I really appreciate it.

  6. Jaki | 5th Feb 17

    I completely agree. We spend a lot of time at work and I don’t think it’s right we should just switch off from our day to day lives – especially when you have children. It’s only natural that we have them on our mind 24/7 – it doesn’t mean we are incapable of working. #pocolo

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 6th Feb 17

      Of course not. We’re fantastic multi-taskers, don’t you know!?

  7. Amy @ HandbagMafia | 5th Feb 17

    Couldn’t agree more!

  8. Topfivemum | 5th Feb 17

    It would be lovely to leave everything at the door, including work when I return home too! Our minds can’t just switch off like that and we have a million things to keep ticking along once we have a family. My husband runs a parenting network at his company and they have recently done a very powerful video for managers entitled “would you work for you”. It brings to light all the types of things like this that managers expect of employees. I totally agree that being in a connected team where I feel supported is always going to make me work better and feel more fulfilled. Fab post!

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 6th Feb 17

      Oh that video sounds really interesting. I’d love to see it! I’m guessing its an internal video? Do let me know if they share it because it sounds really interesting.
      You’re right about leaving work at the door too, it just doesn’t happen in real life.

  9. Rach | 7th Feb 17

    Interesting piece. I used to be very much of the opinion that personal is personal and work is work. So if things were falling apart in my personal life then this should haven no bearing on my work life. Things had to carry on as normal. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism.
    These days, now I have a family it’s not always easy to keep the 2 separate. #globalblogging

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 7th Feb 17

      So many people agree with you on that and many businesses operate this way. I just don’t think it is realistic. If your personal world is falling apart you’re not going to be on your A-game at work, as much as you may try.

  10. Rebecca | 8th Feb 17

    I am strongly of the opinion that one should keep work and personal life separate but there is a fine line when it comes to family. I think my belief is more that I wish to keep work colleagues as just that, at work. I don’t tend to socialise with them out of work apart from the Christmas ‘do’! I also don’t like to ponder on my work life while at home as I want my mind to be free of that stress so I can focus on my family. BUT I always let my colleagues know about any times where I need time off for appointments for my little man and am very open with what is going on in my persona l life if they ask. <3

  11. Stephanie Robinson | 9th Feb 17

    Totally agree – it’s our life experiences who make us who we are, and often make us more able to do the job. Sometimes it gets out of kilter, but hey that’s life right? For everyone. Thanks for sharing with #PoCoLo x

  12. One Messy Mama | 10th Feb 17

    This is a difficult one. I think there is a fine line. Yes, it’s OK to bring your personal life to work, but when it gets to a point where it is interfering with your work, I think we need to take a step back and re-evaluate. However as a previous reader wrote, we are not robots, we cannot ignore our realities. Thank you for sharing #globalblogging


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