how to thank a new boss who’s been super understanding of a hard time in my life

A reader writes:

I’d love your insight on how to thank my new-ish boss for being amazingly understanding over the past few months without going overboard. I work for a major finance firm in the U.S. that has a generous sick/leave policy to begin with. I’ve been with the firm for nearly three years, two of which have been with my former boss and nearly one that has been with my current boss. I’ve always had a stellar record and have performed at the top of my peer group. I am the only teapot assistant at my location and support 3-4 teapot executives on a regular basis, with the focus being on our head teapot exec.

My previous boss was a nice guy but very demanding. As soon as my new boss, Fergus, came on board, he realized how stressed and burnt out I was and suggested I take some vacation days here and there, which I did. And it was much needed! He was also okay with me popping out here and there for doctor’s appointments on a weekly basis and working remotely as needed since he trusted I’d get my work done and manage my time appropriately.

Shortly thereafter, I found out that my husband and I were expecting our first child. This upped the doctors appointment requirements (as most of my doctors only work during regular business hours, and I go to some specialists in addition to my OB), and Fergus continued to be supportive.

On top of all of this, my husband’s health came into the picture last month. He had a minor surgery that turned into quite an ordeal — he was in the hospital for a week and I was by his side the entire time. We have no family in the state, nobody flew in because we didn’t know the severity or contagious-ness of his condition for several days, and it was just me to take care of him and drive two hours each day to be at the hospital. I was lucky to be able to be with him and work remotely a few hours that week, and Fergus and co were more than accommodating and understanding. I had coworkers bring dinner to our house, continuously ask if they could do anything for us (bring groceries? walk our dogs?), and just make me overall grateful that I work with such amazing people. While my husband is home from his ordeal, we still have a lot of hoops to jump through, many of which are last minute appointments that I need to drive him to. These are unfortunately not things that can be scheduled ahead of time as they’re based off of his weekly blood results from his visiting nurses.

Again, Fergus has been amazing and has let me do whatever I’ve needed to do. He understands it’s just myself and my husband, with baby on the way, but I can’t help but feel guilty that this is how we’re starting off our working relationship. I feel as though my work quality and attention to detail has slipped, and although I do not start my maternity leave for three more months, I’m still anxious about how this is going to affect his view of my work and dedication to the job. It’s one more thing that keeps me up at night, which I know is not productive for my well being nor that of the baby (but that’s a whole other conversation!). I always thank Fergus for being pretty much the best boss that ever existed (in much more toned down wording), but I don’t know if that’s covering my bases enough or too much. I don’t want to be overly gushy, but I do want him to understand how grateful I am for his concern and understanding and that I plan to hit the ground running as best I can when I come back from leave.

How would you suggest I have this conversation? Any talking points? I feel like everything I think of just sounds over the top … but I really am so, so fortunate to have a boss like him support me in one of the most difficult years of my life. We have a great relationship and I have no problems being completely transparent with him (without going over the top, of course).

Well, you might have already done it, it sounds like! But I think it depends on how specific you’ve been in your wording. “You’ve been a great boss” is nice — but even better is something like “You have made my life significantly easier at a time when things have been really hard, and I’m so grateful that you were flexible with me and made it easier for me to get my work done at odd hours and be with my husband when he was hospitalized. I know that it took some work on your side to be so accommodating to me, and I especially appreciate that you were willing to do X and Y when we were still relatively new to working together. Lots of people in my life tried to be supportive during this period, but you were in a position to have the most significant impact on my quality of life while I was dealing with these issues, and what you did for me was enormously important to me. Thank you.”

In other words, be specific about what he did and how it impacted you. That’s the kind of thing that can truly make someone’s heart glow, and it’s a wonderful thing to offer back to someone who really helped you.

But also! There’s a point where you’ve said it and don’t need to keep saying it :) It’s usually better to have one detailed, heartfelt conversation about how much his help has meant to you than a dozen smaller “you’re so great” mini-gushes. I mean, definitely thank him and show appreciation each individual time he does something to help you, but don’t feel like you need to keep gushing over and over in order to drive the point home. That can eventually make it weird.

The other thing to keep in mind is that what Fergus has done here is good management. Managers should be accommodating of life stresses for people, and that’s doubly true for excellent employees. That’s part of how good managers retain good people and get good work from them — by treating them as humans with lives outside of work that can sometimes be complicated, and by giving them as much as trust and leeway as they show they can handle. That’s not to say you don’t need to appreciate what he did, but also keep in mind that this wasn’t a personal favor totally separate from the work relationship you have with him. It made sense for him to do this stuff as a good manager of a good worker. (But of course, plenty of bosses wouldn’t — which is why it still makes sense to tell him how much it meant to you.)

Go forth and enjoy your good boss.

{ 56 comments… read them below }

  1. SL #2*

    Alison’s suggestion is what I immediately jumped to as well, but if you feel like an in-person conversation would be too much, maybe a thank-you card or note? This gives you time to craft the message and to avoid gushing too much, while still conveying your gratitude, and there’s the added bonus of the card being a real, tangible “thing” that Fergus can read and hold on to. Some people won’t care at all, and you may know this about Fergus better than any of us do, but some people do care about handwritten notes vs. a conversation.

    On a side note, I hope life becomes a lot smoother for you in the near future, OP.

    1. JokeyJules*

      +1 on the card idea, it’ll be nice for Fergus to have that to look back on
      I would still also express your appreciation verbally

      1. EW*

        I know managers who hang onto thank you cards for years after. I definitely think a card would be great with a quick “I know I’ve thanked you verbally already, but I really appreciated having you as my manager the past year. “

    2. a Gen X manager*

      +1 agree – a card would definitely work here and has lots of advantages to trying to speak this (and both OP and boss to keep their composure).

    3. J.B.*

      I love the idea of a handwritten note, as it’s something you can really think through and he can keep.

      Best wishes to your family. That’s a lot to deal with!!! And I wish you the smoothest time with the baby.

    4. Akcipitrokulo*

      Personally, I’d do that – but would be too embarrassed to give it to him until I was heading out the door to maternity leave! (not that that is necessarily a good thing – I get embarrassed too easily.)

      But whether it’s a card or verbally, making it specific about how he has made it easier is good.

    5. Susana*

      I thought the same thing – a card. And here’s why: hardly anyone sends thank-you cards, on real paper, anymore, and it’s especially nice now to receive one (in fact, I always told my students, when I was an adjunct, to ask for personalized stationery for b-day gifts from parent, so you then don’t have to shop around for the “right” card). I mean think of it – you go to your mailbox, there are bills and credit card solicitations… how nice to see a card from someone! You can also go on Glassdoor and talk about what a human place it i to work. And you can, if appropriate, send a not to your manager’s manager saying how your manager has really further reinforced your loyalty to the company by being so supportive – and that the entire company family has been helpful and kind.

  2. super anon today*

    Just thank him. It doesn’t have to be much.

    I was falsely accused of a crime and subsequently arrested a few years ago. I am a very public figure in a small town. Think small town celebrity, and a new police chief got excited about bringing down a big dog. There was an uproar in the community, people called for my head, the police chief publicly called for me to be fired. They wanted me under the jail. My boss refused to let me go (I told him too). He publicly told everyone to jump off a cliff. He weathered a storm, listened to me cry, took criticism and stood his ground. He had me back at work, doing my regular public facing job the same week I was arrested. I was the top story on every TV station news program within 100 miles for three days. After a months-long investigation, I was cleared, the police chief was forced to resign in disgrace(the best moment of my life. He is still unemployed two years later, he’ll never work in LE again) and my life has, for the most part, returned to normal. I thanked my boss, over and over, and at our Christmas party, my husband and I gave him a formal Thank you card. Do you know what he said? “I just hope we provided you with enough support.” I was blown away. Boss has no way of knowing that his support(and the rock-solid support of my family) was the only thing that stopped me from committing suicide. Just thank him. It doesn’t take much.

    1. MLB*

      WOW! I’m glad things worked out and that you had an awesome boss in your corner. That said, it’s sad that bosses like this are the exception and not the rule.

      1. Super anon today*

        Absolutely. Completely surreal. I still look back and think “Wow. That really happened.” It’s been almost three years.

        1. Detective Rosa Diaz*

          DAMN I’M SO GLAD THE CHIRF RESIGNED IN DISGRACE. I hope this continues to emotionally satisfy you for years

          1. Tabby Baltimore*

            In my head, from this point forward, any chief-boss-type person, anywhere, who I read about, and who resigns in disgrace, will forever be labeled as “CHIRF.” “Accidental ridicule” for the formerly-horrible-and-now-clueless-and-power-deprived is especially satisfying. Thank you for this.

    2. Former Employee*

      I am so happy you were cleared during the investigation phase.

      There are situations where the police are in cahoots with the DA and the DA brings the person to trial with fabricated evidence. Since it’s so egregious, the people involved in the plan usually manage to slip up and get caught in the act…eventually. However, it may mean that the innocent person is in custody for way longer than you were.

      So glad your situation was resolved sooner than later.

  3. Candi*

    LW, if you think you might have trouble saying that to Fergus, write it. Maybe in a thank you card, or just in a letter. Good managers love warm happy stuff like that :)

    1. Jesca*

      This is what I was thinking. A nice written note would be just fine as well, and likely something your boss will keep.

  4. a Gen X manager*

    I teared up while reading Alison’s suggested script in the first paragraph! It’s beautiful and heart-warming (and appropriate, obviously). It also certainly creates a beautiful end point for the thank you’s / hopefully OP’s continuing impulse to say thank you.

  5. Hnl123*

    Agree with a heartfelt card suggestion! Also like Alison mentioned, I do think this is what great managers do. I’m glad Fergus is understanding and accommodating. And maybe I’ve just been lucky to have good managers but the things you have mentioned are all things managers have done for me/others in companies I’ve worked for. While I’m thankful, I don’t think it necessitated such a big display of gratitude. In turn I’ve always tried to be a good employee.

    1. Tuesday Next*

      It sounds as though you’ve been blessed with fantastic managers. I’ve had some who would have done this type of thing and others who wouldn’t have, who would have made an issue out of it.

  6. crookedfinger*

    Wow Alison, that “thank you” note you wrote was so good that I started tearing up and I’m not even the boss in question!

  7. wintersnighttraveler*

    I had a nervous breakdown and was suddenly hospitalized three years ago and then began a mental health journey which involved (and still involves) many doctors’ appointments, medication changes, adjustments, and side effects, and continuing mental health symptoms. All of these things made work difficult: keeping a regular schedule, making it through a full day with bad side effects, subsequent hospitalizations, etc. Through it all, my boss was fantastic. He accommodated me and I did my best to keep my work product up to the standard he was accustomed to. I had a heartfelt conversation with him about how much his support and lack of stigmatization meant to me and I am glad that I had it. His response was that of course he was happy to help! There are great bosses out there.

  8. Hiring Mgr*

    I especially agree with Alison’s last paragraph…This SHOULD be the standard way a boss treats a good employee, but because we’ve been conditioned to expect the worst (or just pretty bad) from some bosses, this kind of thing seems like nirvana.

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      We’ve been conditioned and also read AAM, so we know it’s not terribly unusual for requests to be made about the status of my kidneys.

      1. ContentWrangler*

        The kidney-stealing(coerced donation) boss will probably always be in my top five of worst AAM bosses.

  9. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Not that it’s a quid pro quo, but to allay your feeling of indebtedness, I think good managers hope (not expect) in return that you trust them and let them know as early as possible about any major issues, like if you’re unhappy about a raise or lack of promotion, or that you give as much notice as you can. Not that they’re owed these things, but I have a great employer that has been flexible when I’ve had family crises, and they do this for everyone, and in exchange we cross-train, we have our hit-by-a-bus documents in order, we are more likely (but not 100%) to come back after maternity/paternity leave, and we tell them as soon as we’re accepted to a school or other job, even if it’s months in advance, because we know from past examples that they’d never pile extra work on us or let us go early.

    So your gratitude, loyalty, and trust are more than enough in return. (And I don’t mean blind loyalty, but the kind of examples I gave above.)

    1. Nita*

      In my office it’s a thing to bring in treats when you want to thank everyone, but not make a big deal of it. Something like a box of donuts or chocolates in the office pantry :) Sometimes the person bringing them in will email everyone with a short thank-you, sometimes they’ll just put out the treats.

  10. Elsewhere1010*

    I know there’s a “Worst Boss” series of emails republished each year, but has there ever been a gathering and republishing of “Best Boss” emails? There may not be as many of that type of stories (or maybe there are, as people don’t usually write to advice columns when things are going well), but in any case I cast my vote for “Best Boss” to the OP’s boss.

    1. LJL*

      I really like that idea..with the caveat that, just like Worst Boss, a letter writer can’t be selected.

    2. zora*

      Alison has said she doesn’t feel comfortable with that, since with most of the submissions, we only know about the one specific incident the letter is written about. We don’t really know enough about the rest of the boss’s performance at their job to know whether they are really a good manager in every way or not. So she has vetoed the idea of Best Boss awards.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — it’s not that I think we must have an investigation into every aspect of their work, but I’d be awfully uncomfortable if it turned out I’d crowned someone a best boss, and they were in fact screaming at their staff, not giving anyone any feedback, insisting that their employees donate their livers, or so forth. So I’ve just avoided it.

        1. turquoises*

          That’s a very good point. What if it were, say, “Best example of management” or the “This Is How It’s Done” award …. something that acknowledges that we only know a piece of their story. Because it would be really nice to round up a bunch of positive examples for people to aspire to!

          1. OP*

            I’d love a section of “class act” type articles. I’m fortunate that my boss is a class act all around. Even though he works in a very different capacity than I ever will (I have no interest/desire to get on his career path), I do my best to take note of how he handles things from staff to client interactions to major emergencies. He’s an absolute breath of fresh air and it’s amazing to see what a huge difference a really great manager can make in a workplace in real time. Our staff are happier, our clients are happier, and we’re all enjoying our day to day so much more. He’s a get things done kind of guy and I’ve watched him go to bat for our staff multiple times. One of my other bosses that oversees the EA assignments in our company even said she wishes she could clone all of our managers to be like him.

  11. OP*

    Hi all – OP here. Thanks for all of the support and suggestions. I don’t know why writing a thank you note never crossed my mind. And Alison, thank you for the wording! I might wait to write it though – with these pregnancy hormones, I might cry too much and muck up the card (I’m pretty sure sending a tear stained thank you note would be crossing the line, even if tears of happiness, gratitude or cute aggression). My hubby is luckily doing much better now – we had a real scare. We weren’t sure how sick he was, was going to be, and if his condition could turn fatal. The new bar we’ve set for our marriage is pretty low – “just don’t die” – but it makes us laugh and sometimes that’s all you can do. I wrote in quite a while back, but I’m still pregnant and baby is still doing well. I’m sure my boss will be just as amazing when the time comes for me to go out on leave & just as supportive when I come back. I thank my lucky stars every time he does something that actually makes my life easier – or simply doesn’t fly off the handle over trivial things – because I’ve had plenty of bosses that couldn’t handle themselves with such professionalism (though I have yet to encounter requests for kidney donations, late night airport pick ups, or hiding affairs, thankfully).

    1. Alison Read*

      OP, while your boss has been amazingly supportive you’ve touched on something I came here to gently remind you of – pregnancy hormones can make us overly effusive. Clearly your gratitude is warranted, I just recall cat litter commercials could make me cry when I was pregnant. Just something to keep in the back of your mind – particularly with all of the other crazy stressors in your life. I’m happy you have such a great boss.

      1. OP*

        YES! The one that really gets me, and I luckily haven’t seen in a while, is the beer commercial where the Golden Retriever doesn’t know if his dad is coming back because it was implied he was drinking and driving. That one got to me before I was pregnant.. now it’s full on water works. I also cried the other day while driving with my husband to the store – a little old man was walking across the street with his dog (which was a breed I’m particularly fond of) and I just started ugly crying because it was so darned cute. My poor hubby didn’t know what to do except give me a Sheldon Cooper-esque “there, there”.

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      Glad everything is going well! It’s helpful to have that bar for a lot of parenting too… did I feed them? Did I hug them? are they still alive? success!

  12. Specialk9*

    This was such a great letter to read. I’m sorry things have been so hard, OP, but so glad you had all that support.

  13. lurker bee*

    OP, I’m glad you are considering writing Ferguson a note/card, and wanted to share some perspective on how a written message would be received and treasured. I’m lucky enough to be married to a good boss, and to have worked for three bosses over the years for whom I would drop most everything to work with again. A lot of work and conscious thought goes into being one, but there seem to be some common threads — respect, appropriate empathy, an appreciation for the best attributes of team-building, and recognizing that institutional support and training to buttress a staff member is not only good karma, it is good for the team and the company.

    My spouse does not “tear up” easily, but I can say that the cards and notes he’s received over the years are treasured. He opened one of them at home; I’ve no idea what it said, but he dabbed at his eyes and said he’d only wished he’d been able to do more. His personal items at work would fit in a shoe box, and my guess is those cards and notes would make it in there way before his employee awards.

  14. zora*

    I had a similar but much less severe situation. Started a new temp to perm job, and after a few months, my boss said she wanted to hire me on permanently. Between accepting the job and my official permanent start date, I got really sick out of nowhere, a couple of days in the hospital. And then another week when I was so sick I couldn’t work and was in and out of the ER. People totally had to scramble to cover me, and I felt so bad that this happened literally right after they hired me and I was making their lives harder.

    And I profusely apologized to my boss when I got back, but she said “your health is the most important thing!” And it kind of blew my mind, because my last few bosses would not have been like that. Even the ones that would have tried to be nice about it would still have been more focused on how hard it was for them to deal with me being gone and been all stressed out. I am still so appreciative that I finally work for a company that wants everyone to put their health and important life stuff first, and if you need time, you take it and everything else will get figured out somehow.

    I’m glad things are getting better for the OP, but I totally know that feeling of being kind of surprised and intensely relieved that your boss is being super supportive when you are sick at an inconvenient time.

    1. OP*

      It’s amazing to have a workplace and boss support you, and it was even more glaring when compared to the difference in my husbands workplace. He texted and emailed his bosses while he was in the hospital, as did I (we know them all socially as well and considering the fact that he was hospitalized it was not out of range for me to reach out to them with his status) and the ONLY response he got from any of them was an “ok” via text when he was first admitted. I even called one of his coworkers that we are friendly with to make sure that the bosses realized he was in the hospital, practically dying, and that our messages went through. They did. And on his first day back at work? One of his bosses walked by, dropped a pile of papers on his desk, said “hope you’re feeling better” and walked away. I was floored.

  15. Elfie*

    I am so lucky to currently have a great boss, probably the best I’ve ever had. I suffer from mental health issues, so does my husband, and he’s also disabled, with me as his ‘carer’ if you like. At ExJob, I had 6 weeks off because of vertigo (which was horrible and stress-related), and they put me on a PIP when I came back. In the return to work interview with HR, my manager made me tell him all the ways my absence inconvenienced the team, the projects, and the business. Class act!

    I had been at CurrentJob for almost a year when I had 2 weeks off with depression. My manager was extremely supportive, told me my health was the most important thing, and sent me a text the day I was due to return saying that if I needed more time I should take it. I was so anxious because of what had happened at ExJob, but that text really put me at ease and helped me go back to work that day.

    Then, about four weeks after that, I had 7 weeks off with my depression (over Christmas and the New Year). I felt awful – my manager is going through a rough time in her life as well, and I wasn’t able to be there for her the way she’d been for me, and not only that, but I was off again. Once again, she was very supportive. She didn’t bother me whilst I was off, and the day before I was due back, she checked in with me by text to see how I was. I really appreciated the space whilst I was healing, and the support once it was time to return. In my return to work interview this time, I said although I wasn’t 100% (I doubt I ever will be, even with medication, counselling and CBT, but that’s life), I was happy to be back at work again and just sorry that I had caused so much inconvenience. With depression, sometimes when I’m off it’s hard to recognise that I’m actually sick – sometimes it kind of feels like I’m making the choice to be off. I verbalised this, and she corrected me, saying that it’s all the same, and you can’t help being sick.

    I will be forever grateful to my current boss for being so understanding, and how she keeps telling me that it’s great to have me back, because I’m a valuable member of the team. My job is pretty easy, compared to previous jobs, and I have quite a bit of free time (to come on AAM and such!), so sometimes I just can’t believe that I’m doing good work (I’ve always felt like I’ve had to be busy to be valuable). I’m taking a step back now, and just trying to do a good job, but not get overly invested in the outcome – that’s helping. I wish I could tell my manager how much I appreciate her support, but I’ve thanked her several times now, and anything else feels a bit OTT.

    OP, I’m sorry you’ve had a rough time, but how fantastic that you’ve got a manager who’s got your back in times like these. I’m sure that whatever accommodations Fergus has had to make to smooth things over for you, you will more than repay him by wanting to be a great employee for him, just like I want to do for my boss. I hope things keep going well for you, and good luck for the baby!

      1. OP*

        An amazing essay! I’m sorry you have had to endure such difficult times – I give you a lot of credit for making the decision to take care of yourself. Thank you for sharing your story! I’m glad to see there are other supportive bosses out there. I hope things are only onward & upward for you going forward!

  16. Cat Lady*

    I’m lucky enough to work for a division of a Fortune 100 company who understands the value of taking time for your family, and it would be hard for me to work anywhere else that didn’t allow me to work remotely as needed and take time off when it’s warranted. I’m also expecting (my 2nd child), and my first was born premature so I need to have extra appointments. We’ve also just learned of some potential other complications, but thankfully I know I don’t need to worry about work too much. I’ve had up to the level of GM tell me to take care of my family and do what I need to do. I wish more companies understood the need for self care and family care. I am much more productive at work if I don’t need to worry about how I’m going to take care of things at home.

  17. KT84*

    When my father was sick with cancer (which he unfortunately succumbed to), it was a lengthy painful three year ordeal for him and our family. My father’s company was not too sympathetic to his health issues and found a way to let him go that skirted the edges of legality. It hit our finances badly and completely demoralized him. It made our lives that much harder because his managers just didn’t care about his on a personal level – he was just a cog in their machine. My mother’s boss, however, was extremely accommodating, letting her leave work early to drive my father to the hospital or visit when he was admitted. Her boss showed up to both the wake and funeral and made sure my mother had plenty of time to mourn before coming back to work. We are still grateful for that to this very day. I wish more managers were like my mom’s boss and the OP’s boss.

    1. OP*

      I’m so sorry for your loss. My husbands company is very much he way your father’s was. We feel relatively secure in his job because he’s basically the one person who has worked in several of their locations and who can wear a dozen hats – butttt they also have no real compassion and after them not even checking on him when he was in the hospital, we know where he stands. Inaction or inconsiderate action really speaks volumes in these situations.

  18. Executive Assistant Barbie*

    OP, I’m so sorry for all the added stress in your life, and very glad that you have such a good manager.

    Your letter is very timely for me, my life has been a disaster since December 2016 and it seems like every week there is a new issue to sort out, some major, some minor. I’ve been feeling like the sad sack sitcom character, aka the Ross. Throughout it all, my manager at the job I started last February has been incredibly accommodating and I was thinking I would use a thank you card tied in to a thank you for the small holiday gift she gave as an opportunity to say something. Because of your letter I now have some wording to work with.

    I hope we hear an update from you later in the year. Enjoy getting to know your new baby when he or she gets here; it sounds like you have the type of boss who will let you take a true maternity leave without having to give a single thought to whether things are running without you, and that’s the kind of mat leave everyone deserves.

    1. OP*

      I understand where you’re coming from.. that’s exactly how I felt. I hope it all starts going up for you. I will definitely do some sort of follow once I return to work and get an idea of what life is like after going back to work after 14 weeks out.

  19. ScoutFinch*

    So glad to see that our “Fergus” can be a good guy as well as the antagonist.

    This made my heart swell.

  20. Amber Duncan*

    One other thing you can do for him is, if your company asks for feedback on the managers from their employees and assistants, you can be upfront about his good management with HIS bosses. I’m sure that his bosses hearing how much you value yours would be greatly appreciated, even if he never learns who said what.

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