boss is avoiding meetings about an important project, my employees didn’t contact me after my surgery, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My employees haven’t contacted me since I’ve been out for serious surgery

I manage a team of five employees and recently needed neck surgery after a car accident three months ago.

My manager and manager’s boss, plus my leadership team, has been very supportive and sent well wishes, cards, flowers, and fun stuff. My five employees never reached out or sent an email or text asking how I am. How do I handle that once I return to work? I am extremely hurt and can’t believe this after being out for three weeks. I plan on returning at six weeks and will let them know my feelings were crushed, but how do I do it strategically?

Don’t do that.

It’s possible that they thought their names were included in the cars and flowers sent by management above them. It’s possible they thought you’d rather be left alone and not reminded of work during your recovery. It’s possible they weren’t sure what to do, or they could have weird ideas about hierarchy. Who knows.

If you say something to them about this, the power dynamic will make it incredibly weird. You’re their boss. You can’t demand a personal, emotional response from them that they weren’t moved to express on their own. And telling them you were hurt by it will make the relationship feel more personal than professional in ways that will be unhelpful to both you and them.

The best thing you can do is to choose to believe the most generous explanation for their silence that you can think of (for example, that they thought you’d prefer not to have to think about work while you recovered).

2. My boss is avoiding meetings about an important project

I work in a very creative field and we have a huge project with a lot of potential to make or break the firm’s reputation. I’m on a very limited team (two people) and we are ostensibly supposed to be creatively directed by my boss. I think in an ideal world we would be the production engines giving life to his creative inspiration.

Our problem right now, and for the past few months, is that my boss has become more and more difficult to get ahold of. I think it is because he is afraid of the project, but it has become almost impossible for us to get him to sit down to a meeting. He has a calendar, but when it comes to meetings on this project (the most lucrative in our firm) he doesn’t honor his commitments and constantly delays … e.g., “Can we meet in 15 minutes? Can we meet tomorrow morning instead?” … or just won’t show up at all when he says he will.

I’m in a junior position and have already tried to hint that this is a fatal flaw in our team structure. Am I doomed to watch this project fail, since we don’t have a guiding leader and can’t make him sit down with us? Can we take the project on ourselves, and cut him out of the process?

Well, it might be doomed! How direct have you been that you really need to meet with him about the work? If you haven’t been this direct yet, I would say, “I know you’ve been swamped, but we really need your input about how to proceed if this project is going to succeed. We’re at the point where we really can’t move much more forward until we meet.” He might need to hear that to jog him into action.

If that doesn’t work, you could say, “Would you rather appoint someone else to attend these meetings if you can’t? Or do you want us to manage the whole thing ourselves and move it forward even if you can’t meet with us?”

And if that doesn’t work, I’d start proceeding as if he’s not going to be involved. Make plans, and email him those plans and say something like “We’re planning to do X — would love your input! But I know you’re swamped. If we don’t hear from you about this by Wednesday, we’ll start moving forward with it.”

Of course, that assumes you feel equipped to formulate those plans! How senior is the other person on the project team? If she’s more senior, this may be easier to do. If neither of you have the expertise needed, at that point you need to basically collar him (literally, show up in his office and say it’s important), lay out the problem, and ask what he wants you to do.

3. My coworker/friend won’t stop complaining

I have a colleague who also happens to be a good friend’s spouse. Prior to him working at my office, we were casual acquaintances, but have become more friendly over the year or so since he has joined our team.

Here’s the challenge for me: Todd is really, really, unexpectedly negative as a colleague. It is reminiscent of Belinda the stress-head and Bob the complainer, with a special twist all his own. I try to be empathetic and helpful where I can, but he says that he doesn’t want help, he just wants to vent. I’ve tried to make myself a less appealing listening ear, but he remains persistent, and when he isn’t getting the reaction he wants, he has started to sigh heavily and loudly complain “to himself” about how busy and stressed he is, how dysfunctional/incompetent our workplace is, etc. — never acknowledging that others might also be busy or stressed. His moods can be unpredictable, switching between sunny and engaged and stormy and irritable. I’m not worried about his mental health as I know he has the appropriate care and resources, but I am worried about the impact this has on our team and our work, which involves a variety of customers and stakeholders.

All of this is compounded by the fact that we are friends, I recommended him for the role, and now I worry that I’ll be associated with him and his negativity — plus, it makes the days feel a lot longer! I want to make my workplace better without damaging a friendship, but I’m not quite sure how to do it!

In the moment, when he’s venting to you: “I actually prefer not to be the recipient of venting. It makes my work a lot more stressful.”

If he continues anyway: “Sorry if that was unclear. I’m asking you not to vent to me. I need to stay focused on my work.”

If he switches to complaining out loud “to himself”: “Hey, could you cut that out? It’s really tough to work with a constant flow of negativity in the background like that.”

If you’re up for taking this on in a bigger picture way as a friend: “Are you okay? You seem really unhappy here much of the time.” … Followed by, at some point in this conversation: “I don’t know if you realize it, but you talk a lot about how stressed you are and how unhappy you are with various aspects of our office. I’m worried about the impact this is having on your reputation here — but also, frankly, on all the rest of us. It’s hard to be steeped in so much negativity all the time; it makes work much more stressful and unpleasant. I’m really sorry this has proved to be a struggle for you, but you could you rein in how much you’re expressing out loud?” You could add, “As the person who recommended you, this is putting me in an awkward position.”

(I’m assuming here that you’re not his manager. If you are, you’d have an obligation to address it more decisively, since it’s creating such a crappy atmosphere for other people.)

4. Explaining this is a hard time of year for me without revealing too much

I began a new job about a month ago. I’m a senior employee in a small department (my boss, three others, and myself). My boss has me acting as a team lead, so the other employees come to me with questions, and I am in charge when my boss is out of the office.I am trying to maintain a professional distance from everyone at work, in part because at my last position, I didn’t do that, and I just can’t blur that line again, and at that job, I wasn’t even in any sort of managerial role. The other part is that I don’t want to get too personal with my coworkers whom I could end up fully managing some day.

My question relates to something that occurred three years ago, however. My (at the time, 15-year-old) stepdaughter was hospitalized on 9/23/2015. As it happens, she would be in the hospital until she died on 10/28/15. We didn’t even know she was sick until June 2015. Hopefully understandably, this time of year is very difficult for me (as are holidays and March, her birthday).

So my question is: how can I explain my sad mood, and sometimes even tearfulness, without getting too personal? I have no idea what to say to anyone, but I feel like if I don’t say something, then everyone will think that I’m being anti-social, thinking I’m “better than” anyone else, or something like that. Any suggestions?

I’m so sorry — how awful.

If anyone asks or you know that they’ve observed something that will seem off, you could just say, “This is a hard time of year for my family — we had a recent loss around this time.” And then change the subject since you don’t want to discuss it beyond that.

You might also make a point of being extra warm to people as a way to counter-balance this, so that even if they do notice you seeming sad, it’s not as likely to read as anti-social. I know you’re trying to maintain boundaries, but you can be warm — very warm, even — while still maintaining boundaries in terms of the substance of what you talk about.

Good luck, and my condolences to your family!

5. Resigning right before going on a vacation

I have a question for you on behalf of my partner. He and I have a vacation planned in a few weeks, and he is anticipating receiving a job offer shortly before that (he has already been informed that he was successful and an offer is forthcoming). He wants to give notice before our vacation, in order to give his company as much time as possible to replace him (meaning he would give notice a week before our vacation and work a week and a half after the vacation, for a total of about 4.5 weeks). I am worried that his company will view him taking vacation after he has given notice poorly, and am suggesting that he give his two weeks notice immediately after we return. What is the best approach?

Some companies do have policies that you can’t use vacation time during your notice period (because they want you there to wrap up and help transition your work), but a reasonable company will interpret that to mean “we need you here for at least two weeks after you give notice,” not “if you give us extra generous notice of 4.5 weeks, we’ll punish you for that generosity by canceling your vacation.” But if he thinks the latter is a risk, then he shouldn’t give notice before he leaves.

The main things here are (a) he should not give notice before he has the formal job offer, because things can fall through, and (b) he should give at least two weeks notice if at all possible. If he has the option to give a full two weeks right after he returns, that might be the best way to handle it. But if doing it then means that he wouldn’t be able to give a full two weeks, then he’s better off doing it during your vacation — meaning he’d call and do it over the phone once he’s accepted the formal offer, apologizing for the timing but saying that he wanted to let them know as soon as possible.

{ 440 comments… read them below }

  1. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – It’s even possible that upper management told them that you were not to be disturbed. And they are obeying.

      1. EPLawyer*

        If I were the employee I would be working hard so the person coming back doesn’t find their desk buried with stuff from their time off. Which is the nicest thing I could do for them.

    1. Quackeen*

      In one of my previous jobs, we were told in no uncertain terms not to contact people who were out on FMLA. It’s quite possible that they were told that, or had internalized that message from previous experience.

      1. Aqua409*

        +1-I have our team’s most experienced and senior teapot maker on FMLA. We’re told that we are not to have any contact while she’s healing. Our team did send balloons/flowers/basket of goods on her last day of working before her surgery.

      2. soon 2be former fed*

        Sending people a get well soon card is not “contacting” them. It’s a shame when folks are too afraid to be simply nice. I think those employees are inconsiderate, and OP has every right to be upset. I wore saying anything. And OP should be certain to recognize major illnesses of her employees also, the door swings both ways. I would ask upper management if my employees were included in the acknowledgements before saying anything to the employees though.

        1. Yojo*

          What good would saying anything do? I 100% agree with the advice: “You can’t demand a personal, emotional response from them that they weren’t moved to express on their own.”

          These aren’t LW’s friends. It may sound callous, but all they owe her is performing well at their jobs.

          1. Artemesia*

            Telling your subordinates you are ‘crushed’ by their lack of attention to your personal issue would be catastrophic for the management relationship going forward. It is so incredibly unprofessional and out of place for a manager to do this, that I would suggest the OP reflect on whether they are ready to return to work and whether they might need some therapy to deal with their emotional issues. Of course a card would have been nice but acting like a disappointed mother to your own staff is a disastrous way to proceed.

            1. Zennish*

              This. They’re employees, not relatives. Expecting more than doing their jobs while hopefully not causing any problems is over-personalizing the relationship. All mentioning it would likely accomplish is creating a great deal of discomfort for your staff, and possibly some loss of faith in your judgement/temperament.

            2. SheLooksFamiliar*

              My thoughts exactly. Most leaders I know don’t expect the team to serve their emotional needs, and would not tell the team they were ‘crushed’ even if their feelings were hurt.

              My 2 cents: when I was out for minor surgery I wasn’t crushed that I didn’t hear from my subordinates. I was actually relieved that they carried on without me, and I didn’t have to engage with anyone while I was healing.

            3. Spider*


              OP, you are entitled to feel whatever you feel in the interior of your heart. But ask yourself — what is the outcome you desire of telling your employees you were crushed by their lack of contact with you? What do you expect them to do with that information, other than feel guilty for not caring more about you? That would be really overstepping professional boundaries.

          2. Michelle*

            I agree with this point. Work is not the place to expect people to be your friend and do nice things for you. If it’s not work related I will not bother you if you’re out of the office.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              There is very little that has ever happened that required my after hours attention. The only “big” thing was a container vessel that got caught in a storm. It was fine, it and all aboard were safe but were going to be delayed somewhere in the Pacific ocean by several days.

              I wasn’t concerned with the cargo so much (yay for insurance…seriously I am a firm believer in being insured to the teeth in all circumstances) but for the safety of the crew. My only other concern was my customers but since I’m not Amazon I don’t have an absolutely guaranteed delivery date on anything. It’s more like 2-6 weeks plus whatever time it sits in customs on each end. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

              Because I’m the owner not being bothered while I’m out of the office isn’t an option for me. If something needs my attention, sick or not, I have to deal with it. Staff however does not.

              Off time/break time/lunch break/vacation, etc. is sacrosanct to me. It’s part of my mission statement. If someone was contacting another staff member who was off for any reason…at all when there is no imminent threat to life/property would be someone I would need to speak with about appropriate boundaries.

              Way too many bad bosses over the course of my lifetime…including the one who while otherwise a lovely person nevertheless tried to track me down at my mom’s house, on my first day off in 23 days! It is absolutely possible to do business while still allowing people to have an actual life.

        2. Rat in the Sugar*

          Well, sending a card IS literally contacting someone. Personally I don’t think that the employees were necessarily (or likely) being inconsiderate. I care very much about my supervisor and when she has been out for medical reasons I absolutely did NOT contact her at all. She was recovering! A “get well soon” wish from me does diddly to help her get better, and seeing a message from her employee could jerk her brain back into work mode while she’s trying to relax since she’d have to actually open and read it to see that it said “Get well soon” and not “The building’s on fire”. I show I care by leaving her alone and giving her privacy and peace, while meanwhile taking care of things at the office. The only time I would actually email her is I’d she was CC’d on an email I knew she would normally take action on– I’ll include her in my reply saying I’ve got it covered.

          Of course, I’ve also discussed this with her! She knows I feel very strongly about not bothering her, so she’s happy with not hearing from me while she’s out. OP’s employees should have had a discussion about it if they feel the same as me, and actually told OP that they were intentionally going to stop emailing her to give her a chance to rest without communications from the office.

          1. zora*

            But the OP did get a get well card from the office! The employees likely knew that the management was sending a card, that’s how it works in our office. So, they felt like that part was covered.

            1. Rat in the Sugar*

              Yeah, after rereading my comment that last bit about “they should have had a discussion” is a bit off–the “discussion” I was thinking of was actually just talking to the boss about how to handle things while she’s out. Since they have to discuss who to contact for issues etc., it should come up organically whether the employees are planning/expecting to have any contact. The talk with my boss was something like:

              Boss: “Okay, remember that Jane and Leela have everything I’ve been working on and will be approving things for you. Send me an email if you need anything while I’m gone.”
              Me: “What? I’m not emailing you, you shouldn’t have to check work email while you’re recovering! Jane and Leela can do everything that needs to be done while you’re gone, so you can just rest and not even think about work. If there’s an emergency than Grandboss can handle it.”

              Boss just laughed and said thanks and then headed home to get better. So it wasn’t really a talk about how I was concerned for her or how I would show that concern, just about to handle work issues–but it did mean that she was aware that I wasn’t going to contact her.

        3. Mike C.*

          Are you kidding? You would actually suggest the OP contact employees?

          Why would you even keep score like this?

        4. Sarah P*

          I kind of disagree that the OP has a right to be upset. (I mean, everyone has a right to their feelings…but in the working world, some of those feelings need to be tamped down.) The employees are not family members or friends…they’re employees. It’s a business relationship. It makes perfect sense that they would assume the OP’s emotional needs would be taken care of by his/her family and friends. :-/ This seems like a case where an emotionally needy person is ascribing ill intent where there is none. Most people have their own lives and aren’t worrying about their boss’ emotions during a non-work event.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            Everyone has a right to be upset, I mean they’re feelings, just because you have a manager title doesn’t mean you turn off feelings. That being said, as a manager you rarely get to act on those feelings.

            It would be just as weird IMO in an employee wrote in with the same question about their boss or coworkers not contacting them while on leave. However, I think the answer would be the same regardless of the position held by the OP. Yes, feel bad; No don’t act on those feelings.

        5. Firing Manager*

          Of course it’s contacting them! It’s disingenous in the extreme to claim it’s not.

          And everyone has their own idea of what is “nice” – you may think this is nice, but to me being left alone and not having colleagues contact me while I’m out sick is what’s nice. More importantly, it is weirdly emotionally invested to get upset about something like this, and it would be very inappropriate and unprofessional to say anything to the employees. Doing so would be extremely poor management.

        6. HRM*

          There is absolutely no good that can come from the LW saying anything to her team about this. No good at all. She needs to let it go.

        7. NW Mossy*

          “Too afraid to simply be nice”? I’m not seeing the foundation for that assertion.

          Their behavior doesn’t tell us definitively that they’re fearful, or jerks, or inconsiderate, or anything. The only fact we have is that they’ve not contacted the OP during her leave – the reason(s) why are as yet unknown. Many (and arguably most) of the potential reasons do not involve the OP’s staff being motivated by a desire to be hurtful or unkind towards their boss.

          And that’s Alison’s point – don’t assume malice not in evidence. Even if you can’t bring yourself to see the lack of a card or texts or flowers or gift baskets as behavior that might have a positive root (such as wanting to give the OP space to heal), it goes a long way to maintaining a decent boss/employee relationship to at least presume that it’s benign and any harms caused were unintended.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Exactly. This kind of puts me in mind of the whole gifting up/down dynamic. Your bosses give you a gift/get well, etc. )as the situation warrants), your subordinates don’t.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            Exactly. Not crossing the streams does not signal ill intent. It shows a healthy understanding of professional/personal.

            To be honest if I was an employee with a boss so emotionally needy that she told me how upset she was that I didn’t do emotional labor for her, surrounding what are her private, very personal issues, I would be gobsmacked.

            That is far outside of the realm of what I (and lots of commenters here today) see as a healthy professional norm. It would make me uncomfortable enough that I’d likely be looking for a new job immediately. Ok, not “likely.” Definitely.

          3. Jojo*

            Personally, I do not have the home address of many people I work with. And not many of them phone numbers. I do check their facook if they out and say hi how you doing it they out awhile though. They live all over, many in neighboring towns and a few out of state. They rent a inexpensive room for work days and go home on off days.

        8. NotAnotherManager!*

          I have 35 subordinates, and I do not send cards to them at all (other than some handwritten thank-you cards for particularly notable work-related achievements). It doesn’t mean that I don’t like them or that I’m not a “nice” person; it means that this is work, and I do not treat my employees (or my boss!) the way I’d treat my friends or family. I owe them the duty of professionalism, investment in their professional growth, and to pull my weight as part of the team.

          It sounds like OP1’s organization acknowledged her illness, and I don’t think it’s out of reason that the employees may have assumed that they were included in the workplace care packages. Regardless, just as gifts should only flow downward, a manager should not expect things from their subordinates. Well wishes before they depart, and kind thoughts after the return should really suffice.

          Projecting what one would do personally onto other people and judging them as not “nice” for not doing the same thing is a bit much in this situation. It seems to be assuming the worst of the staff without full information.

        9. BananaPants*

          What she’s apparently expecting them to provide is the kind of emotional support and gift-giving that’s done by friends and family. They’re not her friends, they’re her subordinates.

          The kind of manager who plans to confront her direct reports for not sending her cards and gifts during an extended medical leave is someone who should NOT be in a managerial role.

      3. Snickerdoodle*

        Yeah, the last thing anybody needs is to become the cliché “They wouldn’t leave me alone!” we’ve seen here time and again.

        Also, one of my coworkers was in an accident and missed about three months of work, and her supervisor had to be told in no uncertain terms by HR to LEAVE HER ALONE because first she stopped by the hospital the night of the accident to try to make her fill out her timesheets (!!!) and then, when the rest of the more sympathetic coworkers put together a care package for her, she wouldn’t stop showing up unannounced and uninvited at the poor woman’s house. That kind of thing is why people leave you alone when you’re out. It’s unlikely they don’t care; it’s much more likely they’re trying to let you heal in peace. And who knows; maybe they’ll have a bunch of welcome back stuff when you return.

        1. DaffyDuck*

          +1 IMO for most healthy worksites it is standard NOT to contact supervisors when they are out for the reasons above. Unless you have another social relationship outside of work (e.g., attend the same church and the church members send a gift basket) you shouldn’t expect to hear from them.

      4. HRM*

        You are not supposed to contact someone out on FMLA with work questions or passdowns. It’s perfectly fine to send a get-well card, message or flowers.

        1. JSPA*

          Sure–and if HR spoke to her subordinates, that’s what HR should have said. However, it’s just as likely that they got the “grapevine” version, i.e. “do not contact for any reason.” And actually, HR may actually have said, and meant, “nothing.” Because you never know when someone thinks it’s funny to put a comment about “hope you get back soon, we can’t find the keys to the cabinet” in their “get well” card. (I was…that person…as a grad student. Someone else spotted it, crossed it out before sending, and had a talk with me.)

      5. all the candycorn*

        I’ve been in that position, where we were instructed that under no circumstances should we contact Boss while she is out for surgery/bereavement leave/maternity leave/much-needed vacation, etc.

        However, in every single one of those situations, the person giving that order was doing it so they could do something shady to The Person Out On Leave’s department. Attempting to fire employees, change up the schedule on major projects that was set for a very specific reason, breaking pieces of the physical plant and then repairing them incorrectly, planning to ambush them with a big surprise project on their first day back, allow a poor performing employee to stage a political coup and alienate people outside of her clique into quitting, etc., etc.,

        It’s time to do a check-in and make sure this isn’t going on behind your back.

        1. Lori*

          My first response to any thread, but this hit home for me. After 13 years at my job I was injured at home and was off for several months. Not once did anyone contact me and we were very close team, doing many things together outside of work. I eventually lost my job due to FMLA running out but now 3 years later still can’t get a decent job anywhere. I am blacklisted and do not know why and nobody will tell me the truth. I took a job $12 cut in pay and after 60 days said I was doing great, when I left that upbeat meeting I overheard the VP, my boss talk about how to get rid of me, then All of a sudden not one person spoke to me, like I was a lepor. Being treated horribly by a supervisor of another unit which became so difficult to take, I talked to my supervisor about that and she said there are a lot of complaints about her and not to worry she would handle it. Worst mistake!!! I’m treated as though I’m a criminal, coworker parked outside my house, following me to work like an intimidation threat no. They even hired a replacement but act like nothing is going on. I am clueless as to what could possibly the problem. I put in my notice but am so scared that I won’t get hired anywhere. I’m lost and 54 doesn’t help matters either. Sigh

          1. Khlovia*

            That sounds like a nightmare; I’m sorry you’re dealing with that.

            Do you have any peer-level colleague at the place you worked for 13 years, with whom you are on at least cordial enough terms that they might be willing to give you a clue if you begged hard enough? Seems like that must be the place where the weirdness started.

            Do consulting or freelance work until you have re-established a track record?

            Aarrgh, I’m sure you’ve already thought of all that.

          2. Jojo*

            If someone was parking outside my house and following me I would have called the cops. That would have started the ball rolling on what was going on.

    2. Stormfeather*

      There’s also the whole “gifts should flow downwards, not up” thing, which maybe they’re misinterpreting it to cover this sort of thing as well. Basically just lots of possible explanations besides “they just didn’t care” or whatever.

      1. MK*

        Frankly, even if the explanation is that they didn’t care, I don’t see what the OP would hope to accomplish by calling them out on it. A forced apology? Justifications (true or made-up) about their reaction? An explanation involving how callous the OP herself had been in the past when her employees were I’ll?

        What is the point? If, worst case scenario, the employees don’t feel warmly enough about her even to offer generic good wishes, well, they don’t feel that way. If she wants, she can try to nurture a more close relationship, but berating them on her return will only make matters worse.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yes. Either they do care, but didn’t contact because they were told not to disturb after surgery/thought themselves it was kinder, or they don’t care.

          If they do care, then berating them is unkind for doing the best they could and will feel picked on.

          If they don’t care, you’re not going to make them care, and will alienate them further.

          So in either case – for your own sake, assume the best, but externally the actions are identical – ignore the non contact, say something like “nice to be back!” and move on.

          1. Layla*

            At the end of the day, for me at least, my boss is my boss, not my friend or my aunt. If the office sends flowers, I will gladly sign the card because I would genuinely wish she is feeling better soon. I have no ill feeling towards her. But our relationship is professional, not personal, and my response to her being ill would reflect that. It doesn’t mean I don’t CARE, it just means our relationship isn’t a personal one outside the work place.

            1. Spooky*

              +1. Rare is the boss that I’d feel the need to reach out to on my own in addition to what the company had already done. The thought wouldn’t even enter my head.

              1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                Right? I’d do it for my current boss because we are a tiny, tiny department (5 people) but it would most likely just be something casual (sign a card with the department, or possibly a text). I wouldn’t do much beyond that and he’s unquestionably the best boss I’ve ever had; I’d be doing the best thing by picking up any slack and stepping in where needed while he’s out.

            2. Sarah P*

              Yes, this. I feel the same way about my superiors. I always sign the cards, or chip in for the flowers, etc. But I don’t feel like it’s my place to be emotionally invested in any way. If my boss was “crushed” that I didn’t respond in a particular way to his surgery, I’d be really weirded out and uncomfortable.

            3. Emily K*

              Yeah, I don’t mean this in a callous way, but I just don’t really care much about the people I work with. I find them pleasant to work with and I would certainly express congratulations/condolences as appropriate at the time I’m informed of news, but much like one of the other LWs today I had a bad experience early on with mixing work and social life, and now I keep a firewall between the two. I honestly just…don’t often think of my coworkers outside of the way we interact at work. I don’t think about them when they’re not around unless I need something work-related from them. I don’t know if that makes me a jerk but there are honestly very few people that pop into my brain when they aren’t in front of my face, like my family and friends I’ve known and been extremely close to for 10+ years. Other people I just…don’t think about about most of the time, and it’s not anything wrong with them or any ill will, they’re just not my friends. And that includes pretty much all of my coworkers who I intentionally do not form close friendships with.

              1. Emily K*

                And I’ll say this – I frequently tell people how much I like my boss and colleagues and how being party of such a great team is one of the main reasons I’m not looking to leave anytime soon. But they still aren’t my friends and if any of us quit next week I’d probably never think of any of them again outside of relating workplace anecdotes when they’re relevant to some conversation I’m having.

          2. Chinookwind*

            There is a third alternative – they do care but wanted to do something to celebrate you coming back instead of you being away. I have worked at places where there would be flowers or cake on the first day back to celebrate the recovery. That way, they don’t contact the person on leave but still show that they cared.

        2. Inconspicuous Bear*

          This exactly. I suspect OP #1 is still a bit too exhausted / emotionally racked from surgery and not seeing clear. At least I hope so, since I, as a subordinate of hers, would be extremely annoyed if my boss unloaded these emotions on me and my team.

          1. I'm A Little Teapot*

            Unless you’re in someone’s head, you can’t know how someone actually feels. People will say sympathetic things, but actually don’t care at all. And people won’t say anything but really do care. You can not know.

          2. MK*

            And? Are you going to make it a condition of employment that your employees care about? Are you going to hire people based on how “considerate” they are of you?

            Also, not sending a card/flowers does not equal not giving a damn about a coworker being seriously ill. Most people do care about their aquaintances’ well-being; that does not mean that every aquaintance must be treated as a valued friend when ill. Also, I hate to break it to you, but most of these gestures are well-meaning, but fairly shallow social conventions, not expressions of deep regard.

          3. Trout 'Waver*

            Not saying anything doesn’t mean not giving a damn.

            Personally, I’d rather convalesce without being contacted by well-intentioned employees. But that’s just me.

            Honestly, I would only contact an ill boss directly if they wanted me to AND they were petty enough to hold it against me if I didn’t.

            1. Snickerdoodle*

              Yes. A boss always being that emotionally demanding makes me not want to send a card, flowers, etc. My old boss was like that; she actually insisted that we make a big deal of her birthday in the office, so we predictably half assed it with a great deal of grumbling and resentment. She also made a huge deal about all kinds of imagined medical complaints, so that when she did finally get cancer, we didn’t believe her and then, when it turned out to be true, we didn’t care much.

              1. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

                Insisting that one’s coworkers and subordinates make a thing out of one’s birthday is…..not a great look. I say this as someone who gets all “oh gee guys” when a coworker thinks to bring me a coffee on my birthday, but come ON.

              2. emmelemm*

                Insisting other people make a big deal out of your birthday is insane. How can it possibly make you feel better to know that you had to *force people to pretend to care*? That would make me feel so much worse than if everybody just ignored me.

            2. SignalLost*

              Hard osntbthe right word, for me. Impossible is a lot closer. That sounds exhausting, unpleasant, and, depending on how it plays out, borderline abusive. What if you aren’t performing caring enough when evaluation time rolls around?

          4. Archaeopteryx*

            It’s entirely possible they have flowers/balloons/another card awaiting the OP when they return to work. That’s how I would think to do it, not send a manager something outside of work unless we were personally close.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              I had an employee who was out for a few weeks recovering from surgery, and we gave her our most sincere good wishes before she left and decorated her desk to celebrate when she came back. It’s what most offices I’ve worked in has done in these situations. I’ve had multiple surgeries myself, and I’ve only ever received the “Hooray, you’re back” celebrations, not anything while I was out.

          5. Phoenix Programmer*

            A That’s the reality at most companies though. You are a cog in the wheel easily replaced. Few places I have worked at were great about sending these types of niceities.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              My boss sends flowers from the dept. to my colleagues when they have a death in the family. I’m not informed of it, I only know because I happened to see responses.
              I don’t have family. I had cats until they got old and passed away. My boss and colleagues know this. No flowers, no card, a couple of people said “sorry for your loss”, and that was it.

              1. PersonalJeebus*

                I would not expect anyone at work to do more than say “sorry for your loss” over the death of one of my pets (and I am SUPER INVESTED in my pets), unless I said something like “My cat just died and he was very important to me, and I’m completely devastated. I won’t be able to accomplish much for the next couple of days.” (One of my cats is getting older and sicker, and this is basically what I plan to say when I lose him.)

                I wish it weren’t the case, but most people won’t assume losing a pet means as much to you as losing a human loved one, unless you tell them so. Therefore, I hope you don’t ascribe bad intentions to the different response.

                Also, I wish you happy days in the future with other deserving cats, and I’m sorry about the ones who have passed.

          6. Artemesia*

            I would find it hard to work for a boss who unloaded their emotional insecurities on me. ‘Crushed’? Seriously? Telling employees you are ‘crushed’? Whoa.

            1. Middle School Teacher*

              Yes, it is not the employees’ responsibility to manage manager feelings. In fact, I would argue it’s a fundamental part of managing to be the bigger person.

          7. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

            But here’s the thing: she doesn’t know that they don’t give a damn, so it’s in her best interest to assume that they do and did not get in contact for any of a variety of good reasons.

          8. Squeeble*

            But we don’t know that the employees didn’t care. There could be a dozen others reasons why they didn’t get in touch, as Alison touched on in her reply.

          9. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s okay to be disappointed that people didn’t contact you. But that’s a very different thing from saying something your employees about it — that would be incredibly inappropriate and weird.

          10. Cheer Up Emo Kid*

            I would find it hard to work with someone as emotionally needy and demanding as you. Get a dog if you need unconditional love. I’m at work to do the job, not to be your emotional suport animal!

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                I dont think it’s hard core.

                OP is basically expecting her emotions to be managed by her subordinates…just like an emotional support animal would do.

                These are work colleagues, not friends. OP expects too much.

                1. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

                  As the rest of my comments would tend to indicate, I generally agree with the substance. My issue was with the delivery, which was condescending and harsh. We DO have a rule about being reasonably kind to LWs.

                2. Jadelyn*

                  @Capt – I don’t think it’s any more hardcore than extrapolating from “my staff didn’t reach out to me while I was out” to a performatively dramatic “they don’t give a damn about me!”

          11. AMPG*

            When I was last out on maternity leave, nobody contacted me at all until it was time for me to come back, but then when I came back, everyone was effusive in their welcome. My manager told me how happy she was that I was back every morning for at least the first week. So not only is the OP’s current reaction unnecessarily unkind to their coworkers, it’s premature.

        3. Stormfeather*

          True. I was just mostly putting the best (and to me most likely) spin on it, but I didn’t mean to say that even if they don’t care, saying something would help/be the way to go, for multiple reasons.

    3. Undine*

      I have limited access to my manager’s personal info — no home address, email, or phone. And gifts and flowers come from the company — managers don’t usually pay out of pocket for things like that, they expense them. So there’s no good way for me to be included in these things if the managers don’t drive it. And it’s all electronic now — no circulating cards, no trips to the florist. Not to mention concerns about privacy mean they won’t give hospital details or other info to your employees or peers. I was in the hospital unexpectedly for several days and home for a month and my peers didn’t send me anything, but when I got back it was clear they’d been concerned. I just don’t think this is easy in the modern office.

      1. ssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        +1 to this. I’ve never been close enough to a manager to know those kinds of personal details.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Yes – this. I have never had my manager’s home address, and I don’t think HR would give it to me if I asked. Everywhere I’ve worked if someone had a loss or an accident someone in HR would arrange for a fruit basket or flowers to be sent with the whole company’s name on it, representing all of us. It would never occur to me that anything else would need to be done.

      3. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, I have my manager’s personal phone number, but I can imagine feeling like texting her when she had just had surgery would be incredibly intrusive! And then not being able to figure out what else to do. (I am old enough now that I could probably come up with something, but don’t know if I would have years ago.)

        Added to the idea that people may think “the office” sent flowers, and I would encourage the OP not to be too upset about this.

    4. Less Bread More Taxes*

      I was thinking this or perhaps they’re not supposed to know. I was in a situation like this as an employee. A peer was told by upper management, and he told the rest of us to let us know why our manager was out. But we were all aware that we weren’t supposed to know about the specific circumstances.

      1. Jen*

        I have a supervisor who was out for cancer surgery, but she really did not want her staff speculating about how sick she was because she felt it undermined her a bit. So I did not talk to others about what I knew. I also knew she had personal friends in the office she has worked with for 20 years (which doesn’t include me) and those are the people she wants to talk to. So I so signed a staff card for her, but I did not use her emergency personal cell to contact her. It is what she wants.

        The staff may be making reasonable assumptions about not bothering someone who is sick.

        1. soon 2be former fed*

          How is sending a card bothering someone? I genuinely don’t get it. When I have been out on extended sick leave, I enjoyed receiving evidence that people were thinking good thoughts about me. We are still human even in work situations, something that seems to be forgotten sometimes.

          1. JustDessert*

            Why would your employees even have your home address? I am in an administrative role so I have access to everyone’s information, but the rest of the team does not. I am responsible for sending out all gifts/condolences etc. I don’t think anyone on my team would even think about it unless they were also friends out side of work.

            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

              That’s easy if you own a home. It’s all public record and takes seconds to access. It’s not illegal or rude or anything–it’s just there. Same with looking in a phone book and seeing someone’s phone number.

              1. AK*

                I would absolutely feel uncomfortable if my team took it upon themselves to find my address. It’s not illegal, but it does feel to me like it’s pushing a boundary. For the same reason, I wouldn’t look up my own supervisor’s address, even in a situation like this. I’d wait until they returned for the well wishes.

              2. LovecraftInDC*

                It’s not illegal, but I think rude is arguable, and it’s definitely breaking some work norms. From my perspective, it’s not acceptable to do ‘research’ on someone you work with, with the exception maybe of looking up their LinkedIn profile.

              3. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

                I would be incredibly weirded out if someone went Googling for my home address to send me a card. Like, maybe an email. But if I have not given you my home address, that is probably for a reason!

              4. Jadelyn*

                To me, this falls into the “tracking someone down on FB, looking for links to their other social media, and messaging them on one of those other platforms” area of “yes it’s technically public info, but going to that much effort feels kind of intrusive.”

              5. RUKiddingMe*

                Not illegal, but “rude” could be argued. Certainly needlessly intrusive and crossing a line. There are very few good reasons to look up peoples’ property records. Full stop. Legit title search for a mortgage? Sure. Send a ‘get well’ card? Hard no.

                1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

                  I sometimes look up property records on my time to check out tax rates, tax bills, etc. I used to pull records for title work and it’s not bothersome to me. It’s public record and if someone doesn’t want their home address known, they need to rent or use a PO box. As for it being a lot of effort, it’s five seconds. I don’t broadcast what I find but looking up a record to see what a potential home for sale is valued at, no problem. (You hear X house may be coming up for sale. You look up the tax value.)

              6. Nervous Nellie*

                And don’t forget voter records. They feed to WhitePages & other phone books. Addresses are one of the very few things shown there for free, and show up even if cellphone numbers can only be viewed with a paid registration.

              7. Sandman*

                I think this one is interesting because I don’t remember it being weird 15-20 years ago to look in the phone book for someone’s address. It seems weirder in the internet age for some reason, but maybe I was just not old enough to be in a situation where the phone book check would have been creepy.

            2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

              Not commenting on the rightness or wrongness of the situation.

              But home addresses can be accessed by some personnel (Admins who have proxy status for approving vacation as an example). So theoretically a card could be sent by that person without the employees having to do any sleuthing.

              1. AMPG*

                But many/most companies have policies prohibiting accessing that info for personal reasons, and sending your own card when the company has already sent a card definitely falls under “personal reasons.”

                1. Jojo*

                  Federal law. Privacy Act of 19 what ever. Prohibits employers and other employees giving out personal information like employee address and phone number. If someone calls requesting it, instead of giving out info, you take the callers name and number and give that info to your fellow employee.

              2. Jadelyn*

                I’m in HR, and I’m the system admin for our HRIS, so I have access to all of everyone’s personal info. I still wouldn’t take it upon myself to use that access to send a personal card to someone who’s out. It’s still “sleuthing”, even if you’re pulling info from an internal system rather than doing a public county records search.

                If they had given me their address directly for other reasons, sure, like the coworker whose address I know because she was giving away her old couch and I had just moved into a new place and had nowhere to sit aside from on my bed, so she gave me her address so I could go pick up the couch from her – but absent something like that, just because I have the ability to pull up the information doesn’t mean it’s cool to do so for non-work purposes.

                In fact, I try to avoid making people aware of just how much I can potentially know about them. It tends to make people uncomfortable. I would hope most admin personnel who have access to personal info would do the same, just out of politeness if nothing else.

                1. Mad Baggins*

                  Yeah using this info for a different purpose than it was initially gathered for seems sketch to me. It’s one of those things specifically designated in the EU privacy laws. I guess you could argue that the address was collected for “company purposes” so if the card came from HR/the company as an entity it would probably be OK, but if my boss/a coworker/my subordinate (!) went to HR to find my address to do it, that would make me uncomfortable.

          2. KR*

            Sending a card would be bothering someone because it would be, plain and simple. People sometimes feel differently than you. If my boss sent me cards/fun stuff/ect it would make me feel uncomfortable. The most I want to hear from work when I’m unwell is the get well soon text my boss sends me after I text him I can’t make it to work.

          3. Lynn Marie*

            But not everybody feels the same as you. As an employee, not a supervisor, I’d just want work and everybody at work to leave me alone. And I’m a human too!

            1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

              But some people do feel that way. The hard part is figuring out who would appreciate what.

              1. Winter Red*

                The thing is, you don’t have to. There should never be an expectation that employees will somehow fathom how their manager wants this stuff to be handled and then comply. That’s a ridiculous level of emotional labour to demand from an employee and a good manager would never expect that.

                This is “family and close friends” level of emotional involvement. Taking it into the workplace is inappropriate and unprofessional.

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                I don’t think it’s something that needs to be figured out. Work is work, personal is personal.

                Surgery, illness, etc. is personal and the emotional investment in the affected person comes from real (i.e. not work) friends and family as the default expectation. Easy.

            2. Emily K*

              Haha, yes. I’m a human who thinks that hell is other people. A heartfelt card from someone I know I have an emotionally close relationship with – my sister, a close friend – that warms my hard. But in the absence of that relationship it’s more like, “Great, they performed a perfunctory social gesture and now I’m obligated to perform one in return like writing a thank-you note or remembering to thank them the next time I see them even if it’s 2 weeks later, because I don’t have enough else to do/keep track of in my mind.”

              I’m not saying I’d resent them for it, I would know they mean well and I would do the obligatory perfunctory return gesture that etiquette demands, but if I had my druthers, I would have just been given the sweet precious gift of time alone.

          4. BananaPants*

            I certainly don’t know my manager’s home address, and I wouldn’t be texting him on his work cell phone while he’s on medical leave. How would you propose I send a card?

          5. PersonalJeebus*

            I’ve seen you focus on the idea of sending cards in several comments, but the OP is complaining about not getting emails or texts from her employees. A card is a bit less intrusive and a lot more formal/ritualized than an email, text, or phone call. Emails and texts are more direct forms of communication, and they can indeed be bothersome when you’re grieving or ill/injured. Also, they require the sender to put more thought into the content and the timing of it, whereas a card can be very generic with ready-made, time-tested sentiments where all you have to add is your signature, and the recipient can open it when and if they please. (I’m sure some people would say cards are also bothersome/intrusive to them, but again, the OP is focusing on a) direct, b) instantaneous, and c) electronic forms of communication, so I think that’s what we should address here.)

    5. Excel Slayer*

      I imagine if the team do know the circumstances (which they might not have been told about), that they’ll be going to OP’s boss for updates on how they’re doing rather than thinking of bothering OP themself.

    6. jenkins*

      I think this is quite possible – or, as Alison said, that they have assumed you wouldn’t want to be disturbed. In my last job, my manager’s husband had a heart attack. Obviously she dropped everything and ran, and she was out for a while so she could be with him as he recovered. As soon as she checked in with the office, I asked after him and gave them all my best wishes – but until then I figured that the last thing she needed was endless texts from us. I was definitely thinking and worrying about her the whole time, and I really hope she wasn’t hurt by my silence.

      1. Cat wrangler*

        #PP1, I’m sorry that you feel that your coworkers don’t care but sometimes, we’re not supposed to “know” when someone is out of work sick as they may not want people to know the finer details or they’re just not up to dealing with it all. In any event as other commentators have said, there is little to be gained and perhaps much lost by vocalising this on your return. Hopefully, they’ll decorate your desk on your day of return as a welcome back!

      2. Cindy Featherbottom*

        jenkins…. I highly doubt that she was hurt by your silence. My grandmother went from being diagnosed with cancer to end the hospital with kidney failure within 2 weeks of each other. I dropped everything and went half way across the country to help take care of her. I was out for a decent bit of time. My direct manager checked in once while I was out and that was just to get an ETA of when I might be back (when I left we didnt have a chance to establish how long I’d be out, I just had to leave ASAP). Otherwise, no one from work contacted me. And I GREATLY appreciated it. I needed to focus on my family and I was also exhausted by the end of the trip. When I got back, there were many hugs, a few cards, and some other little things. I get the feeling that OPs coworkers probably felt that OP needed time to rest and recuperate, not hear from work. Balloons or flowers might have been nice, but they may not have known where the surgery was taking place (some areas have multiple hospitals) or when OP would be home from the hospital so it might have been hard to know how to get a hold of OP.

      3. PersonalJeebus*

        What jumps out at me is that your manager checked in with the office when she felt able, and at that point you asked how things were going for her. I have always waited to hear from an absent boss and let them say what they needed to say before addressing how I was sorry about their mom dying or how I hoped they were feeling better.

        I wonder if OP1 has checked in with her employees to ask how work is going for them in her absence. Are they slammed without her there? Are they getting what they need from the person now supervising them? Did the color printer ever get fixed?

        That’s the usual etiquette in a boss-employee situation, specifically because a boss should not attempt to be friends with their employees and thus should not expect to be treated like a friend by their employee. If OP1 wants to hear from her employees while she’s on leave, *she* should check on *them*. That way they won’t feel they’re disturbing her, and they’ll have a natural opening to ask how she is.

    7. Caiticat*

      This. When I was on FMLA, no one could contact me at the direction of our manager. Some people who had my # would text but never about work.

    8. Elemeno P.*

      We had a similar situation with our director. We’re a very small team, very close, and he had a very serious surgery early last year. He told us to text his friend for updates. We did, and when we asked if we could visit, she said that he didn’t want visitors and that she would update us when he was ready.

      We checked in several times to no response, so we never ended up visiting him in the hospital for the two weeks he was there, or at home for the following two weeks when he was recovering. We thought this was weird since he LOVES company, but we respected his apparent wishes.

      Earlier this year, he had to go to the hospital for two days, and since he didn’t leave us with directions to the contrary, we all went to visit him. He was so happy and touched, and we finally talked about the other medical incident. We told him about his friend telling us not to come, and he said that he finally understood why nobody came to visit him; while his friend had been very controlling during his recovery (leading to a falling out), he had no idea she’d been turning everyone away. He’d just been so sad that nobody came to see him, when all of us had really wanted to!

    9. Elemeno P.*

      I replied to this and it disappeared, but in short: this happened when my director was out sick. He told us to ask his friend for updates, the friend said he didn’t want visitors, and he spent months convinced that we all didn’t care about him enough to visit until we were finally able to talk about it and found out his friend was being a jerk.

      1. Elemeno P.*

        As a slightly happier follow-up, when our director was in the hospital again earlier this year and didn’t tell us to go through the friend, we all came to visit and he was so happy.

        1. smoke tree*

          See, assuming your friends aren’t jerks, this seems like a pretty good strategy to me. Personally there are few things I would appreciate less while in hospital than having a bunch of coworkers visit me, but I’m not sure if they would realize that if no one was there to tell them.

          1. Elemeno P.*

            I think it also depends on the situation; I would like my current coworkers to visit me if I were having a medical situation, but I wouldn’t want that from previous work environments. My office is very close and also a lot more open about our medical issues than most people on AAM would be comfortable with. Our director was only pointing us to his friend because he wouldn’t be physically capable of responding after the particular surgery he was getting, so it was rough that his friend didn’t respect his wishes. Good friends would also be a good way to keep unwanted people out, though!

    10. Linzava*

      I would never contact a boss like this. What I would do is ask the office person closest to them how they are, but that’s it. People often act the way they would want to be treated and most employees would not want to be contacted during recovery. What they are doing for you is making sure the machine runs without you for you. This usually entails extra workloads and extra responsibility. If I was busting my butt for a recovering boss only to have them come back and tell me I hurt their feelings, I’d be job hunting that week, especially if I spent that time finding solutions other than contacting them, which is a big hassle.

    11. Sometimes Wallflower*

      I would be horrified if my coworkers wanted to visit in the hospital or heaven forfend, at my home while I was recovering from an illness, or if they were regularly asking me while I was away from the office about my health, my recovery, or for that matter anything personal I didn’t volunteer to share with them directly. Absolutely not, no thank you. Do not want.

      I wouldn’t even want stuff delivered to me – not because I don’t appreciate the gesture, but because one of my cats is a ninja who can get into almost any container or trash can and if I were having trouble getting around or I was dim because of painkillers or something, novel “stuff” entering my home would be just one more thing to worry about. Flowers and plants can be poisonous, plastic wrapping and rubber bands can be chewed and swallowed, etc — and the trash dumpster in my apartment complex is not close so this would be a problem.

      In other words, the kindest and most thoughtful thing my coworkers could do for me is leave me alone.

      1. Lynn*

        Me too. I have a professional position and just the thought of people who are coworkers and not friends seeing me in a hospital bed in a gown makes me anxious.

      2. Salamander*

        This. When I’ve been ill enough to be in the hospital, I did not have enough energy to perform emotionally for colleagues or even family. Having colleagues visit me either at the hospital or at home would have caused considerable stress. I do not want my co-workers seeing bedpans, my ass flapping out of a hospital gown, or for myself to feel uncomfortable because I’m braless and looking like death warmed over. Nor do I want to discuss the finer details of my illnesses with others. And I certainly I don’t want visitors at home – it’s stressful worrying if my house is clean enough for visitors and wrangling pets when I’m ill. Having visitors requires me to do work, and I want to rest with Netflix in sweats and not vacuum.

        I had a job for many years in which it was mandatory to notify the office of any hospitalizations and visits from bosses were mandatory, and one’s hospital info was shared with staff. I thought that was frankly a horrible policy and was very fortunate not to be in the hospital during my time in that position. The root of that policy was frankly nosiness and to provide gossip fodder under the guise of being a work “family,” and I don’t deal with nosiness well.


      They might not have your contact information and HR isnt going to give it out. When we have people here go out on long-term leave, we dont know or notice until the 2nd or 3rd week. Only when we ask mgmt “where are they?”, then we get told.

    13. Sunflower*

      My first thought was maybe LW#1 is just not well-liked by their employees. I know I’ve had bosses where I was just relieved to have them out of the office for a few weeks. Nothing could have convinced me to send them a card or a get-well-soon text because I genuinely hated them.

      Not the most charitable thought but hey, it happens. No matter the reason, let it go. Getting upset won’t change a thing.

  2. Sami*

    Oh OP 1– I’m sorry you’re feeling so hurt, but this really isn’t something you can bring up. In the time before you return, try really hard on letting it go or at the very least reframing it.

    1. Lynn Marie*

      Yes, and although you’re feeling hurt, it’s a good time to remember that your employees are not your friends, they’re not supposed to be your friends, and try to let go of expectations they will treat you like a friend. That may sound harsh, but if you can accept that it will make you a better manager as well as give you some peace of mind.

      1. soon 2be former fed*

        This is a tad harsh to me. You don’t have to be friends to acknowledge a major illness and send a card. It take minimal effort.

        1. Yojo*

          I agree, but I think only friends should be expected to send a card, and they’re the only people whose silence should be hurtful.

          1. Lynn Marie*

            I don’t even think friends should be expected to send a card! It may be lovely if they do, and appreciated, but certainly not expected.

            1. jenkins*

              Definitely – especially since some people are much more into cards and physical tokens of affection/concern than others. It’s not a universal thing. We’re entitled to expect some affection and concern from our friends, but we can’t necessarily dictate how they show it, and that goes a thousandfold for employees.

        2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          What good is this advice doing the OP? If her employees wrote in, sure, but are you actively trying to make her feel worse?

          1. Foreign Octopus*

            I think this advice is good because it helps to reset OP’s expectations.

            In many, many offices what she’s hoping for would be inappropriate. Maybe that isn’t the case in her office but it may help to know that people are operating from a different set of expectations than she is.

          2. PersonalJeebus*

            The OP is actively considering how to make her *employees* feel worse. She wrote in asking how best to guilt-trip them. A reality check is the only thing that will make her feel *better* at this point. She’s got to reframe the situation in her mind if she’s to have any hope of feeling less hurt.

        3. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

          You do, however, have to be friends to expect this level of emotional labor from someone. From literally everyone else in your life, it’s gravy.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Thank you! I kept reading that and thinking, “Does anyone actually send physical cards anymore?”

            1. PersonalJeebus*

              For me, sending someone a card is more than minimal effort, and I only make that effort for people I’m close to who I know like cards. Because sending a card means you have to:
              1) Make the time to physically go out and choose and purchase an appropriate card
              2) Come up with something to write in the card, or debate whether it’s enough just to sign your name
              3) Write the thing in the card without messing it up and making it look sloppy, then seal and address the card, and oh wait do you have the person’s address on hand or do you have to stop what you’re doing and look for it or ask someone to provide it? Also, do you have stamps on hand?
              3.5) Possible trip to the post office for stamps
              4) Remember to put card in mailbox, and hopefully you’re lucky enough to have one right outside your door

              Maybe there was a time when all of these tasks were nothing to most people, but to busy people nowadays, it’s an effort we would describe as more than “minimal,” and we don’t do it for every single person we know who is having a difficult life experience or important occasion.

        4. That Would be a Good Band Name*

          I just can’t imagine why you would have a boss or coworkers home address to send a card. I also wouldn’t expect one. I have actual friends and family that are taking care of me and the only feeling I would get if someone from work tried to contact me would be dread that I couldn’t get away from work while I was seriously ill!

          1. medium of ballpoint*

            Agreed! A few years ago I unexpectedly needed surgery a few months after starting a new job. My colleagues were lovely and sent me a gift basket, but then were upset when I didn’t send a thank you email. I still had tubes and holes in my body; I certainly wasn’t focused on social niceties. Their gesture was kind but the expectation really turned me off. I wanted space and time to recover and that’s what I try to give others. Maybe it’s not what they want, but I’m less likely to offend someone with distance than I am demands for their attention.

        5. Winter Red*

          I rarely send cards even to my closest loved one. Sending one to a boss would be super-weird and awkward and inappropriate. If my manager expected that I’d be horrified!

        6. Kettle Corn*

          I don’t see this as harsh, definitely to the point. But really the boss shouldn’t expect workers under them to buy them a gift, send emails and call to make the boss feel loved. Its something friends do not co-workers. It would be a nice gesture to send an email, or a card as a group but anything else is over the top for a worker to boss.

        7. RUKiddingMe*

          Maybe. maybe not. I have several autoimmune issues, Fibro, rheumatoid arthritis and a few other issues. Not a lot is “minimal effort” for me most of the time. Sure some days are better than others but I have barely been able to move around my house the past few days. Trying to go out, find a card, come back home, sign it, address and envelope (after stalking an address from property records), put a stamp on it, and then walk to to the outgoing mail box would have been undoable. This would have been a lot more than “minimal” effort on my part.

        8. Emily K*

          Everyone’s idea of minimal effort is different. I have a dog at home all day that makes it hard to stop anywhere on the way to/from work because I can’t leave her for more than 8 hours. Sometimes it takes me a week of my pharmacy texting me every day about my prescription to actually find the time and remember to go pick it up, and I medically need that. I live alone and own my own home and every month or two I have to take a day off work to fit in all of the housework and errands that have been piling up because I haven’t had enough time on evenings or weekends to get them done. I get all of my groceries delivered by Instacart because I find it so hard to get to the grocery store.

          Sending an email is minimal effort. But in my personal situation, asking me to make a trip to any kind of brick and mortar store is not a trivial request.

      2. EM*

        It does sound a little bit harsh. There are lots of reasonable explanations for why the employees wouldn’t have texted, and for the sake of everyone those are the best ones to go with. But I don’t think it’s useful to frame this as OP1 being unreasonable either. You spend a lot of time with employees, and invest a lot in them ideally, so it’s reasonable to have feelings about friendliness and care without mistaking that as friendship.

        1. Birch*

          Isn’t it sort of like gifting, though? You’re not supposed to ever expect a gift, but it would be more reasonable to be miffed about not receiving one from a close friend than from a colleague or more distant friend. OP was expecting a level of emotional engagement that the employees weren’t prepared to give, and even if it would have been better that they’d at least get a card, it’s not fair to expect anything from them, especially considering that a lot of people prefer privacy around personal issues.

          1. EM*

            I guess I just think framing it as OP1 potentially needing to work in her management skills for feeling hurt as a bit harsh. It doesn’t change the action, but I don’t see her position as unreasonable either. Fundamentally, your position is a much more productive one to work from in the future though – so I agree with you too :)

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          The thing is that this kind of expectation *is* unreasonable.

          “FriendliNESS” and care sure, but getting one’s feelings hurt by what are in actuality probably only acquaintances not making a special effort to send a card/visit, then thinking that it’s somehow acceptable to unload a feelingsbomb all over them about said hurt is what makes it unreasonable. This kind of emotional labor is the provenance of actual friends and family, not coworkers, no matter how well you think of them.

          1. Coffee*

            yes the OP sounds exhausting. As would anyone complaining that their employees didn’t send them the appropriate amount of heartfelt love and admiration because they had something done.

          2. tangerineRose*

            OP is being unreasonable about this. It is not a general expectation in society to send your boss a get well card. It’s a nice gesture, but a lot of people might not even think of it or might think it would be unwelcome.

        3. PersonalJeebus*

          To me the unreasonable part of the letter is the OP asking how she can “strategically” make her employees feel guilty and lay her crushed feelings on them. She doesn’t even question whether this is a good idea, she simply asks how to do it.

          That is simply an unreasonable position to take toward one’s employees.

      3. Dr. Pepper*

        This is indeed harsh, but it is also a reality worth remembering. I fell into that trap as a new manager, partly because I was managing former peers with whom I’d had a friendly relationship. While nothing on this scale, I felt hurt that they were now treating me differently (because I was now the boss, DUH) and I had to adjust my expectations. You cannot truly be friends with people who work for you because of the power dynamic involved. You are not on equal footing and you need to respect that. Otherwise run the risk of becoming the dreaded boundary violator.

        Personally, it would simply not occur to me to send my boss a card. I’ll sign any office group card, but to my mind it would look a bit weird and pandering to send my boss a “get well” card solely from me.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      I agree. I think there are enough people that don’t want to be disturbed when they are away from work that people lean towards just leaving people alone. In our department, we have four support staff. One of them was gone for a medical emergency a while back. I sent her one email that just said that I was sorry she was going through this and to please take care of herself because we had everything under control here. Then I never texted her again. Another member of our support staff texted her every day, multiple times a day; asking what was going on and so forth. I talked to my team member when she got back and she thanked me for leaving her alone during that time. We chatted a bit and both agreed that’s how we felt. The fourth staff member didn’t email/text/call her at all. So out of the four of us, only one person thinks people need to be contacted outside of work. I personally want to be left alone when I am out ill or dealing with medical stuff because I’m definitely a sleeper.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        When I was younger I had jobs where if I missed work I would come back to the boss having a fit, crises, utter chaos – of course this wasn’t just because I was gone, but having anyone out made it worse.
        For my first few years at my current job, when I called in I was hoping no one would contact me because I didn’t feel up to dealing with anything and I like to sleep too.
        Luckily no one has! In 7 years the only contact when I’m out is my boss saying, “ok, hope you feel better” and similar acknowledgements from colleagues. It took a few years to get used to this! :)

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        “Another member of our support staff texted her every day, multiple times a day; asking what was going on and so forth.”

        I am hyperventilating just reading this! Who thinks this is a good idea?!

    3. LurkieLoo*

      I’ve worked for my bosses for a very long time and at one point (for a couple years) it was just the 3 of us in a small open office. That tiny bit of background is just to set the scene that we are probably considerably closer than the average boss/employee relationship. One has been out for surgeries more than once. I never contact her while on leave. When she calls in, I ask how things are going, wish her well on recovery, etc., but I never initiate contact. I don’t want her to be bothered by anything even loosely work related during recovery until/unless she is ready.

      Don’t take it personally. I’m sure it’s not meant to be a slight. I know that’s easier said than done, though. I am kind of surprised that the people who did send wishes didn’t include your team in the process. In larger organizations, that’s been my experience. I’ve signed cards for people I didn’t even know personally because a manager brought it around.

  3. Greg NY*

    #2: It is my opinion that managers who are derelict in their responsibility to direct a project forfeit their ability to influence the project. Given that, there are two ways you can proceed. One is to go to their manager (“grandboss” in the parlance of the commentariat, even though I really don’t like that word) just like you would do in other situations where your manager is doing something wrong. What I would favor instead is to do what I do when managers have been nonresponsive or won’t invest the necessary time to meet. I just matter of factly explain what I’m doing in an email and tell them I’m going ahead with it if I don’t hear from them by X date and time. That way, I’ve covered my bases.

    You should not let the project fail. It could have an effect on your team’s jobs even though you wouldn’t be at fault for it. Your company may lose the project and you’d be downsized (although your manager would probably be axed as well). Make your best effort to have the project succeed, and if you are unsuccessful, if nothing else you will have a great answer to the interview question of why you left your last job.

    1. Alli525*

      Wow, I would NOT recommend escalating to a grandboss, or just moving forward with a project, without manager’s input, without having a conversation with the manager first. If all OP has done so far is hint (which she says in the letter) at the problem, going to the grandboss would look really insubordinate.

      1. Susan Calvin*

        Hard disagree. Yelling ‘Iceberg’ when you see one isn’t insubordination, it’s good sense. You’re not accusing your manager of anything, you’re just flagging a problem (which he may or may not be equipped to solve without support from further up).

        1. Troutwaxer*

          I think it might be worthwhile to ask your boss’s opinion of the project. He may be avoiding it for good reason. (Or he might not, in which case the advice above is probably better than mine. But find out.)

      2. LadyPhoenix*

        I would talk to boss first and document the lack of interaction. THEN take it to Grand Boss.

        A lot of these issues don’t get looked over because the person didn’t talk to the problem person first.

      3. Student*

        I think we need to bring in an element of timing/reasonableness here.

        You should try to talk to your boss first – but only up to a point of reasonableness. If your boss ducks every attempt to discuss a project for weeks on end, it isn’t always reasonable to keep waiting to talk to the boss in person before escalating it. Most projects can carry on for a week or two. Some projects can carry on for a month or so.

        After a month of dodging active, frequent attempts to engage the boss, or at the moment it becomes an emergency for project timing, you should be able to escalate to the boss’s boss (or other similar resources). That’s somebody not doing their job, and you aren’t obligated to cover for them. I’ve had project managers like that, who just vanish, and you do no one any good if you just ignore it’s happening indefinitely.

        On the flip side of the coin, you the employee are obligated to try to contact the boss very directly. He skips project meetings? He doesn’t read emails? You need to do something different to attempt to get his attention. Call him. Leave voice mails! Drop in at his office – even if it’s just to say in passing “Hey, we really need your input – please make some time for us” as he rushes out the door past you. Talk to his administrative assistant, if he has one. Try IM if he’s known to respond to that. Schedule a one-on-one meeting. You have to at least try this, I’d say 2-3 times, before you go to the boss’s boss to complain that he can’t help you. If at all possible, in contact attempts with your boss, try to give him a graceful out – like a chance to delegate the project management work to somebody else.

      4. Emily K*

        This might vary depending on exactly what OP’s role is. As a senior manager I feel very comfortable telling a bunch of Directors and VPs who I know are super busy, “Here’s my plan, please let me know by COB tomorrow if you have any feedback or if you will need more time to provide feedback,” and then moving forward once the deadline has passed.

        However, as an Associate I might have been less sure of doing that in all but the most routine projects that I’d done before.

    2. Nita*

      Yes, it’s worth considering telling your boss’s boss. If this project is really important and neither team member has the experience to lead it without management, you may end up with a product that can’t go out the door, and may get blamed for staying quiet when you knew it’s headed for failure. Of course, on the other hand you’ve got to think of the possible repercussions of going over boss’s head, and decide which is the lesser of two evils.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      I was coming to ask: Alison, what about asking the Grandboss for input? At what point would OP do that?

    4. Michaela Westen*

      If you have to escalate or move forward without the boss’ direction, be sure to document everything in emails. I would save them and the meeting invites to a file folder and print them out.
      Then if anyone says you and/or your colleague acted without authority, you have proof you tried to get direction.

      That also gives me another idea. Before going to grandboss, if all your efforts to get direction from your boss fail, is there another manager at your boss’ level you can turn to? That person could help direct you and go to grandboss if they think it’s appropriate.

  4. Engineer Girl*

    #5 – if possible, ask the new company if they can push back the start date by a week or two.
    Then you can take vacation, be back a week, then give two weeks notice.

  5. Greg NY*

    #5: If his new company is willing to wait 5-6 weeks for him to start, the best bet may be for him to give notice to his current company now, serve out the notice period, go on the vacation, and start at the new company when the two of you come back.

    1. Artemesia*

      And forego paid vacation? The issue here is early notice will in many places mean no paid vacation or vacation pay out. Unless the company has a sterling track record of not punishing early notice, it is prudent to wait until the OP is back to give notice.

    2. Clare*

      He doesn’t even have a start date yet, or an actual offer! The BF is getting way ahead of himself. Absolutely do not do or say anything without that final written offer in hand. It can fall through (I’ve had that happen to me) plus even when it comes through fine it takes so much longer than people expect. I doubt he’ll be starting as soon as he thinks he is anyway.

      1. Fergus*

        I had an offer from a company and they became very unprofessional from the time of the offer letter and after, I withdrew my acceptance. I really never should have accepted but either way they were a company that were waving red banners that were on fire so I ran.

  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, going through a car accident that requires neck surgery and several weeks of recovery sounds very scary/isolating. I’m wondering if the enormity of it is contributing to why you feel so strongly that you now feel crushed? It seems like a lot of emotional responsibility to put onto your employees/reports, and I’m not sure they’re the right people to shoulder that responsibility for you.

    There are so many reasonable and non-nefarious reasons for them not to reach out (e.g., maybe they were told not to by the higher ups?) that I think the best option for you to feel at greater peace (and less crushed) is to assume that they meant no offense.

      1. Ender*

        I respect my Boss and I would never consider contacting him when he’s off sick. I would think it was really rude to contact them.

    1. Lilian*

      This very much.
      And I love my boss and I would be really worried about them, but I would think they had more important stuff to do than read my messages, and wouldn’t want to interrupt their recovery, and I also wouldn’t know what or how to say, so I’d be one of the people not contacting them.
      I’d probably give them a welcome back gift once they’re back.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Not so much now, but Younger Me would have definitely stepped back from this one. I would have waited for the Boss to come back and in a quiet moment said something very simple like, “Glad you are back.”.

        More recently a woman had chemo. I was told on the hush-hush. She never mentioned it to me so I never opened the topic. I hope she does not think poorly of me, she’s a nice lady. I sincerely believe I was respecting her wishes, as told to me by a third party.

    2. WS*

      I agree. I know every time I’ve had major surgery, I’ve felt physically exhausted and emotionally flat for weeks afterward, whether or not I was then in serious pain. Even minor surgery with general anaesthetic can have a surprisingly long-lasting effect. Being in hospital is really isolating from “real life” even when people do stay in touch, so I’m not surprised OP1 is feeling left out and emotionally abandoned.

      1. MommyMD*

        But it’s not the responsibility of her subordinates to fix this for her if she is feeling this way. She’s crossing a line.

        1. WS*

          No, definitely not her subordinates’ responsibility – and even if it were, there’s other reasons why OP may be feeling unexpectedly emotional and negative.

    3. No Parking or Waiting*

      OP #1: Also, please check if your staff was instructed to leave you alone under any situation.
      I work for a very uptight financial firm. They follow federal laws to the letter, including no contact during FMLA leave. My boss went on maternity leave about a year after I started. We were friendly at work, but not friends, so I’d never socialized with her, so I would not have a personal reason to contact her. The office sent a gift basket and we all waited for her to come back. She did bring the baby in just before she came back, but nobody called, texted or emailed while she was gone because we were told not to.

    4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Yeah, I would assume the OP ‘s employees are planning a nice welcome back when she returns.

      I really like my boss (he’s been my boss for over 10 years) and would be concerned about him, but honestly, other than his work phone # and work email address, I would have no way of contacting him in a situation like this. I don’t have his home or cell phone numbers, home address, or personal email address and I doubt HR would just give it to me if I asked.

  7. Fake Eleanor*

    OP #1: I’ve been in the position of your subordinates. A former boss had a skiing accident, and was out on short-term leave for several weeks. She was forbidden from contacting us, and we were strictly forbidden from contacting her. (She in fact tried to circumvent that strict ban on contact, which did not go well for her.)
    It seems very likely, even if your legal department has not forbidden contact, that your team has been asked to leave you alone.
    If you’re really concerned, you could check in on the situation with your own manager, but I suspect that regardless of the reason your own team will give you a lot of sympathy and attention once you’re back in the office.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      It’s possible that the OP is exempt. If any work is done during the contact then the company owes an entire weeks worth of pay. Even if it is 5 minutes worth of work.
      At my old company the IT department would disconnect the accounts of anyone out on leave (Vs sick days).

  8. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #3: Reminds me of a colleague.

    He has this conversation opener ‘How nice it must be to have no problems!’ which he uses to fish for sympathy.

    He stopped using it in our office. After using it on colleague C and me.

    C handed him his head on a silver platter after she bit it off. Who knew that caring for terminally ill elderly relatives makes you short tempered?

    I just looked at him. Very flat stare. A good RBF helps. And said: ‘I’d rather have your problems than mine.’

    Returning the awkward (or negativity) to sender often works wonders.

    1. Lissa*

      What a weird conversation opener. I’m honestly surprised it took that long to get a bad reaction considering pretty much nobody has no problems at all, many are going through really bad things and most of us see our problems as bigger than the other guy’s!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I picture it being deployed after a couple of “Boy I really have it rough…” assays failed to elicit the desired sympathy. The line was supposed to really put them in their place.

        1. Knitting Cat Lady*

          Got it in one!

          Sure, he has health problems.

          But so do I! And I’d rather have his than mine.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      I am putting “I’d rather have your problems than mine” into my brain for future use. That’s a terrific way to make a point without having to reveal personal information.

      1. Mimi Me*

        I have a friend who likes to complain. She knows this about herself and is very aware of it as she is trying to break the habit. Apparently her therapist once told her to imagine that could throw her problem into a pile of problems held by others around her and to pull, at random, another problem out of the pile. Would she be willing to trade for something that could possibly be a lot worse? So now, when she’s dealing with an issue she says something along the lines of “this sucks but it’s not pile worthy.” In fact, only once have I heard her wish for a pile…and that was when her father was dying. I’ve actually used a version of it myself when I have an urge to complain.

        1. No Parking or Waiting*

          I was going to make a similar contact. My mom always said that if everyone out their problems in a bag and threw it in the the street, you’d still want to pull out your own. I’ve used this on sympathy fishers, who then back pedal…well, if they’re fishing, maybe it’s back paddling. I’ve also said, if you need an ear or a shoulder, bottom line me, I have time to listen, I don’t have time to get there.

      2. Just Employed Here*

        I dunno. We never know the full extent of each others’ problems, so how could you know?

        Even someone who complains a lot about silly things may have real, serious problems that they never mention (precisely because they are too serious to talk about).

        1. Lissa*

          Yeah, I’d rather have your problems than mine opens the other person uo to be able to put the speaker in THEIR “place” if they do have something major going on. Probably best to avoid who has it worse comparisons altogether.

        2. Zweisatz*

          Yes, and what do you recommend OP does based on that fact?
          It doesn’t mean that coworkers (or even friends) get to complain endlessly at me.

    3. Lehigh*

      Hey, finally someone who deserves to hear, “At least you don’t have cancer and an eating disorder.”

    4. LadyPhoenix*

      “C handed him his head on a silver platter after she bit it off.”

      Ugh, I don’t bet that was a nasty mix of saltiness and bitterness with the way he was acting.

    5. Jadelyn*

      Flat stare. Let the pause stretch way too long. Do not blink. Finally, very dryly, “It probably would be. If you ever find out, let me know.”

  9. Turquoisecow*

    OP1, if my boss was unexpectedly injured or sick and out of the office, I probably wouldn’t contact them, and in thinking back I can say the same is true for all of the bosses I’ve had.

    In fact, a few years ago a boss of mine was in a minor car accident and out for a week or so. I think his boss organized a card and had the department signed it, to which I willingly participated, but in that situation I’d expect someone above me to take the lead. Aside from a collective card to a person out for medical reasons, I’ve never contacted a coworker who was out for medical leave.

    None of this is because I disliked my bosses, just that I’d expect upper management to take the lead on organizing some kind of card or gift. I wonder if any of your managers reached out to your team to ask them to sign a card, and if not, why?

    1. CastIrony*

      Yeah, that’s what my job does, Turquoisecow. Usually, I just end up signing up the card that goes around and/or contributing to something the higher-ups are collecting.

    2. Humble Schoolmarm*

      Same. I’ve had 3 supervisors out so far and while I’ve had respect and friendly feelings towards all of them, I didn’t do more than sign the group card organized by our social committee and give a warm welcome back once they’re feeling better. Reading this, I hope I haven’t hurt feelings by accident.

    3. MLB*

      Ditto. Sounds like LW1 is taking this as a personal snub. They are employees, not friends. It’s ok to be disappointed, but I think LW needs to adjust her expectations on personal situations to avoid being disappointed in the future. I have very few managers in my career that I would have reached out to during a surgery/accident recovery. It doesn’t mean I didn’t care, but in the grand scheme of things, I would file it under none of my business.

    4. pleaset*

      Where I work I went to the memorial service of the father of the boss who laid me off (I was hired back a few years later). Also she laid her best friend off at one point. I think she’d come to my dad’s memorial service a few years before though I’m not sure. But a bunch of people from the office did show up, I don’t remember exactly who as it was a blur.

      A former boss where I work’s husband is dying of cancer. She still works for us, and we all know the situation and have expressed our concern to her and her family – some on the work email if they didn’t have personal contact info. Just saying things like “thinking of you.”

      I find it remarkable how disconnected some of y’all think an office should be to be effective. I definitely don’t keep notice or track of people who are not warm at trying times (and would not fixate on it like OP1), but I think a lot of people remember getting nice thoughts. If you want to be disconnected, fine. But it’s not necessary to be like that.

      1. Just Employed Here*

        I don’t think it’s necessarily just office vs non-office here, but more a function of the general culture.

        I’m from a culture where we are generally more private, which manifests itself in anything from how much personal space we need, and leave around each other, to how much and in which situations you are expected to talk. (Check out “Finnish Nightmares” for a very funny and poignant comic on this topic.)

        Here, people wouldn’t necessarily mind if you wrote them a message or a card when they were ill, but it would be very, very unusual. I know this is mostly a US blog, but as has been seen in the comments before, there are large cultural differences within the US, too.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Major differences.

          The US is huge so the difference between say a native Californian and a native West Virginian (for example) can be like night and day…kind of like separate countries TBH.

          I do not want anyone getting into my personal bubble space. I don’t know how much that is, I’ve never actually measured, but I estimate it to be about three feet out from any part of my body, in all directions. No hugs from anyone I’m not married or have given birth to, no cheek kisses, no air kisses…nada.

          I have often said I would do much better in a place where this was the absolute norm for the majority of the culture because let me tell you what traveling to places like Kentucky and W. Virginia (relatives…ugh…distant, but still relatives) are the stuff of my nightmares.

      2. Dr. Pepper*

        Honestly I wouldn’t have been comfortable with this dynamic in most of the places where I have worked. I’m in the US, and I like a healthy dissociation between work and private life. Not everyone feels the same, but just for me, as a mildly awkward person I find great comfort in professional boundaries. Perhaps that sounds cold to some people, but something like sending my boss a get well card would be overly personal and uncomfortable to me.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          Same. Sorry, pleaset, I have never had a close personal relationship with a boss and I never will. Our relationship needs to be professional for us to work together. One day, she may need to fire me, or discipline me, or talk to me about low performance. We can’t be friends, no matter how warmly we may think of one another. We can’t have that kind of relationship.

      3. PersonalJeebus*

        I don’t know if “disconnected” is the right word. People are social animals, and we like connection. We just want to get it in the right places. We don’t want personal relationships interfering with our work relationships and professional success. Some workplaces can run well when the people in them are all friends/friendly and know about each other’s personal lives, but as we’ve seen on this blog, too much intimacy at work can end up going badly. And then you can’t get away from each other because you have to go to work every day.

        Expecting one’s employees to treat you as they would a friend when you’re out sick, then feeling crushed when they don’t, then asking how best to burden them with your crushed feelings … that is a prime example of muddying your work environment with personal drama and inappropriate intimacy. I can imagine telling a close friend I was hurt when they didn’t ask about my surgery. But that would be an awkward conversation, and I would never want to have it with anyone at work.

    5. Dr. Pepper*

      Exactly! Even for bosses I’ve really liked and been on very good terms with, it wouldn’t occur to me to send them a get well card or whatever. In OP1’s situation, I would very likely ask how they were doing (genuinely, not the standard social how are you fine thanks) when they returned and be sympathetic if they felt like sharing. I would also be understanding if they weren’t at the top of their game immediately after returning. But sending a card? Eh, not so much. That’s typically something I only do for close personal friends and relatives.

  10. CastIrony*

    Oh, OP #1! I’m so, so sorry! I’m glad you’re feeling better!
    I’ve been the worker in your situation, and my case would be that I care about what happened, but I don’t know what to do because I’m just not good at these kinds of things.

    You’re in my thoughts. Here’s a heart for you: <3 .

  11. AnonAdmin*

    Truthfully, if my manager came back from a medical leave trying to guilt the staff because they didn’t contact them, I would think they were being a big baby. My boss was just out for four weeks for surgery and I didn’t contact him. I assume he wants to recover and not take calls or texts from subordinates. When I’m out I also want to be left alone. Don’t punish these people or act any type of strange way.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      In this situation, I would make sure to welcome Boss back to the office. I mean saying something when I first saw them, that we were glad to have them back.

      Which brings me onto another question (and one which Alison might prefer me to add to next week’s open thread). What is the best way of handling a post-absence catching up? I am thinking being out after surgery could be different to other reasons for being out of the office.

      1. MommyMD*

        Truly the best thing anyone said to me after I was out when my husband died was a simple “welcome back”. I so much appreciated that.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          I would feel uncomfortable saying more than that, to be honest. And if I were in your situation, that’s all I would want.

          I’m at work. Time to get to work, not talk about our feelings.

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      Gotta agree. As I’ve said above, it wouldn’t occur to me to contact my boss if they were out on medical leave. I’d assume they didn’t want to be bothered (because I wouldn’t) and quite frankly we don’t have that kind of relationship. Our relationship might be friendly but we are not actually *friends*. I’ll happily sign an office group card, but as for reaching out just by myself? I don’t know, it feels unnecessary and if a boss made a big deal about it upon return it would be incredibly weird and off putting. Not to mention super awkward because unreasonable or not, they’d still be my boss.

  12. Old Cynic*

    #1:. I had several jobs where I did not have contact information for my manager (other than pager). A boss can go to HR and get contact info but I think it’s very unlikely they would release a managers home address to a subordinate, even in circumstances as written. I suppose they may agree to forward a card/letter.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Unless it was truly extraordinary circumstances, you’re right, we wouldn’t release that. (Oddly enough, we’re actually dealing with some extraordinary circumstances right now – an employee in the hospital who has no family or close friends in the area, her manager is literally listed as her emergency contact, so there’s really no way for her manager not to be super involved in her situation, well beyond the usual “your EE will be out [date] to [date], has made arrangements with us for use of PTO while she’s out, if you’d like temporary staff to help cover for her absence let us know and we’ll work with you on it.” It’s…odd, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.)

    2. Emilitron*

      Yes, I’d say that only the admin staff have access to anybody’s contact information, and only managers have pull to get that info released. As a regular staff member, my options for sending a card to any of my coworkers, whether boss/manager or my level or below, would just be to hand it to the admin and hope – which would work, of course! But because that information is private, it’s become part of the office culture that ONLY admins or management would instigate such a contact.
      If anything, I’d say the fault is with OP’s management for not offering/suggesting to deliver a card from the team. No reason at all to be upset with the team (unless management offered and they declined, which I can’t imagine!)

  13. Kc89*


    No advice, but you have my sympathy.

    I have a co worker who was a bubbly ray of sunshine the first year I worked with her but then she got burnt out of the job and now for over a year she’s just a constant drone of negativity. It gets really old.

    1. TL -*

      Yeah, I don’t think I would be reaching out either unless I had a firm sense that they would be okay with a “hope you heal quickly!” text – which would be maybe 2 of my previous managers?

      1. Dan*

        When I really think about this, whether or not I’d reach out to my boss is completely dependent on how “close” we are. If we’re just professional acquaintances (like we’re supposed to be at work), then “out of sight, out of mind” is the order of the day. If we’re close enough to the point where we know things about each other’s personal lives or go to happy hour after work or something like that, then I’d shoot a text unless I was otherwise told not to.

        As others have written, OP has nothing to gain by bringing this up.

        1. MK*

          I agree with this, however different people have different takes on this. A coworker’s father died recently; as this is someone I come across maybe two or three times a month, I didn’t feel our relationship warranted anything other than offering my sympathy the next time I saw him. Another coworker, who has about the same relationship with him as I do and actually knows him a shorter time, called AND send flowers to the funeral, because for them a professional acquaintance does warrant that. I don’t think any reaction is wrong necessarily, just people having differing values.

          And, unfortunately, sometimes there is a disconnect in how the two people in a relationship perceive their closeness. I have had acquaintances drop hints that they expected me to do X and my gut reaction (which I keep to myself) sometimes is “but we are not as good friends as that!”.

          1. MLB*

            It’s true. I think most people treat others others how they would like to be treated if they were in the same situation. I personally hate attention, and don’t want co-workers (unless they are actual friends) in my personal business. So I would prefer minimal questions, and a quick “How are you feeling” when I returned (if anything at all). But I think LW needs to lower expectations on this one. She’s a manager, and being personally offended that none of her subordinates contacted her while she was out is a bit over the top.

    2. Mookie*

      Yes. Offering condolescences for and/or acknowledging a catastrophic event (like a death in the family) seems normal and appropriate to me, but surgery following an accident would be none of my business as a direct report. I’d figure my duties would be to work well with her temporary replacement and make her proud by putting out exceptional work so her return would be as calm and stress-free as possible. I wonder if the LW was happy with her team of five’s response to the accident itself. It sounds like she returned to work in the interim between the accident and the surgery, and I’m curious if she thinks she’s been routinely ‘neglected.’

    3. Luna123*

      Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. I think it’s totally possible that OP1 might come back to work with a pile of get well cards on their desk.

  14. Dan*


    May I kindly suggest grief counseling? AAM uses the words “recent loss”, but TBH, we’re talking about events that happened three years ago.

    We all grieve on our own terms and our own timeline, but what really sticks out to me is the number of tough days you said you still have — the month she was in the hospital, the month of her birth, and quite a few holidays. Depending on how literally you meant that, it’s potentially three months out of the year that you have to really cope with all of this while trying keep your business private at work. That strikes me as a lot, and perhaps too much.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Grief counseling is always a potentially useful thing, but this person lost a child. Let’s stay away from telling her how to grieve; that’s not what she’s seeking advice on.

        1. SusieCruisie*

          First, my condolences. I can only imagine the pain and uncertainty you and your family are experiencing, even three years after the events.

          I suffered the sudden, completely unexpected death of my husband several years ago. I was in a similar situation where there were events, personal to us (his birthday, our anniversary, the anniversary of his death) as well as common to all (holidays), that do strike a blow to your universe. My personal experience was that allowing that to affect my work performance, and explaining why it affected my mood and performance, earned me the reputation as “fragile” and “unreliable.” I’m not saying it was fair, it’s just what happened. I had to switch employers to regain a reputation as competent and confident.

          There is a joke on the US TV show “The Office,” where a character, Ryan, doesn’t want to be known as “The Blank Guy.” Everyone has a reputation, someone is “The Funny Guy.” Someone is “The Baking Guy.” Ryan becomes known as “The Fire Guy” (because he starts a fire in the office). I became known as “The Widow.” We have a tendency to compartmentalize people we know peripherally.

          So bash away all who think it is uncaring, but my recommendation based off my personal experience is to do what you can to minimize the impact at work, and minimize the amount of information you share about your circumstance. Perhaps use your vacation time on those anniversaries that are most painful so you can grieve and handle your emotions personally. I’m much better on the important dates of our relationship and I’m glad I am no longer known as just “The Widow.”

          1. OP#4*

            Thank you, Susie Cruisie, for sharing your story as well. I definitely understand what you’re saying. I’m sorry you lost your husband, and then had to deal with a reputation issue at work as well.

            I am not concerned about the work aspect, as my work is well documented and accurate (I work in a very heavily regulated field, so my knowledge and work output are enough for me to stand on alone). It was just the more social aspect that I was concerned about in my case.

      1. Mookie*

        There have been other LWs who believed common holidays were their’s alone, though, so it’s a good reminder that everyone has experienced loss. I know this LW is not asking for unreasonable accommodations, just permission to be outwardly sad at work from September through December, again in March, and on other unspecified holidays, along with advice for how to explain that to others. Your scripts sound spot-on because her colleagues, as fellow human beings with their own past histories and personal lives, understand first-hand what it is to grieve.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Thank you, Alison. My sister lost her daughter 8 years ago. The hell we lived through growing up with abuse was bad enough for her, but this devastating loss took her joy. There is no light in her eyes. Anyone rude enough to even hint that she should handle her grief differently/better/certain days is going to get the rough side of my personality.

        There is no schedule for grieving any loss, but the loss of a child is unlike any other. No one gets to tell a grieving parent how to handle their grief. Ever.

    2. Anon_for_this*

      Come on. My sibling died (without much warning) six years ago, at the age of 20. My parents and siblings (and me, of course) still have a hard time around their birthday, their favourite songs and sweets, the day of their death, etc.

    3. TheNotoriousMCG*

      As someone who had a close, young family member die extremely suddenly three years ago, your comment is hurtful. People grieve and it is unexpected how hard it will hit you until it happens to you (which I hope it never does).

    4. Harper the Other One*

      My partner is a minister and he can vouch for the fact that grieving losses around these milestones is completely normal, especially when the loss was sudden and unexpected, for years after the fact. Many cultures recognize this and provide specific ways to express that grief.

      If OP were non-functional during those periods my feeling would be different, but she’s just describing having days that are tearful or sad. That’s not in any way inappropriate or unhealthy.

    5. OP#4*

      Thank you all for your responses.

      Dan, I am very glad that you haven’t experienced this kind of loss. I truly hope that you never do.

      September, October, the week of Thanksgiving, much of December, a bit of January, and parts of March are the most difficult, and the most predictable times when I am more sad. But it’s not something that is really on a schedule; some days it just hits me harder than others. Fourth of July this year was unexpectedly hard. I don’t know why.

      Mookie, one of the most lasting lessons that losing her has taught me is to assume everyone else is having a difficult time. In no way do I feel like the holidays are mine alone. I don’t know if that’s what you meant, but wanted to make sure to clarify that point.

      Anon_for_this, TheNotoriousMCG, Harper the other one, and Akcipitrokulo, thank you for your supportive comments.

      My condolences for everyone else’s losses, as well.

      I am not asking for any sort of accommodations. And I don’t even intend to appear outwardly sad; however, thinking about her and how much she’s missed, and how much she’ll always be missed, simply causes the sadness and sometimes tears. Luckily, I have an office, so can close my door if need be. But in this department, shutting one’s door is eyed askance. So I’m trying not to have to do that, especially since I sometimes cry more than once per day. And I don’t mean full-on sobbing (usually…), but rather just a few tears, and then my eyes and nose are red. If I have a sobbing fit, I just leave work.

      Alison, thank you for your response. I wanted to note it’s not that I especially don’t want to discuss it, it’s just that I feel like it would be inappropriate to do so. I do like your script, and that’s what I’m planning to go with.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I just want to let you know that you’re not alone. There is a stretch from mid August to mid September that is exceedingly difficult for my mother because it contains the birthdays of both of her (now deceased) brothers and the anniversary of her mother’s and one of her brother’s passing.

        I would venture a guess that most people have times like these, so I don’t think it would be even remotely inappropriate for you to use Alison’s script or even a bit more if you wanted to share. I would not think any less of a boss or colleague to said “this time of year is difficult because it’s when we lost my stepdaughter”. And quite frankly, anyone who would think less of you is not a kind person.

        1. OP#4*

          Thank you so much for your kind response, Detective. I feel for your mother, and my heart just goes out to her, and pretty much everyone else who ever has or does or will feel like this.

          And what you’re saying in your second paragraph is more my concern: what is appropriate for me to share/not share for coworkers whom I have some influence over, and could potentially be managing some day. I don’t want to overshare, but didn’t want to say nothing and have the gossip run wild.

          1. Marissa Graham*

            I don’t think “this time of year is difficult for me due to a recent loss” is anywhere close to oversharing by any stretch of the imagination!

            1. Sciencer*

              Agreed. And most people would take cues from you (OP 4) and not press for more details or information, but simply offer condolences and understanding. Some people’s comforting instincts include questions about “what happened,” but if they’re coming at it from a genuinely caring place, they’ll quickly pick up on deflecting answers/topic changes as the signal to move on.

              1. OP#4*

                Thank you for your supportive comments.

                Sciencer, that’s something I hadn’t even considered, people asking “what happened” after my script. So need to work on a deflection response as well. Thank you for bringing that to my attention!

                1. SusieCruisie*

                  Oh yes, people always ask, especially when it’s a young person. And they want details. That’s the hardest part for me, having to tell people I really don’t care to share those details because even 7 years later, I tear up when I talk about it. They always ask.

                  So that’s another lesson for everyone: please don’t ask. The grieving person will share with you if they want to share with you, I promise. Sometimes you want to talk about it, and sometimes you don’t. Take your cue from the bereaved.

          2. Elemeno P.*

            I’m so sorry for your loss. I don’t think you need to worry about oversharing at all; since most people have experienced some sort of loss, they will likely empathize with you, and you might find the kind of emotional support you need. It doesn’t have to be inappropriate; it’s the little things that people do that make grief a little easier.

            My dad died when I was a kid and I’m relatively open about that, and when my coworker’s dad recently died, she just knew that I know how it feels. We don’t have long, open conversations about our loss, but we do send each other animal pictures and memes on important days. It helps, and it’s a nice acknowledgement without tearing open the wound.

      2. Slartibartfast*

        My emotions live very close to the surface. I spent a lot of my life suppressing them. Then over explaining this physiological response, to the point of being seen as fragile or complaining, when I am just making a neutral observation in my mind. Now those fleeting few tears get blamed on allergies or my contacts acting up. It seems to be accepted and dismissed when I get teary-quick “scuse me, contacts aren’t sitting right”, and I can move on without follow up questions.

        My sincere condolences to you and your family.

        1. Joielle*

          Same here. 90% of the time, if I tear up in my office nobody notices. On the rare occasion that someone comes in to talk to me at that moment (maybe two or three times a year), it’s just “sorry, eyelash got in my eye” or something. Seems to work just fine.

        1. OP#4*

          Thank you, Jessica. I appreciate the reference. I wasn’t entirely sure what Mookie was saying with that reference, which is why I explained it with the caveat I didn’t understand, so just wanted to be clear on where I am.

      3. Dr. Pepper*

        I’m very sorry for your loss. It’s never easy and if it’s unfamiliar territory for other people, they can tread heavily on your grief. Would it be possible to simply give the vague “I’m not feeling great, but don’t worry” or “under the weather” explanations when you’re experiencing a low point in your mood at work? It’s not a lie, you’re not feeling your best. You don’t have to say WHY you’re not feeling great. Most people understand these explanations and if you’re okay with them thinking that perhaps you have a touch of illness, I’d go with that. I’m okay with mild assumptions that I might have a cold instead of entering into an explanation, however brief, of personal loss. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of why you’re feeling the way that you are. If your work stands on its own and things are fine there, it’s perfectly okay to keep your grief completely private if that would make you feel more comfortable.

        1. OP#4*

          I come to work, and I’m happy to come to work, as it really does help distract me from the loss most of the time. There are relatively few times when I’m unable to work due to the grief, and those I would explain similarly to what you’ve stated: “I’m not feeling well enough to come in to work today.” That is an entirely true statement without requiring a cause for being unwell. But I also really like the idea of simply stating “I’m not feeling very well today”, as a reason to stick to myself and rather discourage visitors; thank you for that.

          I’m not as concerned about feeling like I’m required to give an explanation. In all honesty, I would be perfectly fine with simply explaining the truth about what happened. But I don’t want to create any potential awkwardness if (when) I start managing my current coworkers. And as I haven’t managed anyone before, I’m not familiar with what is appropriate/inappropriate, and am therefore choosing to err on the side of very conservative.

          Thank you for your condolence.

      4. cheluzal*

        OP, my brother was in a severe car accident, in a vegetative state for almost 4 years, and bedridden in my house where my family and I took 100% care of him before he unexpectedly died. I know about grief. I even had an article published on the grieving process.

        I say that to offer a suggestion on something I have done every year: on his birthday and rebirthday (what I call his passing day), I take a personal day and LIVE life in honor of him. No moping allowed. I do things I never would have done otherwise to carry his memory with me in the events and places he didn’t get to go (but would have loved). It’s a tradition I passed onto his girls (adults now). Something to consider.

        1. OP#4*

          Cheluzal, I’m so very sorry to hear about your brother. Thank you for sharing your story.

          I do try to do just what you describe, as far as living life as she would want. I.E.: she used to wear mis-matched socks all the time, and that is just Not.A.Thing to me. I would joke with her about her socks often. So on the anniversary of her death/her birthday/days when I’m especially thinking about her, I’ll sometimes mis-match my socks in her “honor” :) It’s a small thing that no one else notices (because to me, mismatching is the exact same sock but with a different accent color, perhaps), but makes me feel more connected somehow.

          I would love to get to do more things in her honor. I will definitely consider this. I have children as well (so her half-siblings, although they were all just “siblings” as far as the family was concerned), so that would be a good memorial each year for her. Thank you, again.

      5. Sybil Fawlty*

        When I lost my son, it was a good 10 years before I stopped breaking out in hives on his birthday. Holidays etc were very painful. It got a bit easier around 12 years after his death.

        I’m so sorry for your loss, OP. Be well and take care of yourself. It really does get easier but it takes a very long time.

      6. Gumby*

        It doesn’t even have to be a particular holiday. It can sometimes just be a situation. There is one stretch of road that always reminds me of my brother because it’s where I cried all the way home from book club which was the first social thing I went to after returning home from the funeral. Now I tear up when I drive down that road 90% of the time. It’s one I’m rarely on, thank goodness. It makes very little logical sense – he had never even been on that road (I don’t think he had ever been in that *city*) but it is what it is. Grieve how you need to.

    6. EddieSherbert*

      Yeah, I know this comment was kindly meant but it comes across REALLY insenstive. My brother died over 5 years ago. He passed away in spring, but today is actually literally his birthday. It’s not going to be a great day. The last week hasn’t been a great week as I was “mentally preparing” for today. The feeling will probably linger past today. And there’s nothing “wrong” with that and I don’t intend to go to a counselor at the moment.

      OP 4, you’re “allowed” to be sad. In my experience, coworkers don’t notice an off day here or there as much as you think they will. I’ve also found that being upfront is actually easiest (like Alison said, some version of “this is the anniversary of a recent loss in my family”) and people usually don’t pry or are respectful when you say you aren’t ready to talk about it, but you appreciate them asking.

      More than anything, I usually find that I just feel more frustrated or disengaged with work and I need to re-charge more often than normal. If that’s the case for you, give yourself breaks during the day. Get up and take a walk around the building, around the block, whatever. Go sit in your car for a short period and close your eyes and listen to music. I have comfort food at my desk and a couple bookmarks like AAM that can usually provide a quick distraction.

      I’ve found that sometimes I really just want to talk to someone “who gets it,” but calling a relative or friend during a break tends to make me fall apart, so I save that for after work.

      Same with sharing information with coworkers – I have shared some tidbits about my brother with coworkers and enjoyed talking about him at other times of the year; but the “big dates” when I feel a bit raw are not the time because I’m more likely to unravel.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Additionally – having special traditions or “things” for my brother help a lot. I’ll watch his favorite movie tonight. He collected frog things, so my family has a fairly extensive collection of frog items (and a mini shiny green fake Christmas tree with exclusively frog ornaments we always put up at my parents’ house), so I’ll probably shop later to see if I can find anything “frog” to add to it. When he was sick, we did a paper lantern fundraiser, so on his angel anniversary in the spring, we always go to the cemetery and light one.

        And that’s all I got for now – this comment field is becoming a good example of something I’m going to have to save for after work! I’m sorry for your family’s loss, OP4. I hope you find something that comforts you. There’s no time limit on grief and love and missing someone and wishing you could see them again.

        1. Kendra*

          Thanks for sharing this, the traditions idea is a very good one and I really like the phrase “angel anniversary”

        2. OP#4*

          Thank you, EddieSherbert. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your brother. And it’s especially poignant that his birthday is today! I thank you for your condolences, your thoughts, and your suggestions.

          I am somewhat more distracted at work, although it doesn’t affect the bottom line at all. Intentionally disengaging from breaks to recharge for a few minutes is a really good idea.

      2. Anonym*

        These are great ideas. I feel for you OP#4. Last week was the third anniversary of my dad’s death, which followed a very similar timeline to your stepdaughter’s, and I felt the grief coming on pretty strong. I took a mental health day (not feeling well, no details needed) and have tried to cut myself slack until a feel a bit more normal.

        I worked with my current team when it happened, and my closest colleague remembers. I haven’t found it necessary to make any explanation this year, but in the past (his birthday, etc.) saying things like, “it’s a tough day – this time of year makes me think of my dad,” has been met with understanding and kindness, and no discomfort.

        1. OP#4*

          Anonym, please accept my condolences on your/your family’s loss. 2015 was a “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad” year for me and my family, and seems to have been for you and yours too. I’m glad that you have understanding colleagues. That can really make all the difference.

    7. Cucumberzucchini*

      I think a lot of the commenters below are being uncharitable about their reading of your comment. I didn’t interpret this as mean or hurtful at all. It is a valid concern that outwardly grieving for potentially three months out of a year could negatively impact you at work. I took your comment to mean that in a work context visibly grieving three years later may read as not recent to your coworkers. Not that it’s unusual to still be grieving after three years. This type of loss is one you’d likely grieve your entire life but it’s important to find ways to cope or compartmentalize to an extent in our professional lives. I like to think of myself as a kind person, but if I had a new employee that was performing poorly for three months out of a year no matter the reason, I’d be concerned. (Not to say the OP is performing poorly during these time period.) I have an employee who has anxiety issues and we make accommodations for her if she can’t come in on a certain day or has to work at home, but it still is challenging to have someone on staff who intermittently/regularly is noticeably very upset. People aren’t robots of course, and I don’t expect that but it’s helpful to be aware of the potential perception.

        1. OP#4*

          Cucumberzucchini, thank you for taking the time to post. I did not state in my letter that my work is unaffected by my grief, but have since stated it in the comments here.

          I concur that Dan was not being mean; I absolutely believe he was fully intending kindness, as he mentioned! But I do disagree with the comment not being hurtful. Even if not hurtful to me, it’s certainly been hurtful to multiple commenters here today.

          I did read Dan’s comment as it’s unusual to still be grieving after three years. Dan, I’d love to hear back if this is incorrect.

          I also wouldn’t say I’m “noticeably very upset” at work. If I feel that amount of emotion, I’ll simply stay home or go home. I’m talking about a few sniffles, blowing my nose, wiping my eyes a couple of times, and having a red nose and red eyes for some of the day. I do agree that it would be a tremendous distraction for me to be very upset at work.

      1. Winter Red*

        The OP was asking specifically about how to handle a social interaction. There is nothing to indicate a problem with the quality of their work, and speculating on that is beyond the scope of the letter and the comment section’s ability to be helpful.

    8. NotMyRealName*

      My father died on the third anniversary of my sister’s death. Even though it’s been about a decade since those events, that day still sucks for me every year, I expect it will always suck.

      1. OP#4*

        I’m very sorry for your losses, NotMyRealName. That must have been such a terrible time for you/your family. My heart goes out to you.

    9. Izzy*

      I don’t want to pile on, as I’m sure this was meant kindly. I just see this kind of attitude a lot when it comes to grief and sadness – that if someone is grieving in some way that’s considered too much, for too long or too hard, the response is that they should get themselves to therapy or counselling and get it seen to, like a sprained wrist. That’s not always necessary. As you say, everyone grieves in their own way; and three years is not a very long time at all for a loss like this to hurt. It might always hurt, and that’s okay; it’s not some personal problem that needs to be fixed, it’s just part of what it means to lose someone. It sounds as though the OP is handling it as well as anyone, and if she wants to seek out counselling in the future I’m sure she will do.

      1. OP#4*

        Thanks, Izzy. Our family went to therapy together shortly after we lost her, and ceased therapy when we felt we were at a point when it was no longer helpful for us to go.

        Above, I said that I was glad that Dan hadn’t experienced such a loss, and I hoped he never does. This is how I choose to respond to anyone that insinuates (or even outright states) that anyone is grieving for too long. Because, as an empathetic person, I could have “imagined” what it was like for other people to lose a child before we lost her…yet, still, the reality is so much more complex and deep than I could have ever imagined it would be. So instead of being angry or indignant about others who seemingly disapprove of my grief (or the grief of my family), I choose to be grateful that they’ve not experienced it to have to know what it’s like.

    10. OP#4*

      Dan, I apologize for not having directly replied to you. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I certainly believe that you were kindly suggesting grief counseling. I don’t believe you were ill-intentioned at all. And, as Alison noted, counseling is always potentially useful.

      The loss that happened three years ago is still a recent loss, as far as losses go, in my mind, and, from what I’ve seen here today, many people agree. If I was visibly grieving daily about the loss of my grandfather 10 years ago, who was sick for months before he passed, I would better understand and be able to accept that it seems excessive or “too much”. But the loss of an immediate family member carries a lot of weight. I don’t want to scale grief, but I do feel that the loss of a child is a generally-accepted “extreme” loss, if that makes sense.

      When I have “tough days”, it means that I have a few tears thinking about her and how much she’s missed. I do not mean loudly crying, interrupting workflow, disturbing anyone else, etc.

      To be completely honest, it’s more than three months out of the year that I have to really cope with all of this. It’s literally every day. But some days are worse than others, and yes, those still add up to more than three months of the year. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad employee, or that I cause issues in the workplace because of it…it just means I have a personal situation which makes me sad for a lot of the days throughout the year.

      As I’ve said a few times here today, I assume by your comment that you have not had such a loss, and I am happy for you that you haven’t. I hope you never do.

      If, as mentioned below, you did not mean that three years is an unusual amount of time to grief, please respond and clarify, if you’re willing and have time to do so. And again, thank you for taking the time to comment to me.

  15. Ruth (UK)*

    3. I worked with someone like that and with the same complication – we knew eachother before we worked together and were friends. She also took to venting out loud “to herself” if I wasn’t engaging (she often muttered to herself about how awful her life / the job / etc was). She was definitely someone who seemed to believe that her life/problems were so much harder than everyone else and she had it worst off etc.

    There was no escape really and I’ve since left that job. Not because of her – it really wasn’t a great job. We hadn’t really been close friends especially and I’ve since disconnected with her. I still see her on occasion but she’s no longer regular in my life.

    I realise this is useless as advice but… I guess you might find there’s not anything much you can do except shut it out…

  16. Everdene*

    OP#1 In a previous role my manager was off work for paternity leave, on his return he pointedly remarked how nice it was that his manager had thought to send flowers to him and his wife. Thing is, those flowers were actually from our team (I put the order in!) and the grandboss was a last minute addition to the card. He was a bit of an arse so we swiftly set him right. Could you be making assumptions about who the flowers/gifts are truly from?

    Post surgery is a really vulnerable time, if you are in pain too then everything can get emotional and overwhelming. It sounds like you are currently funneling that in your teams direction which might end up causing you more hurt. I hope your recovery is straightforward and as quick as possible.

    1. Quackeen*

      Post surgery is a really vulnerable time, if you are in pain too then everything can get emotional and overwhelming.

      Not to mention, some people react to painkillers with heightened emotions, such as tearfulness and irritability. I was on an opiate painkiller following surgery and tearfully accused my husband of not loving me anymore, for no apparent reason. poor guy was very confused!

      1. Kate*

        And if you’re at home with nothing to do but recover and think and stew, minor slights could absolutely grow bigger in your mind as you sit and obsess over them. I get how this could become a Big Thing over time, but LW needs to let it go!

  17. misspiggy*

    It could easily be that OP1’s manager told the team she was sending a card and gifts on their behalf, instructed an underling to action it, and the underling just put the managers’ names on the card.

  18. Is it Friday yet?*

    Op #2: If you feel as if the project is doomed I would make sure that any communication you have with your Boss is done so over email/ in writing just to save yourself should it fail.

    1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      OT, but I’m reading this way earlier than I want to be awake, on a Monday, and your screen name is completely rocking my socks.

  19. Carbovore*

    For #1–a few months back, my current boss was suddenly out for emergency GI surgery. None of us sent flowers/food because we had no way of knowing if she was at home, the hospital, etc. We sent email messages along the lines of, “Hope you are feeling better!” but it was about as much as we could do given the limited communication. We also let her bosses know (who don’t reside in the same bldg as us and therefore typically have little insight into the day-to-day).

    Apparently her bosses sent something to her attention and she came back a bit annoyed we hadn’t done the same. She also was annoyed “more people in the organization didn’t know what had happened to [her].” (We had let people know on case by case bases that she was “out,” but didn’t disclose her medical business. She was actually upset we didn’t tell everyone specifically what had happened to her! Which btw the particulars of was super gross and not at all something I would have wanted shared were it me….!)

    I don’t want to compare LW#1 to this boss but needless to say, she historically has huge problems with personal/work boundaries and routinely makes it awkward for us in the office. Coming back from health issues/deaths in the family, this boss ALWAYS makes it weirder and it honestly makes us all question whether to reach out at all or send gestures of sympathy in the future!

  20. Akcipitrokulo*

    Just remembered – when Boss was taken ill unexpectedly and was out for 6 week… we got a card, put a stamp on it and passed it to HR to send to him (because obviously we don’t have access to home addresses). It was returned to us because they said it wasn’t appropriate for them to pass it on.

    I think your team will be thinking of you – it just isn’t always possible to contact when you’re off.

  21. Rebecca*

    #3 – I’m in a similar situation, my office mate does nothing but complain, swears at her computer (as in the “F” word level swearing), complains softly to herself about almost every email that requires her to actually do something, and is just miserable for the entire work week. I’ve tried saying things like “it’s not that bad, we have a comfortable office, windows, climate control, free coffee, what’s not to like?” or during roadwork time “hey, at least we’re not outside in 95 degree heat pouring asphalt, right?” and even “just think, after work you can get a drink and sit by your new pool”. Nothing helps. It’s just a constant stream of negativity all week long about how she hates to work here, her computer doesn’t work right, nothing works right, it is SO DRAINING.

    I’m going to try some of the tips above. Today, though, I’m going to start wearing earbuds so I can’t hear her. I just don’t want to listen to it any longer.

    1. Trek*

      We have had a few employees do this at work in an open environment. Management has spoken to her based on complaints from others. I recommend bringing it up with your supervisor.

    2. MLB*

      I’ve been that person. I know that I’m a venter, but at my last job I was really miserable and I was venting and complaining at a ridiculous rate. My manager called me out on it, and until that time I didn’t realize it was so excessive. So I always recommend doing the same in this situation. It may be that someone is just a miserable person and all they want to do is complain, regardless of the circumstances. But some people just don’t realize they’re doing it until someone mentions it.

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      Oh, I feel you, Rebecca.

      My brother is a complainer with a constant stream of negativity and I always felt like I had to counter that negativity with relentless positivity but it is exhausting. I eventually reached my limit back in February and I haven’t spoken to him in eight months with the exception of the odd text here and there. I just couldn’t handle it any more.

      Not really an option for you, or OP, but just a shout out that you’re not alone in dealing with emotionally draining people.

    4. Yojo*

      One of the hardest work conversations I’ve ever had was essentially telling someone “this is a lot of negativity, and it’s making things hard for me.” I actually never made it a request, I just kept telling them variations of that statement.

      “I’m having a bit of a hard time too, and I’m trying to stay positive and keep my mind off the worst.”

      “This is bumming me out.”

      “Sunshine and puppies.”

      Talking to herself, though? Probably earphone time.

    5. OP #3*

      Thanks Rebecca & all! I’ll be trying these as well (thank you Alison) but definitely agree that pointing out the “sunny side” of things tends not to help, and sometimes leads to them doubling down on the negativity. In the meantime: earbuds!

  22. Madeleine Matilda*

    OP4 – I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t even begin to understand what you and your family feel, but I think that it is perfectly normal to feel sad at certain times of year when you have experienced such a devastating loss. My father died when I was a young child almost 40 years ago, I still get sad during the month in which he died. Everyone has experienced some sort of loss so I would hope your coworkers could empathize even if they can never completely understand your experience.

    1. OP#4*

      Thank you, Madeleine Matilda. I appreciate your sharing your own experience. I certainly foresee feeling sad about the loss of her for as long as I live, and it’s nice to hear that I’m not the oddball, so to speak. I’d like to think I’m actually part of the more “normal” group of people who do grieve their loss forever/indefinitely. But I don’t know enough about everyone else’s grief to make a blanket statement like that, so your message makes me feel better.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        There’s a quote from The Walking Dead – I don’t know if it originates there or not – but when talking about the pain of grief, one of the characters said “the pain doesn’t go away, you just make room for it.”

        Love and kindness, OP.

        1. OP#4*

          Thank you for your supportive comment. I haven’t ever seen The Walking Dead, and was unfamiliar with that quote, and it’s very appropriate.

          Also, I do love your username, Foreign Octopus! They are so smart. And remind me of Meh :)

          1. Gumby*

            Oh, the best description of grief I have ever read was actually in fanfic.

            The gist of it being that losing a loved one leaves a hole in you like a crater. And even though people say it will close up it won’t. But it will fill up with other things that can be beautiful in their own way – flowers, animals, it becomes a lake, etc. Old cherished memories of the person, new memories created in their honor, the crater is still there but so are other beautiful things. “And one day, you’ll look at the hole, at it’ll still be there, but it’ll be okay.”

            Aaaand reading those few paragraphs again still makes me cry.

            1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

              That’s stunning. Thank you for sharing that. Much of the best writing I’ve ever read has been fanfiction.

      2. Madeleine Matilda*

        OP#4 – Grief is normal. How we each grieve is unique. I will say that now for me I have many more happy moments recalling my father than sad ones but a lot of time has passed, and as time has passed the moments when it really hits me hard are fewer. And yet, just thinking about him as I respond to you has me a little teary eyed and hoping no one pops in my office in the next couple of minutes. As much as you can take care of yourself and all those who loved your stepdaughter. Ask for what you need, and don’t worry too much about how others perceive your grief journey.

        1. OP#4*

          Madeleine, I’m glad that you have more happy times remembering your father than sad ones. That is where I hope to someday be about my stepdaughter.

          Thank you for sharing.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      I’ve read about PTS and it is common for people to feel a loss every year for a long time. You’re not abnormal at all!
      If the pain doesn’t get better in few years though, you might want to consider therapy to help you move on. Moving on doesn’t mean you forget, it just means you continue to function.

  23. hbc*

    LW2: Something bigger picture seems wrong here. I don’t see how a functioning company can reasonably put a “huge”, “make or break our reputation” project on two people (one of them junior) and an absentee manager. Seems at least that someone higher up would be checking on the status of this if it was really that important, so either it’s going well with his minimal involvement, he’s outright lying to his bosses, the project is lucrative but not as important as you think, or there’s dysfunction at many layers of the organization.

    Keep all of these possibilities in mind while you keep your side scrupulously clean and well-documented.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Seems at least that someone higher up would be checking on the status of this if it was really that important
      TBH, that was my thought too. Maybe LW2’s boss is puzzled about why he is being pulled into regular meetings on a project that he thinks does not need his involvement.

      I would at the very least talk to him to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

  24. Not So NewReader*

    OP#1. I tend to see why you are so upset. Honestly, I think some workplaces are pretty cold, lonely places sometimes. The only thing I could think of to do is to learn to expect NOTHING. And I decided to learn to be genuinely happy if just one person expresses an ounce of concern.

    One place I worked when my mother was dying and no one cared. Not a single person. I started getting angry but I could see that what I really needed to do was to cry. Behind anger is tears, I find. We definitely do not get to pick who consoles us and who doesn’t. Another place I worked a subordinate lost her husband. I went over and said a few words when she came back. She said, “You know, you are the only person who has tried to say something.” We worked with over 100 people.

    Another tool I have used someone mentioned it above. I waited for my body/emotions to settle and try to figure out something that would actually be meaningful to me. Generally, I try not to do anything when my emotions are up on the ceiling, if I do my choices are less than, for many reasons. I fell off a motorcycle at 60 mph. I was so beat up and scratched up. That was the least of my worries, my husband was in ICU. Going back to work was hard as I was out for 6 weeks and still did not trust my body to do my very physical job. Everyone expected me to act like it was just another day. I made it a point to talk less (I did not trust my mouth) and I made it a point to eat well and go to bed early. It was a few weeks and I worked my way out of many of the problems. It would have been nice to have a friend at work who just asked, “How’s it going today?”.

    I did remember how I was treated though. And you know, OP, if we can’t let it go then we can’t keep the job. Because every day is a reminder of what happened and how the cohorts responded. Sorry, this is getting long. My punchline here is that I was not happy with the job to begin with. The accident exasperated that unhappiness 10 times over. Think about your setting. Were you happy with the job at some point, recently? If no, then your upset now could be an extension of an on-going unhappiness and it could be time to move on. Mine was and foolishly I stayed at the job for some more years.

    1. OP#4*

      Not So New Reader, I know your reply wasn’t directed at my letter, but it still hit home for me. Prior to my loss, I was absolutely one of those other types of coworkers. Because I simply didn’t know what to say. I (erroneously) assumed that EVERYONE was saying “I’m so sorry for your loss”, and didn’t want to be just another standardized response. But I’ve certainly learned since then. Even in our family, there is such a variety of grief. Some of us feel the need to talk about her all the time, to continue to hold her as close to the present as we can. Others of us can barely stand to even hear about her or look at a picture of her because it brings the loss to the forefront again, and the grief is a roadblock. Others are somewhere between.

      I don’t offer casseroles to someone who has had a loss. But I do make sure I mention that I’m so sorry they’re going through it, and (depending on level of closeness), may offer to share my own story. It is true that just those few words can really mean a lot when you’re feeling closed off and alone.

      1. lawyer*

        The most important thing I learned when I was going through a tough time was that what mattered was that people said something – not what they said. Yes, I was occasionally blessed by someone’s unexpected wisdom, but that was a rare gift and not an expectation. Most people just said, “I’m so sorry,” and that was enough.

        And I am so sorry, OP, for your loss. May her memory be a blessing.

        1. OP#4*

          Thank you, lawyer. She was, and always will be, a blessing to everyone that knew her, except for one person. There was only one person who ever met her that didn’t absolutely love her. So, of course, that means that one person is just wrong, and their opinion appropriately discarded :D (I say that in jest, so please, no one jump in about how it’s not OK to discount anyone else’s feelings because of my own view).

          I hope your tough time has since been resolved, and I appreciate your taking the time to reply. And I spot on agree with you…it’s about having made the effort to say something, as opposed to what is said.

    2. Lehigh*

      It’s true that you have to find a workplace that works for you emotionally. I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum from Not So NewReader in this–I had a very kind, caring group of coworkers who began to ask constantly after my sick husband. They wanted updates, they seemed to want details, I became exhausted recounting his latest status. Then he got better, and still I was the woman whose husband used to be sick. Certain people I could not see even one day without them asking after him. I wanted to be normal; I wanted to use work to escape; I didn’t want to think about him being sick All. The. Time.

      Like Not So NewReader, it wasn’t my dream job in other ways, but I did feel that I had to leave to get away from their excessive concern. I’m sure I offended plenty of people by not being solicitous enough about their losses and illnesses, but I truly wanted to respect their ability to leave those things and just be coworkers for a little while! I didn’t want to make anyone cry at work. I didn’t want to ruin a morning that might be going well for once.

      Of course, go back and see how people act on your return. But if it doesn’t match what you want or expect, maybe it’s not a great long-term fit, depending on how important emotional compatibility with your team is to you personally.

      1. ThatGirl*

        There is definitely a line there. My dad was in the hospital for a month following a serious heart attack, and while I wanted my managers and co-workers to know what was going on, and I was glad they cared, it got exhausting. Every day he was up or down, every weekend a new crisis, my emotions were frayed and I just wanted to be able to think about something else for awhile.

        But I also think that’s a little different from something tragic or traumatic happening and then coming back to work after it’s been resolved. It takes a fair amount of emotional intelligence and knowing a person to know what the best way to respond is.

    3. boop the first*

      This is true… It doesn’t matter if things at work improve, it always carries a black spot of any past drama.

    4. Dr. Pepper*

      I’m the opposite of you, I always expect nothing and quite often want nothing. It can get overwhelming to me if people express concern or say/do things for me. I have found great relief in going to work and pretending that everything is perfectly fine and normal and my Personal Thing does not exist. But that’s me and how I function.

      It takes all sorts, and you’re spot on when you say that if something like this is bothering you THIS MUCH, perhaps there are other issues worth considering. Maybe this job isn’t the right fit and the culture isn’t what you want out of a workplace.

    5. Baby Fishmouth*

      Not So NewReader, I think it’s important to remember that people often don’t know what to say in these situations. A lot of people haven’t yet encountered a life-changing loss and don’t know how to react. It’s not personal, people don’t mean to be rude or cold – they just don’t know what to say.

      People also grieve differently, and so coworkers may assume it’s best to just leave you alone. I personally prefer to be left alone when I’m dealing with a loss, and like the distraction of work – I don’t want my coworkers to keep bringing it up all day.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Oh very definitely agree. And there are little things that people can do that say a thousand words. “Wow, we got a lot of snow today, I am going to wait and make sure you can get your vehicle uncovered and started.” This can be a way of saying, “sorry for your loss” or “I know you just had surgery and I want to be sure you are okay here.”
        So people do things like that also.

        The cause for pause with me is when I work with a group of 100 people and NO one says anything. No one. That is not just some people not knowing what to say, that is a much larger problem.

        Unfortunately going the opposite way, there are instances where we have to speak up and state clearly, “I don’t want to talk about this.” Alison mentioned it in an earlier column where a good technique is to tell one person and ask them to pass the message through the group. This could be accomplished by calling the boss before returning to work and asking the boss to spread the message. Alternatively, one could plan out how to nip the on-going inquiries. “This is my time out from all that. It’s good for me to just focus on work. ” The trick here is to say that to each and every person, because people do compare notes with each other. Consistency will help.

        But I totally agree some folks don’t know what to say. I don’t always know what to say. And actually I see that as being okay. I see an ebb and flow to life. It could very well be that part of the reason they don’t know what to say is because they do not need to speak up. I guess looking back on my own life, I would chose to be more at peace with not speaking up and I would have pressured myself a lot less to speak up. For those who don’t speak up or don’t speak up all the time, I suggest to trust that the right people are speaking up and saying meaningful things to the person.

  25. A member of the grieving parents club*

    As a fellow grieving parent something that helped me when I started my current job (9 months after my daughter’s death) was telling my immediate supervisor full details (ok not full). He didn’t and still doesn’t get it, but when things are really bad for me he is there to run interference with coworkers and has definitely told at least one that yes he’s checked, yes I will be alright but to back off because its none of coworker’s business why I’m not alright right now.
    Much like OP we didn’t know our daughter was sick until shortly before her death.
    To those who think that three years is enough time to get over it, I hope you never have a reason to find out how wrong you are. There is no over there is only through, one day at a time.

    1. OP#4*

      Thank you so much for this. Those last two sentences are exactly it. “Over” is a myth. Time doesn’t heal this wound.

      I am not comfortable enough with my immediate supervisor to tell him about the reasoning, unless I was going with full disclosure and telling everyone at once (my comfort level with my supervisor is a completely unrelated issue).

      I am also so very sorry for your loss. It’s true what they say, that unless/until you experience it, you can’t understand it. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

      1. A member of the grieving parents club*

        I am lucky (unlucky?) enough to have two aunts who have also lost children and one of them told me “ it never gets better but it gets more normal”

      2. cheluzal*

        As I mentioned in the previous reply post, I have a published article about grief and the process, as told from my POV. I don’t want to put the name since it’s searchable and I would not longer be anonymous, but if there is a way to get it to you via Allison or something, I would gladly let you know.
        You might not even care, which is fine, but it’s a perspective on the grieving process and might have some nuggets that hit you just right, if that makes sense.

        1. OP#4*

          Thank you. To share such a personal story as the grieving process is such a huge thing. I hope it was cathartic for you.

          I’ll gladly read it if Alison forwards it to me. I will always choose to have more information, and then determine if any of it suits me, than to not have it at all :)

      3. Sybil Fawlty*

        Exactly, I get so frustrated with people who want it “fixed”. There is no fix, it’s a permanent loss. I’ve spoken with mothers who lost children over 50 years ago and it is still very painful. No amount of counseling or therapy will change that. Coping skills, maybe, but the loss is still there.

        Sad to see what a big club this is. :(
        Hugs for all of us.

  26. There is a Life Outside the Library*

    How does LW #1 know that their employees don’t have something nice planned for when they return to work? Speaking personally, I would not want to bother someone while they are recovering. I also know that some people are intensely private about their personal life, particularly when it comes to their health. And lots of time for good reason. There were times at other jobs where the mere reminder of work while recovering would have stressed me out. I’ve also been in offices where someone’s health is a topic of conversation or is held against them.

    This is not something you really have any standing to be mad about.

    1. OP#4*

      Thank you very much, Lady Ariel Ponyweather. I take all the positive vibes, thoughts, prayers, anything I can get! I also reciprocate :)

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        You are welcome and thank you in return. Sending you many, many good and comforting thoughts, purrs from cats, gentle barks from dogs, and a good dose of chocolate or other tasty treat you prefer to help keep you going!

  27. BluntBunny*

    OP 2, do you know if this project is still a priority for management maybe something has changed they want to pool resources into another project and this hasn’t been communicated to you.

    OP3, since they are a friend you can be more honest with them. I have a few suggestions
    1) I suggest saying that you are happy with your job and wouldn’t have recommended them for this job if you thought they wouldn’t like working there and that if they are so unhappy maybe they should apply elsewhere.
    2) Another approach is to explian that they are being emotionally draining and that you can’t concentrate on your work.
    3) Sinply state “you’re venting again” then put in earphones and ignore them.
    4) If you don’t feel comfortable saying these things, maybe suggest that he save the conversations till you are on you break or outside of work. You can say that you don’t want the office to hear or that you are really busy at work.

  28. KiwiDog*

    OP#1 – Follow Alison’s advice! I don’t know about your workplace, but in mine there is absolutely no communication when anyone is out for medical reasons, except maybe (and I mean maybe) to tell us to take issues to some other manager. I couldn’t send anything to my manager without knowing where he lived (which I do), because our management isn’t going to release his address to send cards or flowers or fun stuff. And many times, even if the team knows a person is going to be out for awhile, cards or flowers are done in some sort of secret cabal and everyone isn’t included. I’ve been told it’s done like that to protect the person’s medical issues, etc., which makes sense. So remember, sometimes rules and policies get in the way of human compassion.

    I understand your disappointment, but please remember, there’s probably another side to the story.

  29. Susan Calvin*

    LW#2, I don’t know about your company culture, but in mine, now would be your time to shine by starting to yell really loudly. Metaphorically speaking. Don’t think of it as going behind your manager’s back, think of it as helping management as a whole do their job better, by improving transparency. Maybe your manager has his reasons! One of his other projects might be in trouble and eating up his attention. Maybe he’s dealing with a health or family situation. Who knows! But people above him deserve to have all the facts. Better a squeaky wheel than a martyr.

  30. Fuzzy Lady*

    I was in a situation like LW2 a few years ago. I worked on a research project while I was in grad school (at a different institution that I was studying at) and the professor in charge of the project (and the whole Research Center) and was overwhelmed by his grad student employees asking questions about the project. He literally skipped meetings and didn’t do or he was supposed to do. I don’t have any good advice about how to manage the situation because I eventually left the project when it became clear that we might not get anything done and I wouldn’t have anything to show for it academically/professionally. The pay was good, especially since there often wasn’t work to do because we were waiting on my boss, so it was hard to leave, but it was a time and emotion drain and I needed to focus on my own work!

  31. Hornswoggler*

    OP#2: Your situation smells a little fishy to me, and you may want to do some quiet background investigation and/or work more widely on other projects to protect yourself.

    What I mean is: a project that is both potentially major and not a priority for the manager can be a sign that it’s not “real.” Depending on the industry, there can be very different kinds of unreal projects — ones where the client is already halfway out the door and it’s a “Hail Mary” attempt to wow them back, ones where necessary technical or expert resources will never be available, ones that were the pet project of someone very connected but that nevertheless are impossible, or ones that have already quietly been declared dead but that can’t be said in public now (or perhaps ever) .

    If you spend most of your time on an unreal project, that’s not good for your future at this company. So my advice would be to discretely find out if this company has had a history of similarly “major” projects that petered out and disappeared, or if there’s any reason to believe this specific project will never launch. If your co-worker is equally junior and inexperienced in this kind of project, that’s a strong red flag — it indicates the organization wants to look like it’s doing something rather than actually doing something.

    Talk discreetly to colleagues on other projects if you can. On the slightly more positive side, this could also be an indication of a very loose, “creative” management culture — if all teams operate like this, it could mean the managers expect their teams to do all the heavy lifting. (E.g.: “Don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions.”)

    1. Yojo*

      I do wonder if the boss is carefully setting them up to be thrown under the bus. The blame for something ostensibly their responsibility is passed on when it flops because “after assigning it to A and B, I really had nothing to do with it and they didn’t make me aware there were so many problems.”

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      What I mean is: a project that is both potentially major and not a priority for the manager can be a sign that it’s not “real.” Depending on the industry, there can be very different kinds of unreal projects — ones where the client is already halfway out the door and it’s a “Hail Mary” attempt to wow them back, ones where necessary technical or expert resources will never be available, ones that were the pet project of someone very connected but that nevertheless are impossible, or ones that have already quietly been declared dead but that can’t be said in public now (or perhaps ever) .

      Ooooh… this is a very interesting possibility. And it’s also giving me flashbacks to being involved in some of Those Projects (because they also come about when your boss is an Idea Man but not big on the follow-through.)

    3. JSPA*

      Can happen, but I think “boss is melting down” or “boss is interviewing and intending to jump ship” are, taken together, just as likely.

      Regardless, this is why you want email–ideally bcc’d to your personal account, unless that’s forbidden by your rules–every time you try to schedule a meeting or express a need to meet or send a status update or send a “as we’ve failed to meet or get feedback for the past x days, and we are worried about internal deadlines, we will proceed as follows if we don’t hear otherwise” update. And, make sure that the first few “backed up” emails are of the “trying to meet” / “trying to get feedback” variety, so you can demonstrate that you didn’t suddenly drop demand bombs on your boss. Demonstrating/documenting flexibility, eagerness, awareness of proper hierarchy, awareness of deadlines, is all useful, if poop is going to hit the fan (or if you’re suddenly going to have a new boss who needs to be brought up to speed on a major project).

    1. Winter Red*

      I’m curious: what sort of work do you do where this level of emotional investment and over-involvement is appropriate and professional?

      1. Someone Else*

        I think this is either a nesting fail or you’re misreading the comment you responded to. I took the above as about #2 and meaning: if the boss isn’t making any time for the Important Project, then perhaps it is not so important? Ie don’t care about said project more than he does because in theory the boss is the one who determines the importance? Perhaps I’m misreading.

  32. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    It wouldn’t occur to me to say or send anything if my boss were out for an extended period.

    1. Anon From Here*

      Same. I’d sign a card if it were going around, though, so I’m really warm on the suggestion that LW#1’s own boss(es) chose not to initiate anything for LW’s subordinates to participate in.

  33. Birch*

    OP1, this situation is difficult because people feel so many different ways and it’s impossible to predict how someone else wants to be treated in this situation. There have been complaints recently about how people here are cold and unfriendly, etc. but think about it this way. What’s the worst that can happen, from the perspective of your employees? If you wanted attention about your absence, the worst that can happen is that you have to get comfort from your friends and family and not people you work with, which is really reasonable. If you or someone else *didn’t* want that attention or that knowledge made public, they could be embarrassed, it could affect their work because of how other people treat them and make them constantly uncomfortable at work, feeling that their personal details have been shared around without their consent. Add in the “gifting up” angle and confidentiality issues and it’s so much better to err on the side of sticking to professional life. I do hope you have friends or family you can turn to in these situations, because it’s not right to expect that support from your employees.

  34. M from NY*

    OP#2 If you already have paper trail regarding your leads lack of involvement I’d just move around and start playing offense. Have the rest of the team meet, put together a draft plan and schedule outlining everything that you’d need input (if A then B, with budget $x we can do C etc).

    If your boss is being passive aggressive or is just procrastinating the project is doomed to fail if you do nothing. Working on the potential draft outline is opportunity for you to either shine or learn whether there are indeed other factors behind your leads lack of involvement that are not apparent to you right now.

    If the rest of the team believes outline is feasible then share with your lead and their boss and request their feedback at a review draft planning meeting. Asking someone multiple times about issue when they’ve shown you how they feel just gives them additional opportunities to delay progress.

  35. KR*

    Lw1.. is it also possible your team has been extremely busy covering for you since you left? Otherwise I would agree with the others that they probably had no way of contacting you. I have no clue where my manager lives. If he was out sick I would have to ask his manager to send out his contact info or pass along any messages, ect which I would feel awkward doing since I try not to deal with his manager unless I absolutely have to. Also I would feel strange texting my manager when he’s out sick unless something is burning or someone else has died. I’d assume he wants to be left alone. For the record if my management sent me fun stuff and packages and whatnot while I was out sick it would make me uncomfortable, so it’s also possible your team misread your personality and assumed you would like your privacy and not to be bothered.

  36. boop the first*

    1. “Strategically” adds such an unpleasant tone to the question, as if the end goal is to emotionally manipulate the coworkers. Maybe have a think about what you really want from this situation? Is your intention to hurt people? I’m not being snarky, it may be true. The problem is, you have to keep working with them afterward.

    I’m a really isolated kind of person. I tend to imagine that everyone else has friends and family, and would be surprised that not having coworkers visit and comfort them would even be noticed, let alone devastating. Is this another version of the bystander effect? To assume that your friends and your immediate family members would take care of you?

    1. soon 2be former fed*

      Sending a card is not taking care of anyone. It’s minimal human kindness which is not too much to ask even in the workplace. I don’t think OP is wanting to hurt anyone, surprised anyone would think that.

      1. Lynn Marie*

        This seems like a cynical, unkind, transactional view of humanity to me – either you send me a darned card or it proves you lack minimal human kindness.

        People do what they do – if you like getting and sending cards, how nice for you. It doesn’t mean that people who don’t like getting and sending cards are being hurtful to others.

      2. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

        It’s absolutely too much to ask. It’s not too much to hope for, to appreciate if offered, to be a little burned if not forthcoming, but it’s far too much to ask.

      3. Joielle*

        You keep saying this as though it’s universal, though, and it’s just… not. I’ve been out of the office for health reasons before, and have never gotten or wanted a card or flowers or whatever from coworkers. People were very warm in person and wished me well before and after I was out, which was more than enough acknowledgement. Anything more would have felt awkward to me, like am I supposed to send a thank you card or email back? I’d rather just not deal with it.

        If the coworkers somehow knew she really wanted them to send a card, then sure, they should send one. It’s easy. But maybe they were doing what they’d prefer if they were in the same situation, which might be to not bother the person on leave, and plan to wish them well when they return. It’s a bummer when expectations don’t match up, but neither of those preferences is wrong.

      4. Anon From Here*

        Seriously, I think you’re making assumptions about the situation that we can’t actually know from the letter. It’s not advice column fanfic to come up with a number of reasonable explanations as to why the subordinates did not contact LW#1 during their absence.

      5. Ridikulus*

        I’m emotionally drained just reading your comments here today. I cannot imagine what it’s like to work with you! This level of expectation is simply unreasonable.

  37. Bea*

    OP 1…I always give my wishes personally on someone’s last day. So it’s personalized, so I never feel the need to send a card. Did the acknowledge the serious nature of your time out? “Hey boss, I’ll be thinking of you and can’t wait for you to return after your surgery. Feel better, see you in 6 weeks!” or just never acknowledged your predicament?

    I didn’t get anything while out on medical leave except for the prior well wishes and I knew everyone truly did care.

    You’re recovering and your emotions are sky high. Please don’t bring this to a much higher level by bringing it out in full view.

  38. Blue Eagle*

    #1 – Every time we get these letters about people who are “hurt” that co-workers don’t reach out to them there are ALWAYS two sets of responses: (1) those people who agree that they want co-workers to be vocal about support for whatever they and their family are going through and (2) those who prefer to keep their personal/family business private.

    Can we please all agree that people have different preferences on this.

    I am more in the “private” group so I don’t go out of my way to say things to others or respond to their questions about my private issues. So I agree with Alison – don’t come back to work with a chip on your shoulder toward your co-workers, it is better to assume that they didn’t want to intrude on your privacy.

    1. Joielle*

      Yes! I’m the same as you – the best gift coworkers could give me is 1) handling things at the office so I don’t return to a huge backlog, and 2) leaving me alone to deal with whatever I have going on. Other people have different preferences, which is fine. If I know someone would appreciate a text or card, I’ll send one… otherwise, I’ll err on the side of assuming they’re like me and won’t contact them while they’re out. I think that’s the best any of us can do.

    2. McWhadden*

      I’m usually an intensively private person. But when I was out for months due to surgery it was still really really nice to have people reach out.

      I don’t think she should come back and say a word to them. But I also think that choosing not to reach out with a card is never the right choice. If someone is private they’ll throw it away. If someone is feeling isolated and upset it may make their whole day.

      Spinning not reaching out as though it is a nice gesture seems to be going way too far to me.

      1. Birch*

        It really depends on the situation and how much you know about that person’s privacy and how well you know that person outside of work–people are just asking for a little more thought as to the individuals involved and not assuming that reaching out is always the right thing to do. Some people do actually prefer that colleagues not reach out for personal stuff. It’s the golden rule vs. the platinum rule again– treat other people how they want to be treated.

      2. Rat in the Sugar*

        But there are a lot of people here who are saying that to them not reaching out IS a nice gesture–it is for me! I want my boss to be able to rest and recover in peace. I would never send a card directly to her house–partly because I don’t have her address and pulling it out of the system would be overreaching, and partly because I’ve never sent a Get Well card to anyone (just not a “card person”, I give well-wishes in person generally). So the way for me to contact her would be to send a message through work email–which I don’t expect her to even be checking while she’s at home. I just want to leave the poor woman alone so she can relax with her family for once! She never gets a chance to switch off during vacation or sick time and always has to keep working on deadlines; I’m trying not to be one more person piling on when she’s supposed to be away from work, even if it’s just with well-wishes.

      3. PersonalJeebus*

        But a lot of us genuinely feel that not reaching out IS a kind gesture, and it’s the gesture we would want. That isn’t spin, it’s having different preferences from yours.

        Also, etiquette around this truly is different in a professional context, AND the etiquette varies between workplaces, so people often simply don’t know what they’re supposed to do. At work, it’s almost always best to err on the side of respecting people’s privacy if you aren’t sure. That goes double if you’re deciding whether to reach out to someone above you in the hierarchy. If we were talking about the OP’s faith community or family or social circle–contexts where intimacy is implied and hierarchy is usually not as defined or important–the conversation would be very different.

  39. Anon From Here*

    OP#1, there are many, many alternate explanations for the lack of contact, other than “my subordinates hate me.” These come to mind immediately:

    – Your subordinates have a stricter sense of friends outside work vs. acquaintances at work than you do
    – Your subordinates are planning a welcome when you return
    – “Cards, flowers, and fun stuff” weren’t in the personal budgets of your subordinates
    – While you were gone, your subordinates were extra busy covering tasks left behind in your absence
    – Your interpersonal relationship with your subordinates is a little more contentious or frosty or otherwise problematic than you think it is
    – HR or management have an overzealous interpretation of HIPAA, and blocked contact
    – HR or management know exactly what HIPAA says, and blocked contact

    I’m sorry you feel so extremely hurt that your subordinates didn’t wish you a speedy recovery. But there are many non-malicious explanations (including plenty more that others have brought up) that you should consider before you give them a hard time for not reaching out to you.

  40. Rainbow Roses*

    #1. Maybe they were told not to bother you. Maybe they were told your address can’t be given to them. Maybe they will have a “Happy you’re back” card waiting for you when you’re working again.
    Whatever the reason, take the advise about not making your feelings known. If they’re otherwise hardworking people and you have a nice pleasant enjoyable working relationship, you will ruin that by making them feel guilty for something they shouldn’t feel guilty for.

  41. writer*

    OP#1, I think a lot of people have given good advice so the only thing I will add is, in an office full of people, you will have a range of responses. In your case since all your employees had the same response it may seem very personal against you as a boss, but it may just be how they reacted as people.

    I had breast cancer a few years ago and went on medical leave fairly quickly after my diagnosis to have immediate surgery. I told a few coworkers in the weeks before I left but it became exhausting to tell people over and over, so I just stopped doing it. I assumed word would get around but of course it didn’t reach everyone right away. So for some people (including some I liked a lot and had worked with for years), it was like I suddenly disappeared and was out for 4 weeks. I did get flowers while I was out from my whole dept and from the organization via HR and from a couple others in another dept who chipped in. But responses when I came back really varied. Some people came over immediately and expressed sympathy for what I’d gone through, explaining that they were sorry they didn’t find out till later, etc etc. Some just said quietly that they were glad I was back. Others never said anything to me at all and that was OK. It’s possible that a few people in my office of 60ish people never knew why I was out (or even noticed I was out).

    I found a similar reaction both times I was pregnant–I expected word to get around and for people to congratulate me but a lot of people didn’t… when I mentioned my pregnancy to some people they said, Oh, I thought I heard that but I didn’t want to say anything because I wasn’t sure I was supposed to know. So it’s possible that your colleagues are wary of invading your privacy.

    Either way, I hope you are feeling better and can find some peace in this situation.

    1. Alianora*

      If I was told that someone was out of the office because they had breast cancer, I don’t think I’d spread the word unless that person asked me to. I probably wouldn’t be as cautious around the pregnancy (since it sounds like you were excited when you told them) but I can definitely see where your coworkers were coming from.

    2. AMPG*

      This comment highlights a really good point – it’s actually healthy in a workplace to be conservative in your assumption about where your coworkers draw the line in their work relationships. It’s much more damaging to assume intimacy that isn’t there.

    3. writer*

      Yes, I meant to say that too–I realized that some people weren’t comfortable talking about my situation and so I understood why some didn’t know and some who did know didn’t say anything! At that point right after my diagnosis I was in a phase when I felt that I wanted to be very open about it, so I did tell people in the office that it wasn’t a secret, etc. I had been working there for many years at that point & it was a very caring atmosphere overall. But still it’s a very awkward thing for people to talk about. And frankly there were some people who weren’t great about how they talked to me about it when I came back–I could forgive them because their hearts were in the right place but yeah, public service announcement, it’s not great to tell someone who’s just had cancer that your experience has made them really scared that they’ll get cancer too. Um, OK… thanks for sharing that?

  42. LadyPhoenix*

    #2: When it comes to communication, hints are worthless. Be more assertive and tell your boss straight up, “This project is inportant and we need you here.”

    Make this an email and also talk to your boss directly and document the encounter.

    If you boss still fails to acknowledge the project, then the final solution is to let the grand boss know and ask them how to proceed. That way your butt gets covered if the crap hits the fan.

    1. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

      Yeah, I’m really surprised people aren’t sinking their teeth deeper into #2 here. This sounds like kind of an emergency, and this guy is in avoidant mode. If OP takes Alison’s advice and tries to proactively engage him and/or “hey, I’m moving forward on this unless you have strong feelings,” and it still doesn’t get him in gear….I think your approach is called for.

  43. Josie*

    I started my job last September and my dad died suddenly in November. I was SO hurt that admin didn’t get me a card or send anything to my dad’s funeral. Some coworkers did email me, but others didn’t even bother doing that. I don’t know why I am saying this here….I guess I am trying to say that I would be very hurt if I were LW1, too. I’m still pissed – petty, maybe, but I can’t help how I feel. Of course I never say anything to anyone. A small act of kindness can mean so much to someone.

    1. Captain Planet (nee Snark)*

      First off, my condolences; I’m sure it’s still very raw.

      But oh boy, do I encourage you to reframe this situation, because whatever the reality – whether it was callousness or not knowing what to do or ignorance – framing this as “nobody bothered” is going to keep slicing that cut deeper. You were really new, most folks probably barely knew you….like Alison said, what’s the most generous spin you can put on that? Nursing this grudge is going to make it really hard to work with these folks long-term.

      In particular, it would be truly exceptional, even from an unusually close-knit workplace, for your employer to send something to the funeral.

    2. Holly*

      I am so sorry for your loss. I just want to kindly recommend that you give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt. I think it’s pretty common in professional contexts to assume that the individual going through a hardship just wants to be left alone, and does not want to constantly talk or think about the hardship at work. It doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking of you.

  44. RUKiddingMe*

    OP 1: Noooo. Repeat after me… It’s not personal it’s business.

    They are your staff not your friends. You can’t *expect* any sort of personal connection…regardless of the circumstances, much less unload on them about your hurt feelings.

    Alison is right that they may have thought their names were included by upper management or they felt weird because you’re their boss or…or…or.

    Just do not tell them you were hurt.

  45. Fellow Bereaved Parent*

    #4–Oh, letter writer, my heart goes out to you. Childloss is horrible and unfair and isolating.

    I think the provided script is excellent. I would also suggest, since you don’t want to share your step daughter at work, having a release valve at the ready for the times you know will be bad. I have a close circle of people who know a text with the purple heart emoji means I am thinking of my daughter and need some backup. Have your grief journal, if you keep one, in your desk drawer at the ready. Scribble her initials in meetings and act like you’re taking notes. Also-keep a hot drink with you at all times! Sipping it will release tension in the throat and can keep unexpected tears at bay.

    I also give you permission to fake it when you need to. I know for me, it can feel like a betrayal if I’m not displaying sufficient sadness at all the “right” times. It is ok to fake a laugh at a joke in a meeting. When I do that I just think to myself, “these poor people, they’ll never know how perfect you were, Daughter! We won’t let them in on our secret.”

    All the “experts” on this sort of thing give a 2-5 year window before you might feel ready to be done mourning (although never done with grief.) You honor your step daughter by trying to live the life she would be proud of. I hope each year gives you, on average, more peace than pain.

    1. OP#4*

      I appreciate all of the responses and kindness and well-wishes and sympathy received today. Yours was, however, the first that’s made me teary, for whatever reason.

      I have unfortunately not yet reached the point where I’m not displaying sufficient sadness at the proper times. I’ll keep hoping to get there at some point, though.

      Oddly, though, given the amazing girl she was, I actually feel like my grief and sadness is dishonoring her memory a lot of the time. She was so vibrant and vivacious and charming and sweet, and so quick to smile and laugh. She would be so annoyed at me for crying over her. But sometimes I just can’t help it.

      I didn’t know about the hot drink; I’ll have to start doing that. Thank you for the tip!

      And lastly, I’m so sorry for your loss, Fellow Bereaved. It’s rough at the best of times; the worst feels like death would be a welcome relief. That’s not to say I’m suicidal or anything like that…just to say that there are times when the pain is so deep and intense and feels so unbearable, that not being able to feel would be better. But in the end, I wouldn’t give up having known her and been part of her life for anything. Mourning her is a privilege, in a way. Because it means I got to love her.

      1. Fellow Bereaved Parent*

        Oh, I guzzle ginger tea by the gallon. Also gives you an excuse if you have to dash to the bathroom for a quick cry – “gosh all that tea’s just going right through me today!”

        Keep that thought of her scolding you for crying — maybe it can bring you some laughter with the tears. I don’t think you are dishonoring her at all.

        There is a difference between “wanting to be dead” and “wanting to kill yourself.” It is actually ok to think the first one while you’re grieving. There are times when the only reason I don’t just lie down and quit is I don’t want my mom to go through what I’m going through.

        “Mourning her is a privilege, in a way. Because it means I got to love her.” <– This is beautiful. "Grief is just love with nowhere to go."

      2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        What you say about pain and not wanting to feel it is very relatable and extremely common. I’ve felt it and have spoken to people who’ve felt the same way: they’re not suicidal, they just want it all to go away. I wish I had magic words to help, but the only way out is through, it seems.

        Your comment reminds me of the reply given to people asking what the point of pain is, since it’s so awful. The point is to help us develop compassion for other people. I like to add on to that and say to remember to have compassion for yourself. If you need to cry, then cry. Crying is a physical release for humans and not crying causes more stress for us. I believe we honour our loved one with our tears. That’s how much they meant to you and how much you miss them; you have to cry because there are no words that can convey your love. Your tears honour her memory as they are a demonstration of how much of an impact she had on you and on this world.

        But in the end, I wouldn’t give up having known her and been part of her life for anything. Mourning her is a privilege, in a way. Because it means I got to love her.

        I’m not crying, the roof of my house briefly disappeared and now there is rain on my face, that’s all.

    2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      When I do that I just think to myself, “these poor people, they’ll never know how perfect you were, Daughter! We won’t let them in on our secret.”

      Oh wow, this is both so beautiful and painful that made me tear up and smile at the same time. I’m sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing this with us.

  46. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP#1,

    There’s another point I haven’t seen raised in other comments on your post: different organizations have different customs about handling extended medical leaves. You may not be aware of what your organization’s custom is until you land in the situation.

    During my last medical emergency (this one involved a late-night trip to the emergency room, followed by about 10-days of hospitalization), all contact was handled by those above me in the organization. I had visits from Boss, Grandboss, and GreatGrandboss, who all assured me not to worry about a thing.

    My staff didn’t contact me directly, because that’s not how it’s done here. (Some organizations may do it differently, but based on the comments upstream, that’s probably rare.) They did have a nice, funny card waiting for me when I got back to work, and helped me ease back into the workflow slowly.

    And, you know, it was all right. They’d handled everything in my absence, but weren’t burdened by the expectation that they had to do anything in particular for me while I was gone, other than think good thoughts and make sure everything was in order. For me, that was enough.

  47. Faith*

    OP #1, I understand how you feel. I’m currently dealing with very similar feelings. I had an employee whose wife just went through a grueling 3-year long infertility battle. It involved numerous doctors’ appointments, several miscarriages and one stillbirth, but ultimately ended in the birth of a healthy baby. I was this employee’s supervisor for 2.5 out of those three years, and I tried to be as supportive as I could. He had flexible schedule to attend all of his wife’s medical appointments, he took several weeks off after the stillbirth with my explicit: “take as much time as you need”. I arranged for the sympathy flowers. I was offered a listening ear when he vented some of his frustrations with how unfair life could be. When their baby was born, I was no longer his supervisor, but his current one was not too keen on taking any initiative, so I got the ball rolling on getting him a very nice gift from our department. I was always the one to ask for baby pictures and for updates on how his wife was doing. I genuinely tried to show my support in any way that I could.

    Fastforward several month, and I announce my pregnancy to the office. I’ve had several people come up to me and say congratulations. Or the topic would come up in a team meeting (mainly talking about the game plan for my maternity leave) and people would make small talk about it and ask polite questions about how I was doing and general baby stuff. Not a word from him. It’s been a month, and he’s acting like he doesn’t know I’m pregnant. I don’t even know why it bothers me – but I felt like a simple “Hey, I heard the happy news – congrats!” would have been appropriate from him in this situation. Am I going to say anything to him? – Absolutely not. If he doesn’t care, he doesn’t care, and it is his prerogative not to care, regardless of what my expectations might have been.

    1. Fellow Bereaved Parent*

      It can be really, really hard for someone who has suffered (repeated!) pregnancy losses to see a pregnancy announcement as “happy” news. He may be pretending nothing has happened because he can’t pretend that pregnancy is anything OTHER than the prelude to a dead baby (even with a living child of his own!) Your happiness may be reminding him of how happy he and his wife were the first time, before all their dreams were upended; he may be extremely JEALOUS that, statistically, you will get to maintain that happiness throughout your entire pregnancy journey. (Also, unless he has told you explicitly, their infertility journey may not have “ended” – they may be dealing with trying again, or coming to terms with their family being much smaller than they’d originally planned.)

      His silence during these conversations might be the most generous gift he can manage to give, because the thoughts in his head might be “seems a little early to be planning maternity leave when your baby could just die on you!”

      1. PersonalJeebus*

        Right. There are so many differences between your respective situations (your genders, your status in the hierarchy, in addition to your different experiences of conception and pregnancy) that it doesn’t make sense to expect a tit-for-tat exchange of supportive/congratulatory expressions. I’m glad you’re no longer expecting a certain response from him–maybe now you can try letting go of the uncharitable assumption that he simply doesn’t care about you.

        P.S. You’re correct that even in the worst-case event that he Does Not Care, as his boss, you still shouldn’t say anything!

    2. McWhadden*

      He might be waiting until you are late in the third trimester or even until you give birth. Because, from his POV, this is a fragile time period.

      1. Rainbow Roses*

        Right. In some cultures, people don’t set up a nursery or have a baby shower until after the baby arrives. This guy probably isn’t from one of those cultures but perhaps the reason behind his silence is the same due to his past.

      2. Nita*

        Agreed. He, or his wife, may have been on the receiving end of too many ill-timed “congratulations,” and his silence is his way of being considerate.

    3. Holly*

      Faith, the gender dynamics at play may also have something to do with it in addition to the experiences of his own wife. He may not want to comment on your body, or assume anything about it, until he hears it straight from you – and even then, he may not want to congratulate sort of as “jinxing” it, based on what he’s been through. I would give this person the benefit of the doubt if he’s otherwise been warm and friendly to you.

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        I think Faith is giving him the benefit of the doubt! Maybe I’m the one misreading her comment, but I thought the whole point of it was just to say “Yes, I’m bothered for some reason by his silence, but since he’s not obligated to care it’s on me to deal with it, not him.” I read it as agreeing with Alison’s advice that OP1 needs to let go of her hurt feelings with her employees and not try to say anything to them about it. I’m not understanding why there are then several replies telling Faith various reasons why her employee might not speak up…she already said she doesn’t expect him to.

        (Not trying to, like, scold you or something! Just saying I think that Faith and the replies seem to be arguing the same side of the argument.)

        1. Holly*

          I don’t know if you’re misreading it, but I definitely read the comment differently. Faith says “I understand how you feel. I’m currently dealing with very similar feelings.” to OP. Although it’s definitely good to acknowledge that you have a certain feeling but it’s not appropriate to act on in the workplace – I suppose I just feel like there may be reasonable explanations that may ease the hurt.

  48. Spider*

    OP #3, I had a colleague who would come into my office and plunk himself into a chair and vent at me for 15-20 minutes straight while not letting me get a word in edgewise, and then when he was done, would just get up and leave.

    So one day, I called him back as he was walking away and said (calmly but in a flat tone), “The next time you get the urge to interrupt my work for 15 minutes so you can vent, just call me and leave a voicemail. That way you get everything off your chest, and I don’t have to listen to it.” Then I turned my attention back to my computer.

    He never did that to me again. (He complained in long emails instead, until he quit a couple of months later.)

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      Nice! And emails are quickly and easily deleted.

      I had a venting coworker, he even complained about his wife and home life (super awkward!) but he was senior to me so at the time I didn’t feel like I could really say anything to him about it.

  49. Colorado*

    OP 1: I have much respect for my manager, I think the world of her but I would never contact her while she was out for surgery. I’d assume any greetings from upper management was on behalf of us all. Let it go. They mean no ill will, I can almost guarantee that.

  50. McWhadden*

    About seven years ago I had surgery and was out of the office for months. And it’s very alienating. You are laid up in bed/couch with little to do. The most excitement you get is when you get to go to the doctor or physical therapy. Sure, I had friends and family but it’s such a limited pool. And I did get lonely and miss my co-workers.

    So, there is a lot of time to focus on the little wrongs. And a lot of the bad will you have toward the world that needs to be focused somewhere. So, OP1 I would say that your feelings are your feelings. You are entitled to them. I genuinely totally understand. I am not a person who cares about thank you cards or any of that. But in that moment people reaching out meant the whole world to me. (And to those saying it’s not a big deal think of how much it might mean to someone who is going through something horrible. Why would you ever err on the side of not reaching out to someone going through a hard time?) But know that when you are back up and out in the world it will seem much less important. By the time you are back in work you aren’t going to care about this as much.

  51. giraffe*

    Re #1 – it’s inappropriate for OP to let her reports know she’s unhappy about this. If this happened to my current boss, I would probably text her, but we’re pretty close and already text occasionally outside work. Before this current job I never had a boss whose cell number I even knew, let alone their home address to send a card. Also, it seems like this was a planned surgery — it seems even weirder to expect your reports to reach out after you planned when you would be back in the office and it’s not a surprise. If you were suddenly in an accident and out for six weeks without warning, it might make more sense for people to make the effort to check in with you.

    1. McWhadden*

      “If you were suddenly in an accident and out for six weeks without warning, it might make more sense for people to make the effort to check in with you.”

      The letter says it was right after a car accident. I don’t know anyone who plans to be in a car accident.

  52. drpuma*

    OP1, when my boss is going through some personal difficulties I figure there are two great “gifts” I can give to them:
    1, Being awesome at my job so they don’t need to worry;
    2, Leaving them the F alone so they can focus on themselves however they need to.
    I know that my boss is technically responsible for me, and I want to lighten their load as much as possible.

    Something else that occurs to me, reading your response, is Alison’s advice that gifts should flow down not up. It sounds like that is exactly what happened in your situation.

    Post-op recovery can be difficult and frustrating, especially for folks who are used to being active. I know sometimes my own frustrations land in unusual places when my world shrinks due to illness and I just don’t have as many options as I’m used to. Take good care of yourself, and try to keep an open mind about what you’ll find when you get back to work in 3 weeks.

  53. gk*

    There have been so many times that something terrible has happened to me and I’ve never brought it to work, or expected anyone else to care about it besides myself and my immediate family.

    Don’t expect things from people. You’re setting yourself for disappointment. Sad but true.

  54. DaffyDuck*

    OP1 re: signs of caring – it is very interesting to see how people interpret what would be a proper response. My father really disliked all cut flowers, they reminded him of death. Very close family and friends knew this but many in his social circle didn’t (it isn’t really something that is socially acceptable). When he was in the hospital he would ask me to remove flowers/plants ASAP after the gifter left. Usually, my father enjoyed company when he was in the hospital, but I find even the thought of others exhausting even when I am at my best.
    I don’t mind flowers but am not crazy about pre-printed cards with just a signature (handmade cards/drawings/original letters are cherished). I don’t go around complaining about the environmental impact, cluttering up my house, or expense of commercial cards. Bring me a cookie or homemade bread and I am over the moon, but many people would not be happy as they are on a diet of some kind.
    I guess my point is people have differing likes/dislikes and just because someone isn’t doing things your way doesn’t mean they don’t care.

    1. PersonalJeebus*

      Absolutely! We get occasional questions here along the lines of, “I went through something hard and people at work didn’t respond the way I wanted them to,” and the only useful thing to do is assume ignorance rather than malice or apathy.

  55. JM60*


    I mostly agree with Alison here. I’m about to had goon medical leave for ~3 weeks for surgery, and I’m not expecting any well wishing from coworkers. I’m expecting the reactions to be similar to that of taking a long vacation, and I’m personally fine with that (although I can understand why this may upset some people). In fact, I would would even prefer it that way. I would just assume that they’re hesitant to comment on my personal health, even if it’s to wish me well.

  56. Like what even*

    If a boss demanded that I performed sympathy for them i would have serious reservations about continuing to work for them. You aren’t owed emotional labor from your employees; just job-related labor.

  57. JSPA*

    OP1: the people you manage may
    1. may have been instructed not to contact you for anything, to avoid any risk of interfering with your leave (which, depending on the sort of leave, could be put at risk by anything that could be misconstrued as you doing work).
    2. may not have been given your contact information at the hospital, or have been given the wrong information.
    3. may be planning a “welcome back” of some sort once you’re doing well enough to appreciate it.
    4. may be honoring your right to medical privacy.
    5. may…just not be that great with observances and reaching out in general. Are they effusive and always ready to do non-work, emotional stuff at work in other circumstances? Or do they focus on their jobs–which isn’t a bad thing, frankly, to say about one’s team, 99.9% of the time?

  58. Kettle Corn*

    #5 You haven’t gotten a start date yet so its not a priority yet. But you really need to give your employees 2 weeks notice where you are able to work for 2 weeks. So if it happens when you think it is going to you either need to cancel the vacation or get the other company to extend your start date.

  59. CupcakeCounter*

    You are entitled to your feelings but I think you are doing yourself a disservice expecting that type of concern from your direct reports. To me is seem similar to “gifting up”. Do not say anything when you return and be careful that your feeling do not influence the way you treat your reports.

  60. Gwen*

    OP #4: Obviously clinical depression is not the same as grief, but when I’ve been teary/upset/just generally not in a good place with people I would rather not discuss ongoing mental health struggles with, I’ve always found it works fine to be as vague as, “Just having a rough day. It’ll pass.” when someone asks about it. Most of the time anyone who’s inquiring is just wanting to know if there’s something they can do for you, and keeping it brief and relatively mild has been the best way to gently say “thanks but no thanks” to the unspoken offer to talk about it. Lots of love to you and your family!

    1. OP#4*

      Thank you, Gwen. I appreciate the advice, and I believe I can get away with something vague-ish for much of the year…but this time of year, there are so many days, and I’m so new here (so they don’t know me), that I’m afraid of coming across as a “Debbie Downer”, so to speak. So just trying to find a good medium between giving enough info vs. too much.

      Also, I assume you’re speaking from personal reference. If so, I hope you are feeling more and more well, sooner rather than later. Depression is a fight, that’s for sure.

  61. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#1: Of course AAM got it right on the nose. At my current and past workplaces, I would be told that my manager was out on unexpected medical leave, and the nature of the issue would be kept confidential. I wouldn’t attempt to contact my manager. Instead, all interactions would be up to my manager’s boss, who would know the nature of the medical leave. Depending on the circumstances, *maybe* a card or flowers from the company or team would be sent, and it would be organized by my manager’s boss. So basically, that’s similar to what’s happening in your situation. As others have pointed out, you shouldn’t expect emotional support from subordinate employees.

  62. chocoholic*

    OP1 I do think that in this case, “assume positive intent” is going to serve you the best here, as many others have said. There are many reasons why they may not have reached out while you were on leave, and asking about it is going to reflect poorly on you, no matter the reason they did not reach out. I would try to assume that they wanted to give you your privacy to recuperate and return to work with the best possible ability.

  63. Justin*

    *If* any well-wishes, condolences, gifts, etc. come from the workplace, they should either come from the company, or they should come from peers or above. So your manager and their boss, plus your peer managers, they covered this, as they should.

    1. PersonalJeebus*

      Yes, I would definitely follow the lead of my boss’s boss and peers on this. The last thing I’d want to do is disturb someone above me in the hierarchy when they’re out of the office for painful reasons. The most I would do unprompted is say to my boss *after* their return, “I hope you’re feeling better” or “We’ve been thinking of you.”

  64. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

    My boss is currently out due to a medical emergency. Although we’re friendly enough, I have not sent him a text or anything because we aren’t exactly friends and it seems like an abuse of his contact details. The only reason I have his number is that he uses his personal device for work related contacts. While I wish him well, it seems like a bit of an invasion of privacy to text him.

    If your team are similarly limited, OP1, then it may be a matter of them choosing to err on the side of caution and not risk overstepping. I don’t think I’d put nearly so much emotional investment into the lack of communication from them. There are many plausible reasons why they haven’t been in touch, and IMHO they are all more likely than your entire team not caring about your wellbeing.

  65. PersonalJeebus*

    OP1, my wife and I were in a car crash a few months ago, and my wife had head/neck/back injuries, and I am truly sorry this happened to you and for the stress of the surgery you had to endure.

    That said, the fact that you are considering how to “strategically” make your employees feel bad is not a point in your favor. I suggest you spend some time considering what you believe employees actually owe to a boss, and why you believe that, and whether those expectations are reasonable and professional. I think you’ll be a lot happier for it. And I hope your current frame of mind is just a temporary side effect of the stress and pain you’ve been going through recently.

    Whatever your motivation, guilt-tripping your employees over this will make ALL of you more miserable than you are now. It will not serve you. Don’t do it.

  66. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

    OP1: I’m guessing you care a lot about your employees and I bet you send them cards/text/ or at least act concerned when people are ill/out. You want them to care for you like you care for them. Unfortunately, most people don’t. Just come back, be pleasant, and treat them like you were treated. If one is out for surgery, send nothing and when they come back, just say welcome back and tell them where they need to start work.

  67. Amelia Pond*

    #4 I’m so sorry for your loss. Obviously (for most people) losing a an animal isn’t the same but all the emotionss grief are still there. It’s been just a year since I lost my girl so this year is particularly bad. Anway, that aside, Alison gave a great script, I for myself, would add in, “So I’m not really up for discussing any of it this year but I’ll let someone know if I need a hand with anything.”

    Unfortunately, there will still be pushy people. Using Alisom’a script plus a bit of Captain Awkward works wonder. Say they try and push back for details, use Allisons #1, then redirect the conversation. If they try again, scripts #2 Would be, I’m sorry, I must now have made myself clear (this is just to help them save face), this is not a subject I’m willing to talk about, so let’s move on to *different subject*” If they try yet again, say “I told you I’m not having this conversation. You can come find me when you’re ready to talk about *correct subject*” And literally walk away from the conversation. Take a bathroom break, grab a coffee, have a chat with a “safe” person.

    I probably didn’t break that down as well as Captain Awkward would but that’s the gist. I recommend her site 120%. Captain Awkward and AAM have very complimentary advice. Apologies if this is the best thought out but due to my own heartbreak, I’m rather medicated today.

  68. CM*

    #2 – I completely agree with the advice and don’t have anything to add to it. Just that I had a boss once who did this and it was because her brain couldn’t understand the difference between “urgent” and “imminent.” The only thing that mattered to her were deadlines that were coming up soon, regardless of how much time and effort it was going to take to be ready in time for the deadline. So, if we had a project that was going to take six months, she’d procrastinate on it until the week before it was due and then suddenly run around in a frenzy like it was the first time she’d heard about it.

    Nothing we tried ever worked to change that. It was just impossible to convince her that something due six months from now can require urgent attention.

  69. Steampug*

    OP1 – it is extremely rude and so inconsiderate not to acknowledge that you were very sick by at the very least sending you a get well card. I know that co-workers and employees are not your friends but there still is something like good manners that apply in all situations and sending a get well card or sms or email when the person is back falls under good manners and not being assholes. That being said, I am not sure you can address it other than by leading through actions, i.e. doing and treating others the way you wish to be treated.

  70. SusanIvanova*

    #3 Get your co-worker a rubber duck. It’s a programming trick: you describe your problems to the rubber duck and it gets them out of your system without bothering anyone else. And for people actually looking for solutions, sometimes all it takes is talking it out to see the perspective you missed.

  71. FourDogLife*

    #1 – i like my boss just fine, but she’s my boss and not my friend. I’m not going to reach out to her for any reason aside from what I get paid to do. feeling crushed by this is unfortunate, but you are the boss, not the friend.

  72. Jojo*

    1- when our supervisors go out sick management keeps the workers updated. And management provides cards for us sign. Not to contact them because they are supposed to concentrate on getting better.

  73. Jojo*

    3- we have oNE of those complainers where I work. He no longer complains around me. I told him if he does not like the job there was a line waiting g to take his place. Dont let the door hit you in the on way out.

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