my employee keeps over-sharing personal medical details

A reader writes:

I oversee a team of five members, and one of the team members is very open about medical stuff. When she was pregnant a few years ago (we were peers at the time), I was informed of every single one of her first trimester nauseas. Now that I supervise her, if she has a medical appointment, she not only informs me that she will be out of the office for the afternoon, but also what her symptoms and pain levels are, what kind of doctor she will see, what they are looking for, etc. To be clear, I never prompt her to give me this kind of information. On a personal level, I don’t particularly mind hearing it — it’s not gory or gross, it’s more on par with what you might share with a close friend.

Is it okay that she shares all this information without prompting, or should I put a stop to it? I regularly remind the team of sick leave procedures, and at the same time remind them that their health status is private and that they have no obligation to disclose anything beyond the duration of their sick leave.

Also, I recently realized that this team member feels slighted by my apparent lack of concern! When she comes back from a medical examination or from leave, I simply say “welcome back,” I don’t ask if she’s okay or how her MRI went or what they found – I think she thinks it’s cold and distant of me. Should I address this, and if so, how?

I think it’s really up to you whether or not to put a stop to it. But one argument for doing so is that she might be contributing to a culture where other people feel like they’re expected to share these sorts of details as well — or one where her coworkers also get stuck hearing personal medical stuff that they’d rather not hear.

If you do talk to her about it, that’s the framing I’d use — something like, “It’s really important to me that no one here feels obligated to share personal medical information in order to take time off. I know you’re very comfortable sharing it, but I want to ask you to rein it in because I’m concerned that it may cause others to think they’re expected to share their own information. So going forward, it’s enough to just let me know that you’ll be out of the office, without including medical details as well.”

If she continues to do it even after that, then at that point I’d probably just let it go or stick with, at most, a kindly delivered “no need to give reasons — I trust you to manage your time.”

Now, as for her feeling slighted that you’re not checking back with her about the outcomes of these appointments: In general, it’s good to show a personal interest in your employees as humans (within reason and without violating people’s boundaries). If someone tells you that they’re not feeling well or have a scary medical appointment coming up, it’s kind to ask them later how they’re doing or if everything went okay. I could see how someone might feel a little slighted if they shared something like that with you and you never mentioned it again. But it’s a little stickier with this employee, because she’s sharing so much of it and you presumably don’t want to open the door to even more medical discussions. Because of that, it might be worth saying something to her like, “I really care about protecting your privacy so I don’t want to pry, so please don’t ever take my lack of follow-up on this kind of thing as anything other than that.” Normally I’d say to add “If there’s ever anything you do want to talk with me about, please know that you can” … but with her I’m worried about increasing the quantity, so I’d likely leave that off in this case.

{ 129 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Stephanie

    Oh, weird. I’m Team Talk to Her. I know some people are more comfortable discussing health issues than others, but I worry others might feel pressured to do so as well, which could be harder if it’s something more stigmatized like a mental health condition or HIV.

    I’m wondering if she came from an environment where they questioned the veracity of her medical appointments? She could have had an asshole boss who doubted if she was really going to the doctor and she now feels like she has to tell you all this stuff so you don’t think she’s lying.

    Reply
    1. Whats In A Name

      This could be part of the issue and I agree talking it through with her in a very nice way as opposed to a SHUT THIS DOWN way would be helpful.

      I’ve told story before about a prior office that even after an employee called off because he was admitted to the hospital the director went on and on about him using his sick time at inoportune time and he was only in hospital because he was dramatic as opposed to a legit reason. People were so scared to call in sick. It’s hard to not overjustify once you’ve been exposed to that level of toxicness, even if it’s been years.

      Reply
      1. Edith

        I overshared a lot at my first job when calling in sick, listing symptoms and telling my boss I was throwing up. When you’re a kid you have to make the case to your parents that you’re sick enough to miss school, and I assumed that’s how calling in sick to work worked. Blogs like this one disabused me of that notion.

        Pop culture is to blame, too. Whenever someone on TV or in the movies or in a medicine ad calls in sick they always make a big production out of it.

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        1. Alton

          I wouldn’t say I ever overshared, but I definitely felt pressured to justify my sick leave when I worked in a food service job in retail. There was so much guilt tripping about taking time off or not being available to cover shifts, and there was also some understandable wariness from the managers because this workplace had a hard time finding reliable employees (like the time a woman just stopped showing up for work and then came back a year later expecting to still have a job).

          So I remember specifying once that I was calling in because I was sick to my stomach. It’s hard to argue with that since it’s not safe to serve food if you’re vomiting or have diarrhea.

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          1. PatPat

            It wasn’t a year but I worked with someone who did something similar. We were servers in a restaurant and she no called/no showed and never came back. About 6 months later she came in for dinner and when it was time to pay the check she said, “I work here,” and asked for an employee discount! Her server said, “no you do not work here,” and walked off. The woman was shocked to find out she wasn’t an employee anymore!

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          2. Jo

            …just stopped showing up for work and then came back a year later expecting to still have a job….

            Please tell us this story, it sounds like this would be a good read!

            Reply
            1. Alton

              She stopped showing up, and it turned out she’d moved away or something and didn’t resign or tell anyone. When she moved back, she called the manager and asked to be scheduled. The crazy thing is I think either one of the higher up managers or the HR person actually wanted her to be allowed to come back.

              This is the same job where two managers were fired because one of them took a selfie smoking pot at the other manager’s house, and then showed it to everyone at work and bragged about it. Good judgement was limited there.

              Reply
      2. Lemon Zinger

        Agreed, a workplace can definitely require you to overshare.

        I was a few months into my first job out of college, and I’d used up most of my sick time already thanks to a coworker who kept coming in when she had the flu (!!!). Then I got into a serious car accident and had to miss a week due to a concussion, whiplash, and no transportation. My manager texted me EVERY DAY asking if I was going to come in. I’d sent her the picture of my car, destroyed beyond use, and she still didn’t get why I was too injured to work.

        Ultimately I felt pressured to return too soon, and I went to work while battling crippling headaches.

        Definitely left that job as soon as I could…

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      3. Marillenbaum

        My former boss once told us that during our busy season, we could only call in sick if we were “bleeding or vomiting”. Because apparently, we weren’t adults who understood what our schedules looked like, or could be trusted to exercise our best judgment. I still hate that woman.

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        1. Mookie

          A former manager got slightly incredulous with me after a short, medical-related absence because I didn’t look bloody enough (or, rather, my eyes didn’t — one of the less painful, less serious, but more gory side effects was subconjunctival hemorrhaging). Another manager in the same outfit had, a year or two prior apparently, scoffed at the notion that someone could experience esophageal perforation without alcohol being involved, and drove the rupture victim out of the company altogether with his endless, harassing interrogations on the subject.

          It’s hard not to overshare, as others have attested, when you’ve existed in that kind of environment, where you’re automatically distrusted and infantilized as a duplicitous, lazy wuss.

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        2. SarahTheEntwife

          I don’t normally call out for menstrual cramps unless they’re really bad, but I’d be so tempted to do so every month under these rules.

          Reply
    2. KarenD

      I had an asshole boss that did precisely this. I very rarely – I mean, VERY rarely – used sick time, no more than 1-2 days over the first 18 months or so I worked for him. Then I had some test results come back abnormal, and inpatient exploratory surgery was called for (in part due to the level of problem indicated in the test results, but in larger part due to preexisting conditions that made me more vulnerable to cancer). It was as if he was being asked to pay for the surgery himself: How long will you be out? What kind of surgery is it? My wife had that, she didn’t have to have surgery! Did you get a second opinion? Are you taking your laptop with you to the hospital? And on. And on.

      When I limped back into work a few days later, he acted like I’d been on vacation. (Ironically, he was far more laid-back when I actually took vacation, though still pretty disapproving. I think there were some … issues, there.)

      Reply
      1. eplawyer

        Are you taking your laptop to the hospital? Yes because hopped up on anesthesia is the best time to do work. It will make for an awesome product.

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        1. JessaB

          Oh Gods, Mr. B. has a funny bit he does about me after a major surgery. They pinned the medicine pump button to the collar of my hospital robe and I was patting myself all over trying to find it. If phones with video had existed I’d be on You Tube. Apparently I looked hilarious trying to find the thing. Obviously he helped me find it after he finished laughing, but I could just imagine the gibberish that would have come out if I had to try and type on a laptop or answer a text or phone call. I literally did not remember it happening until he told me once I got free of the anaesthesia and heavy pain meds.

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        2. only acting normal

          My husband’s work kept phoning him when he was delirious in hospital with a post-operative infection (teetering on the edge of sepsis). I don’t know what kind of advice they were getting from him, but they deserved every bit of it. They also changed their sick-leave rules, while he was off, from manager’s discretion to 2-weeks-max-no-exceptions (soon after they extended it – but didn’t backdate to include him). So he presented them with records of all the times they made him work from his sick bed and during his unexpectedly-unpaid recovery time – and they reluctantly paid for it.

          Reply
        3. KarenD

          To be perfectly fair, under the original plan I was going to be in there for a couple of days, mostly just being monitored, and only be sedated for an hour or two of it. But I would have been in serious pain and grumpy and probably on exotic meds; not super conducive to working, so it was still an a-hole move to ask me to bring the laptop.

          As it turned out, the exploratory surgery showed no problems and I woke up with all my parts; they let me go later that afternoon. Had they found something, they would have proceeded with surgery surgery, and that’s what I was told to expect.

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      2. Not So NewReader

        Oh my god, this.

        “Are you still going to THAT doctor? You know they pulled his license for a while. When are you going to get a real doctor? Well, I think you should change doctors. Why aren’t you better yet? You should be better by now.You need to take that brace off. That bone is not really broken. If I see you in a brace I will write you.”

        Just. Stop. Talking. Boss. Zip it.

        The boss I have now is the polar opposite:
        Me: Boss, something is wrong with my dog…
        Boss [interrupting me] Go home! Right now. Leave! NO excuses.

        It takes a bit of getting used to. OP, be clear about your expectations. You may have to repeat them a few times before it sinks in. IF the core issue is her worry about your disapproval, it will take a few times to reassure her that you do not disapprove.

        IF she just enjoys talking about medical appointments this strategy will not work. Based on what you wrote here I am wondering if she just likes talking about it.

        Reply
    3. Lia

      That was my feeling as well. I once worked for a boss who demanded to know exactly why you were going to the doctor, or details of an illness (often followed by “you can come to work with xyz, just don’t cough on the customers”), and I got used to providing details in my requests.

      Then I worked for a VERY squeamish person who said “I trust my staff to stay home if they are sick but trust me, I do NOT want to hear any details, at ALL”. Now I veer to the “I have a bad cough, I’ll be home today”end of things.

      Reply
    4. That Would Be a Good Band Name

      That was my first thought too. I had a couple of bosses (not retail!) that questioned sick leave/appointments and I got used to providing too many details since I always felt with them that I had to justify my time. It takes a long time to break those habits and be comfortable just saying that you have an appointment without providing “proof”.

      Reply
    5. Fluke Skywalker

      Yup yup. That was my first thought too. I’m already dealing with anxiety, and have has bosses that question why you’re out sick, want doctor’s notes, etc. So I got used to having to over-explain so it felt like my absence was justified. It’s taken me a long time to be able to just tell my boss ‘I have a doctor’s appointment today’ and feel okay about leaving it at that.

      Reply
    6. Turtle Candle

      Yeah, waaaaaaay back when I worked as a grocery bagger, you had to seriously overshare to get time off if you couldn’t find a replacement yourself. (As I understand it, I’m lucky that I was allowed any time off at all when I couldn’t find a replacement, but that’s a semi-separate issue.) If I didn’t have someone else lined up, I had to spell out, “I will literally barf all over the groceries if I come in.” Anything less than that, and I had to come in.

      (It perturbs me, in retrospect, how often I handled peoples’ e.g. raw produce and deli packages, ungloved, when I was sick-but-not-sick-enough-that-my-manager-would-let-me-off.)

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    7. Sadsack

      Somewhat related…if I tell my manager I have an appointment, he’ll say OK and ask if everything is OK. I’ll start to give him a brief explanation, not intending to divulge much detail, but he’ll cut me off saying, “No, it’s OK, you don’t have to explain.” I walk away wondering why he asked if I am OK. I also wonder if he thinks of me as an over-sharer, even though I don’t intend to explain at all except he asks me if I am ok! Next time, maybe I’ll just say, “No,” and then nothing else to see how he responds.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Instead of an explanation just give the punchline.
        “Yep. General check up.”
        “Not sure. Having a test.”
        “I’m okay, I need new glasses.”

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    8. Callie

      as someone who used to work in a place where every absence was questioned and determined Not Serious Enough, that was my first thought. She could feel she has to justify everything so OP knows it’s real.

      Reply
    9. Audiophile

      As someone who worked for a pretty crappy staffing agency (that had awesome clients), I can understand oversharing.

      Years ago, I had a car accident and was scheduled to work early the next morning, I took out my phone in the ER and took a picture of my hospital bracelet and then posted it on Facebook. I was connected with a coworker who I knew would say something, since this was out of character for me. When I called out, I told the supervisor about the accident and he proceeded to lament about having to find coverage.

      When I finally got away from that staffing agency, I was amazed that my new boss was fine with me texting her if I was sick and would be out.

      Reply
  2. Rusty Shackelford

    I’m sure you already realize this, but your employee expects you to check on her because she’s sharing details. When she tells you she’s having an MRI (as opposed to going to the doctor because she thinks she has strep throat) she wants you to be concerned.

    Reply
    1. Not Karen

      Which personally I find annoying because it comes off to me as attention-seeking behavior and thus I would not want to encourage it (especially from an employee).

      Reply
      1. Whats In A Name

        Yes, but as a manager you still need to manage it. Even the annoying people need managed properly. So that might mean talking to her about it or simply following up by saying “how did your appointment go?”.

        Reply
        1. Sophie Winston

          Except this is not the time for an open ended question. Did the appointment go as you expected? Were the results what you hoped for? With an over-sharer, yes/no questions are your friend.

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          1. fposte

            I think you can even demonstrate your awareness in a statement and not a question. “Welcome back! I hope everything went okay.” It’s a little bigger hurdle for her to get over if you don’t open the door.

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          2. Aurion

            With an over-sharer, even yes/no questions can be elaborated upon.

            “No, the results were terrible! The ultrasound tech saw a shadow that she wasn’t sure what it was, so she did the scan three times, and then made a face and said I probably will have to come back for another round on a different day, and my doctor might recommend me for more tests, and and…”

            With an over-sharer, I think anything more than “welcome back” opens the door, however slightly, to further elaboration. Even fposte’s “I hope everything went okay” can have answers from “yup, all fine, they were looking for XYZ for thirty minutes but didn’t find anything but man, that test was SOOO PAINFUL let me tell you, etc etc.”, or “no, it was bad, insert all reasons why they think it’s bad”.

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            1. fposte

              I don’t think the goal is to shut off all further elaboration, though; it’s to express sympathy without setting an expectation that a dialogue is forthcoming. If the employee then wants to go into the ulrasound spiel, you’ve got a baseline for saying, “Well, that sounds like a bummer, but we’re glad you’re back. I’ll see you at the meeting at 3” and it doesn’t mean you’ve cut off a discussion that you started.

              There is nothing you can do that’s going to 100% guarantee the desired outcome in this situation or any other one. It’s okay to try stuff that works with a lot of people but not everybody.

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              1. Aurion

                Oh, I agree. I generally would take the “welcome back, I hope everything is okay” tack myself, because from experience I find it a useful compromise between the two types (I am a non-sharer, my mother is an over-sharer). I only wrote the above to say that even yes/no questions don’t shut off over-sharing if shutting it off is your goal. But in the interests of workplace and social harmony, it’s definitely not the first tack I’d take. :)

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        2. Lily in NYC

          I think some people are just much less private than others. It doesn’t mean she is attention seeking; it’s more likely an ingrained personality trait. I overshared when I was younger because that’s just the way my family is. It had nothing to do with my wanting attention.

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      2. sunny-dee

        Meh, I can see that, but some people get really freaked out by medical stuff. My mom will have her BP go off the charts when she just goes in for a flu shot, because she gets so nervous around doctors. It’s *possible* that this person is really nervous and she’s just talking it out.

        Or she could have no boundaries or she could be attention-seeking. Those are less sympathetic to me. But if she’s scared, I feel for her.

        Reply
        1. Aurion

          Haha, I once was nervous asking my doctor for a blood test (I’m usually a bit nervous in a doctor’s office even though I look like a sea of calm, and even if we’re doing something completely routine that I’m not truly worried about). He wanted to take my blood pressure at the same visit, and his eyebrows practically shot off his head when my blood pressure came back with something like 170/150. I’m young, healthy, and should have nothing near those numbers, by the way.

          I ruefully said I have “a bit” of white-coat hypertension and he left the room and told me to press the button myself. He came back five minutes later and it was at like 135/110. I helpfully said I have a blood pressure machine at home and my numbers are usually around the lines of 110/73.

          He cocked an eyebrow at me and was like “am I that scary?” (No, but I was particularly worked up that day and I really do have “a bit” of white-coat hypertension naturally.) As a compromise, I brought in a record of my very normal blood pressure results over several days (I track them on and off to see how much of a different my workout program is making).

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        2. SJ

          yeah, I have health anxiety (along with regular ol’ anxiety), and I swear I’m not actively nervous around doctors, but just sitting in the exam room sends my blood pressure and heart rate up.

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      3. Retail HR Guy

        There are a lot of personality types out there in the world, and people cope in different ways. While you and I would prefer to keep our issues private, not everyone feels like that. What you call someone with “attention-seeking behavior” could also be described as a woman that takes comfort in knowing that the community around her cares for her and who is seeking to reassure herself of that fact during a very scary time for her. Try sympathy first when serious medical issues arise; encouraging and discouraging certain behaviors in order to mold employees into being more like us should come a distant second.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I agree with you that attention-seeking is a limiting way to frame this. However, I think that sympathy has to come in a way the donor is okay with and not just the way the recipient desires, and that recitations of details of life hardships can be work-inappropriate just because of the time they take. So I don’t think it’s just about molding people into being like us–it’s about remembering that both people matter in the situation and that the work still matters as well.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Thinking about it more: I agree that it’s great if the workplace can provide support to an employee in need, but I think it’s important to remember that the employee’s need is not the only one that counts or even necessarily the most important one.

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        2. Clever Name

          I don’t disagree with this sentiment, however, is it really the responsibility of one’s workplace to be a place that provides this type of pastoral care? I would say no.

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          1. Retail HR Guy

            Sometimes managerial ideals of professionalism run counter to the realities of basic human nature. Whether it is right or not, people will feel that their workplace is a social community and will take things that happen there personally.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Sure, but that doesn’t mean a manager is failing by not providing the social support an employee seeks after every doctor visit. Somebody not getting their needs met doesn’t mean somebody else is falling short. People take lots of things that happen in workplaces personally–that doesn’t mean they were right to do so or have been wronged.

              I don’t run an austere workplace–I’ve heard a pile of confidences medical and personal, and I’ve been supported through a few crises myself. But people have needs far and above what a workplace can provide, and it’s a bad plan to expect a manager to fulfill them.

              Reply
              1. Not So NewReader

                I think part of the problem here is the frequency and/or the predictability of situation. Another piece of the puzzle is reciprocity.

                Frequency: This employee goes to the doctors either a lot or has regular appointments.

                Predictability: Each time, every time, without fail does the employee need to debrief after an appointment?

                Reciprocity: Does this employee provide the same service she expects to others? (Does not have to be you the boss, OP, just a general interest in those around her.) Does she show the same level of interest/concern to other people that parallels the interest/concern she would like to receive?

                Usually coworkers talk about the one-off, the unusual. This would be talking about a root canal vs. talking about a teeth cleaning. And it is part of a larger conversation that can be described as “life”. These are things that come under the heading of “what’s going on in your life this week?” Anything that is not within the range of what most people do can just feel weird. It could make OP feel like “mommy” (or daddy as the case maybe).

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  Yes, those are good points. I was especially thinking about the predictability component and how some people are bean-counters–even if if you’ve asked six times you’re in trouble if you don’t ask the seventh.

                  I am a little curious, though, about the OP’s last paragraph, where she says “I recently realized that this team member feels slighted” and “I think she thinks it’s cold and distant.” Was this conveyed to the OP in words, or is the employee drawing back as the OP wished and now the OP is worrying about the change?

        3. Emma

          No, I’m sorry, it is inappropriate to dump your emotional issues all over your coworkers. That’s basic professionalism. Look for a sympathetic ear from your friends and family. People need to have some damn boundaries.

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      4. Lemon Zinger

        It IS attention-seeking, just like when my work partner complains that she is cold, tired, hungry, etc. Don’t respond, and if the employee keeps talking about it, nip it in the bud.

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      5. Rusty Shackelford

        I really hate attention-seeking behavior and try not to reward it, but there’s a fine line between that and someone who just needs a little bit of kindness. I have no way of knowing where the OP’s employee falls, but hopefully the OP does.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          This is tough stuff. I believe that if people are seeking attention there is a reason for it and sometimes it is not the reason they state.

          One thing I try to do is redirect the conversation to solutions.

          “I have heard you say how tired you are. That’s not good to leave that unchecked, it can lead to health issues later on in life. What do you think you would like to try to help yourself?”

          A family member had constant medical issues. I suggested journaling, keeping a written record of appointments, symptoms, etc. It’s a journal- she could put whatever she felt was relevant in that journal.

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          1. fposte

            Yeah, it personally bugs me, but some of that’s about my own stuff with hard-won independence, wariness of being tasked with expectations, etc. It’s also one of those things that gets a name only when it goes beyond our own limits of acceptability–we all engage in attention-seeking behavior (marriage researcher John Gottman talks about emotional bids for connection, but it’s the same thing). Some people haven’t developed much of an ability to self-soothe, some people learn frequent seeking as a habit and don’t realize that it’s an outlier in adulthood, some people just misread their audience. I think your redirection to self-solving is both kind and wise.

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    2. Clever Name

      Well yeah, but if you don’t want to have deep discussions with a coworker about her medical and personal problems, the last thing you want to do is play into it by acting concerned and asking questions so that she’ll keep oversharing with you.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        OP, could just say “I am not good with medical stuff because I don’t know much about it. So I am afraid I am not much help to you in that regard. However, let me know what I can do with scheduling and the like and I will help you as best I can.”

        I understand that OP feels she “expects” it from her, but not everyone gives us everything we expect. And that is just a fact of life.

        Reply
  3. CeeCee

    I don’t really have any advice, but wanted to say I appreciate your managing style. I have worked, too many times, for managers who are very into prying about appointments. (In at least one case I think it was paranoia about people taking time off for interviews but claiming they were doctor’s appointments.) Questions like:” You seem okay so what’s wrong?” “Where is / How far away is your doctor’s office?” Then to come back in the office and hear “What medications did they put you on?” “Do you really think you were sick enough to need a doctor’s appointment?”

    I’m glad managers like you exist.

    Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        I don’t mind the concern. What I hate is the negative stuff. “Oh that won’t work.”[How do you know?] or “Why didn’t they give you this other drug instead? [I have no fn idea, call the doctor and ask if you want to know that so bad.] “Did they do X test? Why not?” [Did I mention you should call the office and ask THEM, not ME???]

        grrr. It’s not a conversation, it’s an interrogation.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          One of the few times I flatly squelched a health conversation at work was when somebody told one of my employees she shouldn’t be on the medication the doctor put her on. (It helped that I was pretty familiar with the medication, but seriously, don’t do that.)

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        2. Emma

          I had a professor do this, trying to push me to get on a certain migraine medication for my cluster headaches, and she ended up failing me out of the college because she refused to believe my fucking doctor’s notes that said medication would make my cluster headaches worse. The way that college was set up, your professors got together and denied or allowed you to continue to the next year; she flat-out refused to let me continue because she was absolutely convinced I was running some complicated scheme to get out of my classes.

          I am still fucking furious about that to this day, even though the college I transferred to turned out to be awesome.

          Reply
    1. sssssssss

      Years ago, I was in a toxic job when I did use the excuse that I had a medical appointment when I had an interview. My boss wanted proof that I had seen the doctor. I have no idea if this was legal (in Quebec, 1998) but after my interview (which I didn’t get the job), I headed straight over to the clinic and saw a doctor and did get a prescription for a valid medical issue. I brought it into work and gave my boss a copy. She was still distrusting despite the proof of a medical visit.

      My next job interview (where I did get the job), I arranged to have it instead before normal working hours and then grabbed a taxi back to work and made it in with two minutes to spare before usual start time.

      I work in better and healthier places now and I just say “I have an (personal) appointment” with no further details unless necessary.

      Reply
      1. CeeCee

        One prying job I was at ended up with a massive blow up between my boss and a coworker. The coworker requested time off for a “personal appointment” and the manager continued to pry and ask questions until the coworker finally flipped out on him. After he told her she didn’t look sick and she responded that it wasn’t that type of appointment, he decided she was pregnant (This evidently was his go-to if you were female and didn’t want to elaborate on your doctor’s appointments) and started harping on her about that. Her personal appointment was because she needed to meet with her lawyer about an upcoming court trial she had to testify in. She hadn’t wanted to spread that information around the office. Needless to say, she quit very, very soon afterward.

        Reply
        1. Candi

          My first thought was to wonder if she asked her lawyer to recommend another sort of lawyer… to explore options, if nothing else. It’d be worth thirty to fifty bucks for a half hour discussion, even if the final call was legal glassbowlery.

          Reply
  4. INTP

    She might have had a manager in the past who was VERY prying about this stuff and feel compelled to share as much as possible so that you believe her, or think the normal thing is for a manager to want to know everything and it’s weird that you don’t care to follow up. I agree with talking to her. You don’t necessarily have to forbid her from sharing information but let her know that on principle you like to protect your employees’ privacy, and she doesn’t HAVE to share anything with you at all beyond “I have a doctor’s appointment/don’t feel well,” and you will not be asking to follow up not because you don’t care but because you feel it’s important to never place employees in a position of feeling obligated to share medical information.

    I had one of those nosy managers and it felt VERY weird to have a boss that would just believe me when I said I was sick or going to the doctor. I would always share or make up details when she asked, but many of my coworkers balked at the interrogations, and she would always question them and pressure them to come in anyways when they called in sick while I never got that treatment. I’ve shared this story here before, but when I told her I was having surgery to add drainage holes to my maxillary sinuses (which is probably just the way my surgeon explained it to laypeople, idk if they even add holes per se), she wanted to know where in the sinus cavity and with what they would drill them.

    Reply
    1. Brogrammer

      I don’t think that’s necessarily what’s going on in this case, since OP mentions the employee used to share details with her regularly back when they were peers. But it does fall into that general category of “you can’t assume an employee’s previous manager was reasonable” which managers are well-served to remember.

      Reply
    2. Tammy

      This would be my guess, too. In the past, my “boss” (my rather controlling ex-spouse, with whom I ran a consulting business for some years) always wanted to know every detail of where I was all the time, so I got used to sharing a lot of details about my whereabouts. When I got divorced and started work at my current company, my boss took me aside a few weeks into my first position and said “I know this is the habit you’re used to, but I trust you to manage your time and get your work done, and I don’t really have the bandwidth to keep track of your whereabouts, so it’s okay to stop telling me.”

      It took me a while to unlearn the habit enough that not telling him stopped producing anxiety, but it was a real kindness that he helped me do it. OP, perhaps you have an opportunity to do a similar kindness for your employee.

      Reply
    3. Whats In A Name

      It’s very likely we’ve been managed by the same person. My boss offered to drive me to an outpatient surgery once because she knew I didn’t have family in the area. I actually think she offered to keep tabs on me because when I told her about the surgery she asked me why I couldn’t put it off for 3-4 months (??) and when I told her I couldn’t she said she found it hard to believe a surgeon would schedule it on a Friday morning.

      Reply
      1. Murphy

        …they like to do outpatient surgery on Fridays so that you have the weekend to recover. (Not that they don’t also do it other days, but Fridays are great for it!)

        Reply
      2. Jaydee

        Surgeons schedule outpatient procedures on Friday mornings precisely because that way you can have the weekend to recover and miss fewer days of work. Sounds like your ex-boss had some trust issues.

        Reply
        1. Whats In A Name

          It was a super weird/super toxic dynamic in that office. Everyone got shamed for taking sick days. A co-worker ended up in the hospital after going to ER one night so called off…because HE WAS IN THE HOSPITAL and his manager question the legitimacy of the admission. The guy sent a picture of himself in the hospital bed tied up to tubes and his manager STILL said she thought it was bogus.

          Reply
    4. LiptonTeaForMe

      I have had managers call me while I am in the hospital for testing and tell me they are going to charge me with AWOL, which to a federal employee is tantamount to taking the road to being fired. The emotional stress this creates is mind boggling as I then have to choose my health or my job. This doesn’t even deal with the logistics of getting to work, which creates a whole new set of issues. Due to a couple of autoimmune diseases that occasionally flare up, I tend to overshare as well for the exact same reason that everyone is talking about.

      There is this mentality that going to the doctor or taking a prescription fixes whatever the issue is, but it doesn’t. Autoimmune diseases are constantly evolving, the reactions are different for each individual, foods you could eat last week are now the albatross, and on and on. I never know what is going to happen and the signals of my body are seriously left up to interpretation. As a kid, I used to think that going to get new glasses meant my vision would be 20/20 again…that the glasses corrected my eyesight…imagine the surprise when my eyes started aging with the rest of me!

      Reply
      1. Candi

        If they admit the docs can’t fix everything, they have to admit that medicine is an inexact and evolving science -and that’s too scary for many to contemplate.

        Plus they can’t use it as an excuse to be a jerk.

        Reply
  5. bohtie

    I admit it, I tend to be an oversharer, but it’s because in the past I’ve had bosses for whom “I have a medical appointment” would get you the stink-eye and the assumption that you’re just messing around, so I got into the habit of being all TMI in order to be taken seriously. Do I hate that? Absolutely, but unless somebody tells me otherwise, I feel incredibly awkward and, like, imposter-syndrome-y about making generic medical statements.

    I feel much more comfortable saying “Hey I need tomorrow off because my GI says I gotta get another endoscopy,” but aside from the above, (a) I have chronic health problems, so this stuff comes up a LOT and it’s just sorta part of my life, and (b) my boss and I have a pretty casual relationship (he just came to me last week and was like “yo, I’m taking off this afternoon because I have an infected eyelash and it’s super gross”). If he ever told me he didn’t want to hear about it or it wasn’t necessary, I’d respect his boundaries.

    Reply
  6. Stellaaaaa

    Is it possible that she feels it’s important to normalize conversations about women’s issues like pregnancy and the like? If she’s veering on gross or unreasonably detailed information that’s one thing, but I wonder if she’s maybe decided to take a stand against people finding pregnancy or medical talk to be uncomfortable.

    Does she have A LOT of medical stuff going on? She would have to be going to doctors very frequently for her conversations about these appointments to ping as a pattern. Another side of this is that her friends and family members might be tired of hearing about her medical stuff so now it’s coming out at work. Since she’s upset that you don’t care more about her health, it seems like the people in her life who SHOULD care (her friends and family) no longer do. Since she’s not talking just to talk and actually expects a response, I think it’s fair to say something like, “As your manager, I feel it crosses a line for me to know too much about your private medical issues. I’m really not supposed to know this much about things that most people keep confidential.”

    Reply
    1. Observer

      If she’s doing this to take a stand, then the OP really, really needs to shut it down. It’s that I have a problem with talk about illness or pregnancy. It’s that people should not be pressured to discuss this stuff if they don’t want to. It doesn’t make a difference if their reasons are “valid” or not. It’s just not something that people should be pressured to talk about. So someone “taking a stand” and trying to force the issue in the workplace is an issue that the OP needs to address.

      Reply
    2. OP

      OP here. We are in a country with good healthcare and good healthcare coverage, so people go to the doctor’s often. She doesn’t really have a lot of medical stuff going on, it’s just a string of issues in the normal range over the years.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Ohhh… then maybe you should work that into conversation. “Yep, we all got through this.” or “That’s pretty normal. I think many people have had a similar experience.”

        Reply
    3. Emma

      It is perfectly acceptable to find detailed medical talk uncomfortable – or not even uncomfortable, but boundary-crossing. You can be direct and honest about medical issues without going overboard – there’s a middle ground between coy silence and oversharing.

      Reply
  7. Retail HR Guy

    I worked administering leaves of absence for a few years, so I feel like I have some insight here having put in many, many hours talking to sick people. While some people keep their health info very private, there are quite a lot who talk about it. And talk and talk and talk.

    My advice is to always let employees take the lead on it. Are they quiet and not elaborating? Fine, then don’t pry. But, conversely, if they want to share then let them do so, because oftentimes talking about it is their way of coping. Maybe they feel better just voicing things, or maybe they are eliciting concern from others in order to make themselves feel better. Either way, LET THEM TALK. Don’t shut them down and tell them that work is no place for such conversations, because they will interpret it as you not giving two figs about whether that tumor is cancerous and they will be hurt by your attitude.

    There aren’t many legal dangers in letting sick employees tell you things. I think the reasoning that it might create a culture in which other employees feel that they can’t keep their own medical issues private is far-fetched; coworkers know that oversharers are going to overshare, and so long as you the manager make it clear that they are at liberty to say as much or as little as they want then they won’t be pressured to go into details with you just because Suzie down the hall did.

    And letting them talk has legal upsides. You are less likely to overlook the need for potential ADA accommodations if there is already a dialogue going. Another good reason is that employees file disability discrimination claims when they think that employers are completely unsympathetic to them or unwilling to listen to them–a perception that is easy to arise if they are constantly being shut down when they try to bring up the topic. Do you really want to hear from your employee in an EEOC deposition, “I tried a couple of times to talk to my manager about my disability needs, but she didn’t want to hear it! She made it clear I wasn’t supposed to talk about my medical condition. All she cared about was when I was going to get back to work.” What seems practical and professional to you can easily seem cold and uncaring to employees and sympathetic third parties that may not be the type to read management blogs.

    Reply
    1. OP

      OP here, thank you for this very interesting point of view. It has basically been my rationale that I don’t want to set or encourage expectations to share medical information – both for other members of the team and for this one employee. I have had the experience of medical issues going from “routine” to “This information CANNOT get out at work” really fast, and I’ve been wanting the oversharer to have an out, too, if she ends up in this situation.

      But your last point makes a lot of sense. I need to let employees know that they can talk about important issues, too, and I need to find language that balances both. Thanks.

      Reply
      1. JessaB

        I think though that maybe the “you don’t have to share if you don’t want to” conversation should still happen. They may just be a natural over-sharer or they may be conditioned by a previous place. So giving them the option is also good.

        Reply
  8. Cranky Pants

    My former boss would cut me off before I got into any detail about medical issues. While he was a good guy and I know he cared about his staff, he just didn’t think it was any of his business to know that kind if personal detail beyond knowing we needed time off. He was also the head of compliance and very aware of what he was and wasn’t entitled to ask. If it was a busy work period me might ask when we thought we would be back at work but that was about it. He would just thank us for letting him know and tell us to feel better soon. I appreciated that very much but I’m not one to share that level of detail with anyone I don’t know very, very well.

    Reply
  9. Observer

    OP, I will say that your employee has a valid point about your reaction to her information. When someone tells you that they are having a significant test, symptom or procedure and you ignore it, it really DOES seem cold. Your description of the interaction really reinforces the perception of unconcern.

    I get that she’s oversharing. And, I also get that you don’t want to encourage a flood of more detail. But, there is a huge middle ground between inviting lots of detail and ignoring the fact that something significant happened.

    Reply
    1. Stellaaaaa

      Eh, if this were a mutual social situation I’d agree with you. But an employee doesn’t get to demand that the OP participate in an optional conversation that OP does not want to have. I have a lot of experience with men using the language of manners to hold me hostage in conversations about antique cars or their new guitars or the latest gaming system; they’re being rude by not reading social cues and pressuring me to listen to them, but they think I’m the rude one by not being an amenable woman and providing them with the exact interaction that they’re seeking.

      Now OP’s employee is a woman and is not a peer so the scenario is a bit different, but you don’t get to step into something with your own expectations and then toss criticisms at people for not bending to your will. I (clearly) have a filter that weeds out people who expect me to instantly care about stuff that I simply do not care about, lest they judge me for not being adequately interested. And really, does this employee express interest in other people’s lives? Does she give others the degree of attention and concern that she demands from others? Her medical issues are surely valid, but you can’t force other people to be your support system.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        So, some people try to use manners to be boors, therefore manners go out the window? That’s pretty much what you seem to be saying. In my experience, that’s a rather dysfunctional way to operate.

        Sure, the employee can’t force people to be their support system. But, totally ignoring something important to another person says “I don’t care about what is important to you.” And, when it’s something like a medical event it also says “and, I don’t really care about you.” Which may be true. But, if it is, you also don’t get to complain that someone sees it as cold and uncaring. It’s the truth.

        Reply
        1. Stellaaaaa

          I’m saying that people have valid reasons and experiences to justify limiting their exposure to the minute details of the lives of people who aren’t in their inner circles. The employee is the outlier here. She’s volunteering more and expecting a different response, when OP is giving the same degree of politeness to everyone. Someone who expects way more than baseline manners is operating in a really skewed way. Is OP supposed to give her more emotional support than she’s comfortable giving? Is OP supposed to treat this employee differently than she treats everyone else? Whose comfort matters more: the employee who needs emotionally-led responses or the manager who doesn’t want to give them?

          Reply
          1. Geneva

            YES! You explained it so well. I think gender plays a role here too. In my experience, women are expected to be more nurturing in general, but there are plenty of us who reserve our *feelings* for our family and friends. Meanwhile, men are free to be aloof without criticism. Think about it. I highly doubt the employee would be as miffed if OP were male.

            I completely empathize with OP. My current boss tells me EVERY detail of her doctor’s appointments, and her family’s doctor’s appointments, and it just makes me cringe. Get your emotional support somewhere else.

            Reply
      2. OP

        OP here – right, if it were a friend or even an acquaintance I would act totally differently of course – I would show concern, ask questions, follow up, maybe recommend a doctor if that’s what they needed. But I feel like this is not typically appropriate in a manager / employee relationship. I may be wrong – I’m reading all the answers with an open mind!

        I also realize now that mentioning an MRI looks like a red flag, sorry for dropping that without context. She fell at an awkward angle while playing with her kid and got an MRI because she still had some back pain a week later. She is completely fine (of course she gave me all the details.)

        Reply
        1. Observer

          I do agree that too much in the way of questions and follow up is not appropriate. But, as a manager, it certainly is appropriate to show some concern and acknowledgement when someone expresses an issue. So, doctor recommendations. for sure not. Asking lots of question, also not. “I hope the test results were good.” or “I hope you’re feeling better” – why not?

          As for the MRI – it’s still a pretty big deal. Most insurances won’t pay for one without good reason, and most doctors will therefore not prescribe them like aspirin. And, pain that persists that long is a potential problem. So, yes, she actually did have a valid serious issue. I sympathize with not wanting the level of detail she shared with you. But, it is significant enough that *acknowledging* it makes sens.

          Short version – encouraging over sharing is not necessary, nor even a good idea. Going to the other extreme of not even acknowledging issues seems to me to be a bit too far in the other direction.

          Reply
        2. AnonyMoose

          I don’t think it’s inappropriate for a manager to show concern to the level that it shows you care about your employees as human beings, but I wouldn’t ask many questions. I had a boss once who was great about this: if I had to go to the doctor (and wouldn’t overshare), he’d always say, “Yes, do what you need to do, hope you feel better soon” and when it was clear I had been sick (because I lost my voice or whatever) he’d say things like, “I hope you’re feeling better” and then get RIGHT back into business. I wouldn’t have wanted to discuss any further, but those little things made me feel like more than just a faceless laborer to him.
          Another boss I had dealt with things differently. Once I called in sick and she said “Jeez, you sound like crap!”, okayed my leave, but didn’t say anything to the effect of “hope you feel better soon”. she also responded to requests to go to the doctor with, “should be okay” — I didn’t know how to interpret that “should” – does that mean ok? or not? It came across as reluctant.
          Anyhow, as an employee , my manager’s attitude and amount of follow up is really small potatoes- not something that will make or break my day. But the general take away I’ve gotten from these small interactions and others is that Boss A cared about us as people and Boss B didn’t really. Again, I don’t think my manager needs to care about me as a person, I’m fine with him/her not, I’ll get my work done well either way of course. But it was more pleasant with Boss A and I felt more motivated to go out of my way for him because I felt more loyalty.

          Reply
    2. fposte

      I could see some cases where I’d agree, but I’m not sure I do in this case. I don’t think nausea during pregnancy is a significant symptom or that prenatal exams are things you’re obliged to inquire about, and in general symptoms don’t rate more than an “I hope you feel better.”

      If somebody who never talks to me about her health confides that she’s getting a biopsy after a doubtful mammogram, I’ll follow up on that. But following up beyond “Hope it’s all okay” isn’t a many times per year thing for anybody, and a constant medical communicator is going to have a lot of stuff happening that I’m just not going to track.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        and in general symptoms don’t rate more than an “I hope you feel better.”

        True. But, according to the OP, that’s not happening. That’s why I said that there is a space between encouraging TMI, which questions might encourage, and totally ignoring things.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          If the OP never, ever says “Hope you feel better,” I agree. But I also don’t think the co-worker should expect to get that every time or even most of the time if it’s frequent–you’re not being ignored if people don’t wish you good health with every prenatal visit or bout of morning sickness.

          Reply
          1. OP

            OP again – when people tell me they are taking sick leave, I do -always- say something along the lines of “Thank you for letting me know, rest well and feel better soon”. Plus a few questions if they didn’t already give me the information that I need for good continuity of business, and I try to keep these to the strict minimum.
            When they come back, I say “welcome back” or “good to have you back!” or something like that. I specifically don’t say things like “Glad everything is better!” because… everything might not be? If the person was out for, say, a miscarriage, or a chronic condition, or a scary but yet undiagnosed issue, that could be a violent thing to hear even if based on good intentions.

            Come to think of it, there is one time that I specifically followed up with an employee (“I hope you feel better, let me know if there’s anything you want to talk to me about, or you can write me an email if that’s more comfortable for you”) and it’s because he hinted that his sick leave was partly due to stress. If it’s workplace stress, I can and want to do something about it.

            Reply
            1. Mookie

              This is pretty much what I’d consider the ideal professional approach, balancing privacy with decorum and without stigma. Plenty of people experience invisible health issues every day, so setting a standard like this (no assumptions about whether anyone’s “better now,” no overt reminders or “checking in” publicly, no neglecting the less squeaky wheels among them) is inclusive and doesn’t put pressure on anyone to reassure people about their own health or manage other people’s illnesses for them.

              You know what you’re doing and your employees are lucky to have you. Thank you for setting a good example and looking out for all of them.

              Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        Not tracking. This is a great point that meshes well with the “bandwidth statement”. OP, if you have more than a few employees it can be almost impossible to remember who has what going on.

        “Jane, it’s not that I don’t care. I see medical information as private, so one second after you tell me, I forget it. I don’t need the info for anything, I don’t repeat it, I don’t use it against people so there is no need to hang on to it. I just don’t keep track. Also, give that I have X employees, I really don’t have the brain space to retain it all AND keep us all on track here.”

        Ugh. I used to tell people, “You will have to remind me that you told me this before.” They would giggle. We worked in a horrible gossipy place. If I was planning on forgetting it, that meant that I was not going to be talking about it with anyone. They liked that. And it only took half of a sentence to remind me, I just needed a little memory trigger.

        Reply
  10. Beem

    Additionally, you could also say: “Please don’t take my lack of questioning as a lack of concern or care. I do care about how you’re doing, but I want to protect your privacy and your co-workers’ privacy. I don’t want anyone to see me asking you how you’re appointment went and assume I’m going to ask about their medical appointments in the future. I have to show everyone that I respect their privacy but I can see how that may come across a little cold, especially in this situation.”

    Reply
  11. Mena

    Because the OP later mentions the employee feels slighted when not given the desired amount of follow-up attention following an absence clearly explains the over-sharing of details … she isn’t feeling the need to justify, she wants attention (sympathy? reassurance? )

    This isn’t not understanding workplace norms but another matter entirely. I’d gently shut it down by explaining that the information detail isn’t necessary. Repeat-repeat-repeat. The fostering of attention can easily get out of hand and needs to be nipped.

    Reply
  12. Government Worker

    Everyone speculating that this employee came from an environment where this was expected may have a point, but I think it’s more likely that this person is just a chronic over-sharer. My experience is that most women don’t reveal their pregnancies at work until after the first trimester is over, unless the nausea or other symptoms make that impossible. Those that do are often just less private people.

    Reply
    1. Jessesgirl72

      Especially since when the woman started this pattern, the OP was her peer, not her manager. She wasn’t trying to justify anything to the OP then.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Yeah, my gut feeling on this is that she just likes talking about her medical stuff.

        I see nothing wrong with asking, “As a boss, how can I help you with this?” OR, “Let me know where I can be of help as a boss.”

        Reply
  13. Tea

    Reading over other people’s comments, I can come to understand why some people just be the oversharing type, or have had office experiences that taught them to overshare . That said, having worked with someone who talked WAY too much tmi about her medical stuff, I have to say that I feel very strongly that you should actively discourage it. People (including yourself) shouldn’t have to hear all about other people’s medical issues if they don’t want to.

    In addition to it being possibly uncomfortable for other employees, and sometimes bordering inappropriate for office talk, it was a MASSIVE waste of time, ours and hers. Time spent telling people about your medical issues is time spent not working on everyone’s part. Our oversharing employee would walk over to our offices, prop her elbows on the cubicle walls, and regale us about her gastrointestinal issues and what the doctors said, and how she felt, and they’re scheduling a colonoscopy for the next day etc.etc.etc. for twenty minute to thirty minutes several times a day. My coworkers and I were tried to be supportive, but ran out of patience pretty quickly because we were all busy trying to get our work done. When we took to ignoring her, because we all had things to do and no time to listen, she started cornering our interns in the back room and taking up hours of his time instead. Our office ended up firing her for unrelated reasons, but we all grew to intensely dislike her because of this first.

    Reply
    1. Manders

      Yeah, I’m trying to give this woman the benefit of the doubt, but the OP’s description of oversharing and acting slighted is strongly reminding me of a former coworker who would gab about her medical problems for far too long. Looking back on it, I think she was a lonely person who really didn’t know how to get people to pay attention to her in a healthy way, and somewhere along the line she had learned that if she talked about medical problems people would make sympathetic noises. When I told her something was TMI she would sulk, and I think that’s because she genuinely believed not wanting to hear about her recurrent fungal infections = not liking her or feeling any sympathy for her.

      It was reeeeeeally awkward to deal with as a peer. I wished at the time that I had a boss who could shut it down politely and professionally.

      Reply
    2. Joan Callamezzo

      Yes. Former coworker of mine talked about medical issues incessantly, even to vendors on the phone, until the people in cubicles closest to her could recite her surgery stories word-for-word because they’d heard them so many times. She also had a habit of trying to one-up coworkers who had more serious medical problems (“Oh, how terrible, that sounds like the time I stubbed my toe and needed emergency x-rays, I was in TEARS from the pain,” etc. etc.)

      She was a very nice woman and obviously lonely, but she wore out the sympathies of even our kindest colleagues.

      Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      I can see this happening very easily. I am sort of running out of patience for this poor person, who I don’t even know, as I am reading here.

      I understand that some people can be traumatized by the medical treatments they receive.
      The answer there is change what you are doing, get a different doc, use an alternative treatment, do something different. I have taken care of five dying family members and had my own set of health stuff as well as helped other people with some stuff. I do care. But I don’t like being talked AT, this means I expect people to work at things, not just recite recent events to me. This goes into how I approach most things, I don’t really appreciate being talked AT about anything. However, if someone has a difficult subject that they want to talk WITH me about, I can do that. I don’t need a list of what happened at the doctor’s no more so than I need a list of what anyone did after dinner last night.

      Some how, OP, maybe you can get her to just focus on the high points or give you the “Reader’s Digest” version of the story. It would be an act of kindness to explain to her that discussing routine doctor appointments in great detail just is not a thing for the work place. I picture her getting told fifteen years from now and her saying, “How come no one ever mentioned this before?”

      Reply
  14. A

    I think the reason the employee is oversharing is less important than the impact on the rest of the staff. In some work environments I’ve been in, it becomes the norm for employees on a small team to know all about the other employees’ medical issues because when one person (or more) openly shares with the manager in front of everyone, others start doing it too. I have been that one person who gets whispered about because I just say I have an appointment without going into details. It’s uncomfortable.

    If employees want to talk about medical issues with their manager for whatever reasons and the manager is okay with that, the manager should always take steps to ensure those conversations are private so they don’t impact the morale of team members that want to be left out of such discussions.

    Reply
  15. Rebecca Too

    Yikes, I’m on the fence with this one. As a former manager, I appreciate someone telling me they need time off for whatever reason; as long as they have the time, it’s theirs to use, and I never pried. However, having managed some extremely dishonest employees who call off when they have no sick time/PTO left, I can tell you that the reasons for the missed days/weeks tend require (from the employee’s point of view, not mine) very lengthy and elaborate explanations. I had one employee who called off 26 times in her first 6 months of employment. The first 5 or 6 times, she was “sick” and that was it. By call off #12, she had shingles. Then she had kidney stones. Then, by the 24th call off, she was being tested for foot and mouth disease. All of this would have been fine (she wasn’t being paid for the time off, and we had enough people to cover her work) had a coworker not seen her in a bar, hammered, the evening when she was allegedly “deathly ill and too contagious to be around anyone”. So, she was let go. Had she really been sick, I’m sure she would have contested the firing. As it just so happens, I saw her working at a home improvement store 1 month later. Oh how I would have LOVED to spill the beans to her new manager, but I kept my mouth shut!

    Reply
  16. Jeff A.

    I would strongly urge you to talk to this employee and put a stop to it. I have a co-worker who is constantly sharing medical details with me (not just her own, but her children’s, husband’s, and other extended family members). She does this with everyone in our office, which makes me uncomfortable being the only one to speak up and ask her to stop sharing, even though I expect she shares with me more frequently due to the close proximity of our workspaces (I don’t want ton sound callous and un-caring, but I honestly just don’t need to hear about all of these details! I hope everything turns out for the best, but OMG OVERSHARING!).

    So please speak up and put a stop to it if you’re in a position to do so. There are probably employees that feel uncomfortable hearing it but won’t speak up themselves because it would be more uncomfortable to seem like an uncaring jerk.

    Reply
    1. Karanda Baywood

      This times a million. I’m sorry you don’t feel well, but I DO NOT want to hear any single detail unless it’s plainly visible, like you broke a leg and are on crutches. Of course I hope you feel better, but please don’t tell me how far the bone protruded or what kind of meds you’re on. I do not want to know and I do not want anyone asking ME “what kind of sick were you?*” when I call in.

      *Exact quote from former coworker. “The kind I don’t care to chat about, thanks.”

      Reply
  17. Jo

    I also have an oversharing coworker, one of the things she overshares about is that she has to be careful what she eats as it can cause what I shall call gastrointestinal issues. If she phrased it like I just have it might not be quite so bad but she goes into a bit too much detail about the consequences of her eating things like curry… This is the same person who is quite talkative at work about what’s going on with her at work and in her life but then complains that too many people know her business!

    Reply
  18. Anon for this one

    There’s oversharing and then there’s undercaring. No, I don’t want to tell my manager what exactly was wrong with me, nor do I want her to require that information. But on the other hand, when I call in and say I’ll be late because my dog is having emergency surgery, or when I leave in a hurry to meet my spouse at the ER, it would be nice if she at least asked if everything was okay when I got back.

    Reply
    1. Emma

      And if you didn’t come off as pathetically needy, like this attention-seeker, you’d probably get that basic courtesy.

      Reply
  19. Jane Eyre

    I’ve taken on a similar mindset of over sharing in my current job because in past companies, managers never thought you were bad off enough to stay home. I recall going in to one toxic workplace and losing my voice completely in class (I was a teacher ) because the principal didn’t want to pay for a substitute although it was plain that I was ill. He was less than happy when I stayed home the next week without calling in because I was so strung out on medication, I forgot.
    So happy I am no longer working for him!

    Reply
  20. S. Ninja

    I’ve been on the other side of this- at one point I had a job with a manager who liked to talk about every single medical problem she or any member of her family had ever had, at great length, and got offended if anyone would, you know, work during her stories. She was especially prone to telling them whenever someone new got hired into my department, and one of the positions had high-ish turnover, so I heard the epic about her husband’s brain surgery about six times. (She brought in x-rays.) She also speculated a lot on the possible health issues of a former employee she saw occasionally who had taken a job somewhere else in town, and since I was having issues with depression during the later part of my employment there, even though I haven’t seen her since, I still get the feeling I’m office gossip fodder.

    I do not miss that place.

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  21. Hannah

    I have a colleague who does this and in my more cynical moments I see it as a tactic to deflect attention from her poor performance. She is not a high performer. She is open about whatever medical issue she or her family members are going through, and turns any conversation back to an update on how things are going. It’s hard to have a serious discussion about her work when you’re also trying to be kind and sympathetic to the situation she just told you about with her family. In a way it is just her personality, but sometimes it seems awfully crafty.

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  22. boop the first

    Why are coworkers pressured to overshare in response? Are you sure that’s the reason? I wouldn’t share things that discomfort me to share just because someone else is doing it. Management specifically digging and asking personal questions might. Her digging and asking personal questions might. But just volunteering information?

    Reply
  23. Jo

    Yeah I had the same thought – why would you feel obliged to share your own information because someone else shared theirs? Most people at my work don’t overshare, but when someone does, that doesn’t seem to make anyone else feel they have to do the same.

    Reply
  24. writelhd

    My thought on why to watch this is that if there’s an office culture where people usually provide details on medical absence, that makes it very noticeable when those details are not provided, which could lead to speculation or gossip among coworkers. Like if most of the time it’s “so and so has the flu” or “so and so has food poisoning” but then it becomes “well so and so is…out” people wonder what they’re out for, especially if it’s unexpected or unusual or for a while. And what they speculate on may be wildly off base. It’s absolutely not appropriate to speculate about somebody’s health in an office, but if you work closely together and care about somebody it’s natural to do to some extent.

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  25. Abc

    People like this often overshare because they want sympathy. The behavior you described reminds me a lot of an old work acquaintance who had a chronic medical condition that caused her to have a lot of doctor’s appointments and procedures. I think she wasn’t getting enough sympathy from people in her personal life–she loved with her very emotionally distant mother. She went on and on about her various maladies, to the point of annoyance. I often felt bad for her but eventually it became really irritating.

    Reply
  26. HRisMyLife

    I realize that I’m a year late to this party and that no one is ever going to read this comment, but just in case… Please note something very important – it is against the law to ask. I’m not even kidding. I know they feel slighted and I know that it can make you feel like a jerk but if an employee is out sick, calls out sick, leaves for a medical appointment, or is out for FMLA, you cannot ask them anything that can be construed as any form of “how are you?” when they return if you are in a supervisor or in a supervisory role. There is a lot of legal jargon and discrimination that comes with it, but the bottom line is that you are legitimately forbidden by law from asking how it went.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      That is incorrect. There are restrictions around what you can ask related to ADA covered conditions, but otherwise no. It sounds like an employer might have taught you that, but that would have been their own policy, not the law. (Since I suspect you’re going to be skeptical, look up the law and you’ll see!)

      Reply

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