NSFW: To Share or Not to Share? » Mind Tools Blog
NSFW: Not Safe For Work

NSFW: To Share or Not to Share?

August 22, 2019

GettyImages/emirmemedovksi

You’re part of a tight team. You frequently communicate out of hours to help one another out and share ideas. You socialize. You’re becoming good friends and collaborators. Then you share something NSFW – not safe for work.

This kind of terrible mistake could wreck your reputation and working relationships – or someone else’s. But where are the boundaries between OK and NSFW? To share or not to share, asks Mind Tools’ Lucy Bishop

Social Media Etiquette at Work

We love to share. OK, maybe not that last bit of cake or that post-lunch candy bar that we’ve been looking forward to all day. But give me a cat video, an epic fail, a panda sneeze, a life hack, pictures of our dinners (how did this ever become a thing?), playlists… and we’re on it, happily sharing away.

We do it on our holidays, at home, on our daily commute. On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp. We can’t stop ourselves. But what about sharing at work? Sure, you might be excited to share Lady Gaga’s new music video in which she’s wearing barely anything, a risqué joke, or even pictures of your recent bar crawl.

Are these really appropriate things to share at work, though? Or are they, in fact, NSFW?

The abbreviation NSFW is often used as a warning label in an email subject line or social media post when sharing a link to potentially inappropriate content.

Commonly, it’s used when users forward lewd jokes or crude videos to their friends. And considering that millions of us read our personal email at work, the NSFW tag does help save people from embarrassment in front of their co-workers or supervisor.

The Perils of Being an Oversharer

I’m a bit of an oversharer. I’m constantly whining about my kids, my husband, my car, politics… everything, really. I talk too fast. And I have, occasionally, without meaning to, ended up stumbling into areas of my life I really shouldn’t have with a co-worker.

I’ve definitely sworn at inappropriate times in the office (hangs head in shame – secretly hoping I’m not alone here). But I’ve also been on the flipside of oversharing. Take the girl in my office who wanted to be my Facebook friend. I thought, sure, why not?

That is, until I saw her half-nude profile photo and decided against it. I just didn’t need to see that much of her. It made me feel awkward. I console myself with the idea that working out where the boundaries lie can be a bit of a minefield.

Modern work practices and our addiction to social media has blurred the line between the personal and the professional. We are constantly being told to bring our “authentic” selves to work.

And that’s great for building rapport, and for giving us the confidence to speak freely and collaborate with each other. But it doesn’t mean that we need to go to work completely unfiltered. We need boundaries.

No doubt, your work bestie will be dying to hear all the juicy details of your latest mad night out, but your boss is a different story. Sharing the wrong kind of information with the wrong person may even lead to irreparable reputational damage, not to mention a lifetime of embarrassment. It may even cost you your job.

Safe to Share or NSFW?

Types of Content

If it’s a risqué joke, or a video that contains sexual innuendos or extreme political views, it’s best to set out clearly to your recipients what they can expect with an NSFW tag.

In the case of racist or homophobic remarks, never, ever send it. There is no context in which it’s acceptable. As Olivia Nuzzi, Political Reporter for The Daily Beast, put it, “Dance like no one is watching. Email like it may one day be read aloud in a deposition.”

Read the Room

Tagging your content NSFW doesn’t automatically make it OK to share with your colleagues.

Ask yourself, can you trust that the person you’re sharing stuff with is going to “get” it? Or, are they going to be offended or hurt by it? If the answer is the latter, move your finger away from that share button!

Chances are, you have like-minded people at work with a similar sense of humor. They’ll most likely take whatever you share with them in the light-hearted, jovial way it was intended.

But if you are uncertain about how someone might react, it’s probably best to avoid sharing that content. You don’t want to upset or anger someone.

Pick the Right Channel

Clearly, sending something close to or over the line to all users by company email is possibly one of the dumbest things you could do at work. And while texting or WhatsApping colleagues is safer, an NSFW warning label won’t save you if the content is just too unsavory.

As chatrooms like Slack, Campfire and Google Hangouts become popular tools for team collaboration, remember those messages are kept on a server somewhere and are just as retrievable as emails.

So, tread just as cautiously on work chatrooms as you would on any other platform.

Pitfalls and Precautions

Boundaries

We all have different boundaries. What is NSFW, of course, also depends on the culture of the workplace. And times change: what might have been acceptable in the 1980s may not be now.

A simple test for gauging where today’s boundaries are is to ask yourself, “What would the average person think if I sent them this?”

Company Policies

HR professionals are any organization’s “designated drivers.” They take the safest route and all the necessary precautions to ensure a safe working environment is maintained.

It’s not really that they’re preachy, they are just aware of the pitfalls. If you’re in doubt about something potentially NSFW, you could do a lot worse than to check your company’s employee handbook. Or ask HR.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Anything that breaches confidentiality or impinges on someone else’s privacy, as well as being NSFW, spells TROUBLE.

Mindlessly pinging on stuff you get, without thinking how it might impact on other people or your company, is at best reckless. At worst it’s an act that could get you fired or your company sued.

NSFW: Repairing the Damage

If the worst happens and your heart sinks with the dawning realization that you have, indeed, made a serious error of judgment, don’t panic. Take a deep breath and prepare to face up to the situation. There’s no hiding from it.

If it warrants it, get advice from your HR department. Get them involved, to mediate and, hopefully, help you to find a way to limit the damage. They are the professionals; they’ve seen it all before. And it’s better that you look for them than the other way around!

Whatever the case, one thing you must do is to apologize directly, in person if possible. And quickly. If the offending NSFW material was posted to a group chat, the same applies – apologize quickly.

Take full responsibility and acknowledge the impact your mistake may have had on affected parties. The way you respond to your mistake will say a lot about you.

You’ve recognized it, you’re sorry about it, you’ve tried quickly to make amends. You’ve done the right thing.

See our guide on How to Apologize here. And find out more about Making Amends and how to Recover Your Reputation if it all goes wrong.

Have you shared inappropriate content at work, and been caught out? How did you – and your boss – deal with it? Share your experiences in the Comments, below.


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