update: I don’t want to share my personal life with nosy coworkers

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose boss and coworkers were pressuring her to share more than she wanted to about her own health and a family member’s health situation? Here’s the update.

Thank you for taking the time out to answer my letter! I appreciate the advice from you and the comments section!

I’ll start by addressing some of the commenters questions/concerns: I did provide my colleagues, client, manager and CEO with slightly more info than what I provided in the letter to AAM. I gave them the most details I was comfortable providing so they all know which relative is sick and their diagnosis, and they have a general understanding of one of my most active chronic illness. I kept certain details in my letter here more vague-ish just in case my coworkers read this blog too.

At the team-building event, the CEO asked me bluntly (in front of everyone)about what was going on with my relative, chiding me for not giving specific details before (“we’re a family here, why can’t you be more open??”). I responded with something similar to Alison’s script – stating that I truly appreciate his and all of my coworkers’ concern, however when I’m at work I’d like to focus on work as talking about this distresses me greatly, and that if there’s any major changes to my relative’s status I’d let them know.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work. The CEO instead doubled-down on his previous sentiment, going into detail about how his relative was also “standoffish” about that too, and how he told them they needed “to be more open”. It was painfully awkward. My coworkers weren’t much help either as they took this opportunity to pile on comments and questions that echoed the CEOs. I ended up excusing myself from the event to go to the restroom and regroup because it was all quite honestly very overwhelming.

My workload at the customer site has increased over the past few months, which has made a convenient excuse to get out of the (now monthly) team building events since client requirements take precedence. However, even that hasn’t completely stopped the CEO from continuing to push.

The CEO came to a customer site event recently, and brought up the fact that I haven’t been to his team building events lately in a mocking tone in front of the client – like he took it very personally that I haven’t attended in a long time. It was quite embarrassing and highly irritating especially since I’ve already talked to him about my workload at the client site. I reminded him (again) of my increased workload and how a monthly team building event during the client’s core hours were difficult to attend. The client mentioned the major projects I’m working on and suggested that the CEO hold the team building events outside of core hours, or less frequently. The CEO backed down, but it seems he was only doing so in front of the client because a few weeks later, he picked it right back up again. This time enlisting the help of Busybody coworker who works for a different client at the same customer site. Busybody leaves notes on my desk about the team-building events and questions about my relative while I’m away at project meetings.

While I do enjoy the work I do at the customer site, I also agree with some of the commenters about how this company’s culture is a terrible fit for me. The CEO seems to see his small company as an extension of himself and takes many typical business things (like employees quitting) as a personal slight against him. Quite honestly, this and my previous terrible experiences with small companies has pretty much soured me on them forever.

Thanks to the advice on this blog (both Allison and the commenters), I’ve kicked up a targeted job search that is yielding results.

Unfortunately, nothing has worked out yet but the fact that I’m getting traction gives me hope. I’m aiming to be in a new place new later than early next year and to put all of this far behind me.

{ 92 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. SigneL

    Oh, man, LW, I feel your pain, having been in a similar situation years ago. I moved on, as I hope you will be able to – best of luck in your job search!

    Reply
    1. Amber T

      Indeed. I fall into the over-sharer side of things, but there’s a huge difference between “I’m asking because I’m concerned for you” and “I need you to tell me everything so I know I’m valued in your life.” Ick. Good luck on your job search!

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        I find this unfathomable. I can understand snoopy, but not continuing to press when someone doesn’t want to discuss something personal. This is like landing on mars. I have never encountered anyone like this in the workplace, although occasionally in my extended family.

        Reply
        1. AnnaBananna

          Especially in front of her peers and clients?! He is such a passive aggressive douche canoe.

          Good luck with the job search, OP – it’s the best move for you! :)

          Reply
  2. Detective Amy Santiago

    Good luck with your job search!

    I don’t suppose the client would be able to hire you into a direct role with their organization?

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      If there isn’t a contact forbidding that…the CEO isn’t just a crappy person, he’s bad at business! You don’t send your consultants into a poaching-zone without a contract in place.

      Reply
      1. MCMonkeyBean

        In my field it’s basically an expectation that many employees will work for consulting firms for a few years then move on to work for the corporate clients! Only people with Partner aspirations stick around the consulting firms long-term.

        Reply
  3. animaniactoo

    Oh. Oh my. Leaving you NOTES about your relative’s condition?

    OP, fingers crossed and sending you positive thoughts and vibes for getting out of there into a GOOD position asap.

    Because that is guano loco banana crackers. For reference – I work in one of those “we’re a family” businesses – and this crap would NEVER fly here. Ever.

    I keep typing more and then stopping because well… frankly, I think that’s really all that needs to be said. Mad support to you for managing to deal with it as long as you have.

    Reply
    1. RUKiddingMe

      One of the business I owned over the years was a beauty salon where I also worked as one of the stylists. I had a 50/50 business partner.

      We knew each other’s families including siblings, parents, step-parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, even grandparents in her case.

      We did stuff together…think movies, girl’s night, lunches, BBQs in the park, birthday parties for the kids, sporting events, parties at each other’s houses…and on and on…and on.

      Allllll of that said no way no how would she or I have been this intrusive even when we both already knew basically everything about each other and each other’s families. When her dad died I knew it was self-imposed. I didn’t do anything beyond telling her that if she needed me…which of course after 10 years she already knew. I can’t imagine something like *that* happening in OP’s office.

      Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yes—this is awful behavior. I wouldn’t do this to a family member, so I don’t know how the “we’re like a family” excuse somehow validates the CEOs prying? I would find this terribly stressful, and I’m sending so much sympathy and support to OP! Here’s hoping the job search picks up in the new year.

      Reply
      1. SusanIvanova

        Any time a company claims to be “like a family”, they mean the dysfunctional types that end up on Jerry Springer.

        Reply
  4. :-)

    I’m sorry to read that the whole company, including the CEO (WTF?) are so nosy. Boundaries, they do not have them nor do they understand them.

    I do not get it that they think that they should be told about your (and your relatives!!!) medical condition. It is totaly your decision if you want to share details or not (and I’m pretty sure your relative wouldn’t want his/her details shared either. Ok, I did share it with some people when my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal cancer but I didn’t get into the details etc. that was me just stating that that partical time was hard for me).

    Reply
    1. Zelda

      “and I’m pretty sure your relative wouldn’t want his/her details shared either”

      This! If nothing else (and, really, with halfway reasonable people, there’s a *lot* else that should be stopping them from prying), that it’s NOT OP’s health, but their relative’s, should give them pause. “Not my story to tell.” “I don’t have Nana’s permission to tell you about her bits.” “*I* am being open, but my Nana said if I go yakking about *her* personal stuff in public I’m never getting her secret recipe for biscuits!”

      Yeesh. Best of luck to OP in surviving these boundary-crossers long enough to get to a better situation.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        Years ago I made it clear to my husband that he was NEVER to divulge ANY personal medical information to my mother. I still have never met her friend Gladys, ‘you know, the one with the colostomy.’ She just was fascinated, as a former nurse, with medical detail and would blab it to anyone she crossed paths with. I didn’t want the universe to hear about my personal details.

        Reply
          1. Ananas

            The former nurse loves to gossip about an acquaintance’s medical condition, which she presumably did not learn about through her work.

            Reply
  5. Observer

    The problem is not that the CEO thinks “we’re faaamily!” but that he doesn’t respect ANY boundaries. I think that it’s very telling that he complained about a relative of his that is also “stand offish”. Of course that makes it harder to avoid, but if it’s any comfort to you, this is clearly not about you being “unusually closed” but someone who has probably never met a boundary he didn’t blow past.

    I hope things improve on the health front, and that you find a job that’s a better fit.

    Reply
    1. Agent J

      +1

      Some people think that family = no boundaries and it sounds like the CEO is putting that worldview on his employees and you. Hoping that you’ll find a New Job soon.

      Reply
  6. RUKiddingMe

    OMG!

    OP I was hyperventilating reading this update. The level of intrusion and the pushiness about the team building is so massively … wrong, just freaking wrong I can’t even reconcile it as anything other than deliberate, intentional obtuseness.

    When I read about the notes on your desk the thing that went through my head was me picking up and crumpling the note, throwing it at the coworker and if possible the CEO at the same time (like if they were standing close to one another) and screaming “leave me the fuck alone” then walking out never to look back. Don’t do this of course.

    Reply
    1. Archaeopteryx

      CEO doubling down at that team building meeting almost pushes this from “rude person” to “alien in human disguise”! Hope you find a new job soon and kick them to the curb!

      Reply
  7. Dame Judi Brunch

    The CEO and your coworkers are bananas. Confronting you in front of a client??? That’s insane.
    You have my sympathy.

    Reply
        1. RUKiddingMe

          I am too. Although…I’d bet money the CEO doesn’t see it as him being called out for being so over the top. Hopefully though it gives some comfort to OP that *other people see it.*

          Reply
    1. Engineer Girl

      That’s what bothered me. A manager that ridicules their report in front of the customer? And it sounds like the customer was taken aback too.

      As far as demands on relatives health – the only response at that point is “why do you need to know the private health information of a non-employee?” When you get “we’re faaaamily” the response is “actually, you are my coworker”.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes—super out of bounds, and a bizarre tactic to pull in front of a client. If I were the client, I would be concerned about keeping business with a company headed by someone who behaved like the CEO did.

        As Observer notes upthread, this person has no sense of boundaries. It’s a bizarre and aggressive approach to “family” if this is how CEO actually behaves with family members.

        Reply
      2. RUKiddingMe

        Also, if they were to push the “we are faaammmiiilllyyy” thing there’s always “No, as I said we’re not family, we are coworkers but if you insist … {dramatic pause and sigh here} … my [Relative] certainly isn’t your family.”

        Reply
    2. CM

      The one good part of this update was that the client had the OP’s back! OP, any chance the client could hire you directly?

      Reply
    3. Woodswoman

      Exactly. It’s horrible enough that the boss badgers OP about personal information privately. Adding on doing it in front of the client–and publicly with co-workers–adds another level of hideousness.

      OP, your grace in this ugly situation is awesome. I’m glad the client had your back. I hope your job search yields a new position very soon!

      Reply
    4. Observer

      Seriously!

      It just blows my mind that he’d do that in front a client. Most people try really hard to keep “problems” out of sight of the client! Not that I think that OP’s behavior is a problem, but the CEO does.

      Reply
  8. Lena Clare

    Oh my word, I’m feeling anxious on your behalf. I cannot believe that the CEO and your busybody coworker are honestly being so rude and flagrantly ignoring your boundary settings. Argh!

    Good luck in the job search! I hope you get out of there soon – and in a completely selfish move, I hope you tell them exactly why you’re leaving in your exit interview… but I get that that might not be possible!

    Reply
  9. Sara without an H

    Frankly, if I were the client, I’d be having serious doubts about this vendor. OP, good luck in the new year, and please post an update when you get a new position at a professionally-run company.

    Reply
    1. RUKiddingMe

      Yeah if I were the client I’d be more than a little concerned why “team building” seem so outsized in importance compared to …IDK… doing the job I’m paying them to do.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Juniper

        OP, are you sure your CEO isn’t a wannabe cult leader? I’m not kidding. Remember the letter from the poor OP whose boss thought he was a Mayan shaman?

        Reply
  10. Agent J

    I know self -are can be a buzzword nowadays but OP, I hope (if you’re able) that you are taking time to do things that relieve stress and bring joy to your life.

    Between your health, your relative’s health, and the constant battle for your boundaries to be respected, the stress can start to chip away at you. Hoping you find a job that is a better culture fit for you and your health improves.

    Reply
      1. Oh no, not another Jennifer

        I completely agree with agent j. A job like this can take even more of a toll on your health and wellbeing. Good luck on your job search.

        Reply
  11. Lurking Tom

    I suspect that your CEO, when you eventually quit, is going to be completely taken aback and wonder why you didn’t tell him that it bothered you so much. He’s got some serious blinders on!

    Reply
    1. Leela

      They always do! They don’t hear it until they’re facing consequences for not fixing it.
      “Well if I’d known it bothered you that much I would have done something!”
      It should be suspected by default, that if an employee is comfortable raising something negative to their boss, and saying “this bothers me” or some phrase that indicates that, that it bothers them. I don’t understand why it gets blown off until the person leaves and then the boss has no awareness of why the person could leave them.

      Reply
  12. kittymommy

    Your CEO is a dick and your co-workers aren’t much better. It is not your right to share private medical information about a third party to your colleagues (who are probably unknown to each other). I wish I could say I think it will get better, but I doubt it will. My sympathies.

    Reply
        1. Karyn

          Donkeys are okay with boundaries. Mules, on the other hand, are excellent. Once they are done working, they are done; you cannot cajole, bribe, or threaten them to do any more that day. They are done.

          A horse will work itself to death if you demand it of them. Not so a mule.

          Reply
  13. Monika from Germany

    Good luck with your job search OP! With a boss and co-irkers like that… WTF

    On the other hand, CEO dearest might have shot himself in the foot, the client has noticed the crazy, and has called him out.

    Reply
  14. MLB

    Wow, your CEO is a jackass. I usually advocate pushing back hard against boundary pushers, but considering this is the CEO it makes it a little more difficult. Good luck on your job search, and when you find a new one, I wouldn’t hesitate expressing your true feelings to the CEO about why you’re leaving.

    Reply
  15. Hailrobonia

    Ugh. The whole “our team is a family” sentiment seems to mean “subordinates must reveal personal information while those in charge don’t have to.”

    Reply
  16. ThursdaysGeek

    When we get updates like this, I always want updates from the other side too. What IS the CEO thinking!? I sometimes wish Alison would interview some of the people causing these issues, and see if there is any getting through to them. (I know, I know, it wouldn’t work.)

    Reply
    1. Mommy MD

      CEO is behaving like a jack a zz. I think what’s behind it is his doubt that OP may be missing a lot of work for reasons he doesn’t justify. Coworkers have no business inquiring why an extended period of work is missed but company’s do because FMLA, CESLA, etc have requirements and if the business is very small, some companies are exempt from having to allow for extended time off. The way Boss is going about it is very rude. But I think Boss having doubts about all the time off is the core issue.

      Reply
  17. Michaela Westen

    This CEO puts the “fun” in dysfunction. :p
    This lack of boundaries and taking everything personally are huge red flags IMHO. My experience with such people is they never respect, and are never satisfied. They keep pushing until they’ve taken over your life.
    Glad you’re looking for a better job! and I agree about small companies.

    Reply
  18. WellRed

    Nothing like tearing apart an employee in a group setting, thrn letting others pile on, to foster a little team building.

    Reply
  19. Coder von Frankenstein

    And one more instance of “We’re a family here!” = “We’re toxic and dysfunctional and have no respect for boundaries ever!”

    So glad to hear that your job search is yielding results. Hope you get out of there soon. In the meantime, keep reminding yourself that this is not normal; this is not sane; it’s not you, it’s them. So. Very. Them.

    Reply
  20. AKchic

    Oh my. All of this raised my hackles.

    “We’re faaaamily” needs a polite “no, we’re coworkers” or “no, I’m your employee (and you’re asking about a person you have no involvement with or relationship to).”
    CEO and the nosy coworker(s) need to be knocked back with firm boundaries. With nosy coworker, I’d be tempted to save all of the questioning notes and give them back to her when you leave. A final “you will never know, but you may as well have these back so you aren’t wasting all of this company supply”. But… I’m a nasty, vindictive sort who loves revenge fantasies.

    Real talk though, keep holding those boundaries and do what you can to get out of that place.

    Reply
  21. A.N. O'Nyme

    Well, to slightly paraphrase a comedian: “People sitting around a table talking to each other but actually not caring about each other isn’t teambuilding, that’s Christmas Eve”.
    Seriously, if they’re all “like faaaaaaaamily”, your CEO and busybody coworker are the know-it-all relatives who nobody likes but keeps around because they’re the rich ones and they’re hoping for a part of the inheritance.

    Reply
  22. MassMatt

    Wow it is bizarre that the CEO and several coworkers were so invested in being nosy about stuff that is really not their business. Really not taking the hint that you don’t want to talk about your personal life (especially your and your family’s health issues!) makes it especially nutty.

    I wish you luck, and hope your next workplace is sane!

    Reply
  23. GreyjoyGardens

    Good luck with your job search, LW! I was thinking that the company culture was a bad fit for you (and still do) but then got to the CEO and his boundary-crossing and demand for personal loyalty and thought, “LW really needs to get out of Dodge.” It’s hard to avoid falling foul of these kind of people – if it wasn’t wanting to keep personal stuff private, CEO would just find another thing to get mad about. Bosses like this don’t just want *loyalty*, they want medieval style *fealty*, which is ridiculous.

    When a higher-up emphasizes that this company is “like family”or “we’re all family here” – *especially* if it’s a small company – RUN LIKE THE DICKENS and do not look back. “We’re like family” is a giant red flag with a Jolly Roger on it. BT, DT, will not do that ever again.

    Reply
  24. Dittany

    Good lord, LW, my skin crawled just reading this. Kudos for having the sense to run far, far away from this boundary-violating dingbat, and best of luck re: getting the hell out of there.

    Reply
  25. designbot

    “The CEO seems to see his small company as an extension of himself ”
    This is so insightful, and the source of so many problems.

    Reply
    1. Tabby Baltimore

      I’d like to second that, and riff on it a bit by quoting the also-insightful gecko who posted this comment (located here: https://www.askamanager.org/2018/12/update-i-won-money-on-a-work-trip-to-vegas-do-i-have-to-donate-it-to-my-employer.html#comment-2278939) on 24 Dec for a different post (pronouns altered to fit this situation): “… this boss has an image of himself that he wants to represent, and when his employees don’t stick perfectly within that image he 1) isn’t applying empathy to understand why and 2) sees it as harmful to his own image. This gives him bad feelings and anxiety, and he … tells his employees to change their behavior … when … they stop doing the thing that feels harmful to his ego … he feels better.” Basically, the Letter Writer’s boss is press-ganging his employees to alter their behavior as a way to help him manage his own emotions related to his self-image. How sad. For everyone.

      Reply
  26. Chriama

    The CEO is seriously out of line. I wonder if the other employees were always as weird as him or if their sense of normal was warped by him… or even if they’re just going along to get along because they’re scared of retaliation. In any case, he’s a real jerk and they aren’t any better. I just don’t even understand the logic. Why the hostility? Why do they feel so entitled to know about other people, to the point that they’re hostile if anyone tries to maintain their privacy? I literally can’t even imagine the thought processes that are creating this mentality.

    Reply
    1. Michaela Westen

      I’ve seen this several times and IME it tends to be from people who are in situations where everyone is like that – as at a job – and came from families like that. There might be a cultural component also, I haven’t seen enough to be sure.
      So they think it’s normal, they’ve always lived this way and don’t know any different.
      I grew up in a place where disrespect and lack of boundaries was so normal that after I left I had to make an effort to understand these things and work on them for several years to be competent with it.

      Reply
  27. Julia

    Hm, yeah, it sounds like this is the opposite of a culture fit for you. I work at a small company and probably would be fine oversharing about my personal life and being teased about team-building and stuff… and it isn’t necessarily a good thing that I’m acclimated to that level of casualness. Those aren’t things you should be forced to get used to if they rub you the wrong way – this culture just isn’t for you.

    Plus it’s just *weird* that they refused to honor your clearly stated boundaries regarding what you were comfortable disclosing about your relative! Like, that’s basic decency 101. Awful.

    Reply
  28. Kit-Kat

    Gahhhhhh. I’m so sorry you’re being treated this way, OP, and I hope you find a new job soon.

    This reminds me of a friend’s parent when I was in high school marching band. I had some accommodations for band due to chronic illness and this lady was dyinggggg for the gossip. Being a teenager I took great delight in having vague conversations around her. This one time on a trip she literally followed me into the nurse’s room so she could creep on my med bottles. Luckily, the nurse called her out and told her to back away so I could take them in private. Omg the nerve of this woman!! My guidance counselor was also super strict that absolutely nothing be disclosed without my express permission (“family”/school getting media attention/etc types of attitudes) which was a little extra than should’ve been needed but it worked. (Said lady ran into my mom recently and tried to ask leading questions about my health. Lol.)

    Reply
  29. Former Employee

    When people who do not need to know this level of detailed information seem to insist on knowing, I’m always suspicious that their intentions are questionable, as in, that they want the information so they can use it against you at some point in the future.

    They will “know” that whatever is wrong isn’t as bad as you make it seem, so why are you taking off again/having so many MD appointments/needing so many tests, or, conversely, that everyone who has such and such will die within “X” amount of time, so no matter what you tell them regarding your actual prognosis from a real MD, they will persist in believing that it’s just a matter of time…and may even start asking ever more intrusive questions about pre-need planning!

    Reply
  30. Marie

    I can’t believe they won’t drop the topic. How insane :-/ at this point I would be tempted to say the relative has died or something just to get them off my back. Or feed them different false information

    Reply
      1. Former Employee

        The real problem is that the OP has to take time off to do things that involve the care of the relative. She couldn’t say they were deceased and simultaneously be needing tome off in connection with that same relative.

        Separately, I don’t get Mommy MD’s comment that “Company has a right to ask for verification so lying is not a good option and can be a fireable offense.”

        As far as I am aware, anyone has a right to lie to their employer about personal matters that are none of their business. Could someone get fired for lying to their nosy boss about their love life?

        Reply
      2. Jennifer Juniper

        What? The company has a right to ask for verification about a sick relative’s medical condition??? I’m pretty sure that would violate privacy laws, at least in the US.

        Reply
  31. CoveredInBees

    “The CEO instead doubled-down on his previous sentiment, going into detail about how his relative was also “standoffish” about that too”

    So this isn’t the first time he’s encountered resistance in his refusal to acknowledge boundaries. I wonder if he’s taking some of his frustration about that relative out on OP. I just can’t imagine working there, seeing this happen, and joining the pile on. It’s not great that no one is stepping in to get them to dial it down a bit, but if the CEO/HR Director is leading things I can imagine those people see it as fruitless. Still, to join in? Gross.

    Reply
  32. Nicole

    My oh my, your CEO is ridiculous. I really hope you find something new, and soon. What an interesting exit interview that will be.

    Reply
  33. Kella

    OP, I feel for you!! I try to avoid discussing my health issues with acquaintances because I know exactly how the conversation will go everytime:

    Me: blah blah blah because of my chronic pain
    Them: You have chronic pain???? Why!?
    Me: Because I have x disorder.
    Them: Oh! Have you tried physical therapy?
    Me: Yes, I’ve been going to physical therapy every other week for four years.
    Them: Well, you should really try x, y, and z. They’re so great because….

    Cue me smiling and nodding for the remainder of the conversation as they tell me all about the things that will definitely cure me that there is no way I’ve ever tried before.

    Reply
    1. Former Employee

      I try to be very careful about that sort of thing, though I will let people know about a new drug or treatment that has just been approved or a study just published that found something to be helpful because no one can keep up with everything.

      Reply
  34. Jennifer Juniper

    Blech! I wonder if there are some colleagues who don’t want to hear medical updates from their co-workers. If there are, maybe you all can push back as a group on the forced oversharing? Also, if you haven’t already, OP, please talk to your sick relative and ask them how much they feel comfortable sharing with the office busybodies. That will give you an out for at least part of this.

    Also, I feel sorry for the CEO’s sick relative!

    Reply

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