Talking About Taboos At Work

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What I learned about taboo topics between profit and nonprofit organizations

A job is just a job. You show up and do the work and leave, right?

Well, not exactly. It still requires you to mingle with your co-workers, and sometimes, things could get a little uncomfortable if certain topics are brought up. For example, your sex life, politics, and religion are considered very taboo to bring up in workplaces. Everyone sees things differently, and people are careful to not offend others. But what if your workplace actually encourages these topics to be brought up and discussed? Would that be even weirder?

Recently, I spoke with Leah Alpern, the branch administrator coordinator for the University YMCA on the University of Minnesota campus. She says that working in a non-profit allows her to censor herself less compared to working in a for-profit. “There’s nothing really off topic with [my boss],” Leah says. “I even talked to her about Tinder.”

Tinder is an app that people use to meet other people around the area. Each person has a profile that displays their photo and a brief biography, and you either swipe right if you like the person, or left if you don’t. You get a match when both you and the other person swiped right on each other’s profile. Leah says it is a very superficial way for people to meet each other, but it’s not a topic that she shies away from with her current boss. “In a for-profit, it is more important to make relationships. So topics that are more personal are brought up to foster these relationships,” Leah says. “For-profits want you to cut the chit-chat, stop talking altogether and do more work. They want you to make more money for them.”

Leah used to work at a for-profit company called Gas and Management that managed condos and townhomes. She says that her boss there made it very clear of his political views, and anything that went against them was off-limits. “He was very conservative,” Leah says. “So basically politics can’t be talked about, and I definitely didn’t talk about Tinder with him.”

Leah also felt uncomfortable speaking about religion in her previous workplace. She is Jewish, and says that almost everybody in her work place was Christian. It was common for people to not speak highly of other races. At her current job, she feels her coworkers have a different mindset. She says that religion is openly discussed and people respect each other’s views. “It lessens the taboo around it when it is brought up at the YMCA,” Leah says. “It just shows the kind of people that are present here.”

A non-profit organization like the YMCA apparently is so open to uncomfortable topics that they also talk about body fluids like any other regular conversation. Leah says she and her co-workers at the YMCA have made pooping in the workplace a hot-button issue. “You think about what floor that you want to poop on,” Leah says. “Do I want to go to the third floor or the basement where there is nobody [that goes to use the bathroom?]”

So next time when you are applying for a job, think about the environment and maybe ask for a tour of the place first. Gauge the place and the people that you will potentially be working with. Then consider the conservations that you might have with them; if everything just seems uncomfortable to you in your head, it probably will be that way in real life. And if it’s something you aren’t able to handle, consider working for a non-profit organization, they will accept you for who you are!