my employee overshares medical details

A reader writes:

I oversee a team of five members, and one person is very open about medical stuff. If she has a medical appointment, she not only informs me that she will be out of the office for the afternoon, but also what her symptoms and pain levels are, what kind of doctor she will see, what they are looking for, etc. To be clear, I never prompt her to give me this kind of information. On a personal level, I don’t particularly mind hearing it — it’s not gory or gross, it’s more on par with what you might share with a close friend.

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

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

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 116 comments… read them below }

  1. Teapot Librarian*

    I’m having an unpleasant flashback to the time my employee sent me a photograph of his red, swollen eye. Thank goodness THAT was the photo he sent, and not the time he emailed me that “it was coming out both ends.” Shudder.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      Could be worse :) I got a picture of a peanut that had been up an employee’s child’s nose. Now that was gross!

      FTR… I was fine with her taking time for an emergency doctor appt and did not ask for details short of “I hope everything worked out”

    2. Libraryfolk*

      Just a weird coincidence from your user name – when I worked at a library my boss asked me every single time when I called in sick (which was rarely) if it was “coming out both ends.” Maybe it’s an industry term?

    3. SarahKay*

      Oh, gosh, yes, I had a co-worker do that to me too. It opened as full-screen, which would probably be more detail than I’d want of an ordinary eye, let alone a hideously blood-shot and very bruised and painful-looking eye. I was sat there desperately trying not to see the picture, while still trying to see enough of the screen and menu-bar to close the blasted thing.
      It caught my manager too, but at least we managed to warn the fourth person on the team not to look!

    4. TPO*

      Not work-related, but you’ve just reminded me of a guy who showed me photos of his inflamed gouty toe … over lunch on our first (and last!) date. I bet he still hasn’t figured out where he went wrong.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Early in my career I showed my boss the proof of my serious fall at home a few days prior: the absolutely gigantic black mass of my outside thigh.

      He hadn’t asked. 22 years ago that was and still makes me cringe.

    6. TardyTardis*

      I lived on the other side of a cubicle from someone I named “General Hospital”. I knew more about her grandfather’s symptoms than anyone but the doctor!

  2. agnes*

    Some people come from previous workplace environments where it wasn’t OK to take time off or where the employer asked way too many questions. This might stop once you make it clear that you don’t want to know or need to know. Good luck.

    1. Tryinghard*

      I came from a place where management expected to know what was happening in some fairly deep details and if you cited HIPAA or complained in any way you weren’t a good team player. when I moved on it was extremely hard to break those habits that had just been ingrained in me for 5 years. But having some light-hearted conversations with my boss about it and him being upfront and clear that he didn’t need to know and that it was a violation of HIPAA and a whole bunch of other conversations really made a difference. But it still took time for me myself to be okay just saying hey I need to take a little bit of time off because I’ve got something going on versus having to explain I’ve got a doctor’s appointment or I’m doing this that are the other thing and even today 5 years later I’m still struggling from that time.

      1. Rin*

        It was absolutely wrong, but what you experienced was not a violation of HIPAA. HIPPA only applies to health care providers, not your employer.

      2. Jam Today*

        Its not a HIPAA violation. That only applies to clinical providers and their business partners.

        1. Morag*

          On the list of things I’ve learned as a manager during a pandemic, is that HIPAA applies to employers who self-fund their medical insurance plan. So we’ve become very careful about saying “Stop, call Occupational Medicine, and let them let us know if you’re allowed to come to work. I don’t need the details.”

    2. Anon for this*

      Yeah, my manager has a frustrating tendency to ask us way too many detailed questions about our medical ailments (probably out of a concern that they’re due to stress). So we’ve gotten into the habit of sharing more medical information than we’d probably otherwise share with each other, in an effort to head off a frantic phone call to make sure we are still living and not dead or in the ER dying later on in the day.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        “Would you like a slide show about anal fissures? Because I can give you one. No?” That should shut down almost any manager.

    3. Brownie*

      Yup. Over the last 6 years I’ve had 4 different people who approve my sick time and every time they switched I’d have to figure out what their level of needing to know was before they’d approve my time off for being at their appropriate level of “too sick to work”. Thankfully my current one only needs “I’m sick” or “doctor appointment” as the reason. My first supervisor wanted to know all about the symptoms I had, how long I’d had them, and so on which was entirely not helpful when all I wanted was for them to say “approved” so I could go be miserable in bed. It was a revelation when the supervisor after that gently let me know I didn’t have to go TMI just to get sick time off approved, that they trusted me enough not to try and second-guess if I was sick enough to really need the time off.

    4. IStealPens*


      I don ‘t work in that type of environment anymore but I did back in the day. And what was worse than management questioning it, was the other employees gossiping about how youre faking it.

      So unless I am going to get a pap smear I typically say I am going to a doctor to have X checked out. As Alison has said before, working in toxic work environment stays with you for a VERY long time.

    5. Wintermute*

      yup, this could easily be toxic rebound syndrome, where they would outright deny sick time if they didn’t think you were sick enough, or would expect you to work from home while sick unless you gave them graphic details of how leaving the four foot vicinity of your toilet was not realistic.

    6. asgard*

      They’ve already done that.

      and at the same time remind them that their health status is private and that they have no obligation to disclose anything beyond the duration of their sick leave.

  3. many bells down*

    Honestly, this is me. I always feel like I need to give more detail and I really don’t know why.

    1. WellRed*

      But if people don’t ask for details when you get back, do you feel slighted? I’m guessing no.

    2. kittymommy*

      This is me too. Although I’m not bothered if people don’t ask about the visit afterwards, I honestly don’t notice.

    3. Rachel in NYC*

      I do it but I know why. When I’m having a bad week medically, I end up in bed, shades down, heads under covers. And at my current job that’s totally doable (the sick leave policy is why I’m there.)

      But I’ve had years where I’ve used more sick days then vacation days. So I want my bosses to know that I’m trying a new treatment or new drug combo so I won’t be out as much. Really, so they know that I’m trying to be a better employee since sick day usage isn’t something that they can comment about but I’m aware that I use a LOT.

    4. meyer lemon*

      I always feel guilty about taking a sick day, no matter how sick I am, so I have to fight an urge to “prove” that I’m really sick. Even though my manager is totally understanding, and even though I work (from home) when sick more often than not. I think it comes from years of working in retail, where they would ask me to come in unless I gave them a vivid description of why that was a bad idea. (And this was in food prep, as well. Gross.)

    5. Sylvan*

      I feel compelled to explain myself. Like, always, whether it’s health-related or not. I would explain that here, but I actually don’t know the reason.

      OP could try saying that no explanation is needed, if this comes up again.

      1. Birdie*

        I definitely feel that urge, as well. I’ve worked hard to resist it and just say, “I’m not feeling well” or “I’m under the weather,” instead, but last time I had to call out during a crunch time at work, I totally overshared. I wanted to be sure they knew I wouldn’t leave them in the lurch for anything less than significant illness! In reality, my boss and coworkers knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t have been out that week if I could’ve avoided it, but my feverish mind was not thinking clearly enough to recognize that.

  4. Mary*

    I have had exactly the same problem. Despite telling my employees that they don’t need to justify their requests for time off to me by providing details of their or their families’ medical issues, they kept doing it. Then, when I finally got the idea across, they interpreted that as “well, you don’t want to know anything personal that’s going on with us” even though I would regularly ask how they were, etc. just not in the context of their time off requests. I gave up at that point.

  5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    I think it’s about getting the right group tone (meaning everybody feels comfortable). In every large group you are going to have that one over-sharer. It’s about reigning in the over-sharer just enough that everyone else in the group is comfortable and able to determine what the level of information being required actually is.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Going to add the caveat that this is an older letter – so it is pre-COVID. I know some places are asking for generic symptoms just so that if it is on the COVID spectrum they can work things out to keep people who may have it away to limit spread.

      1. Dave*

        This has been a major issue for us in the past year. Before if you were sick you were sick. Now it is could this be COVID or if you list things that could be COVID without pointing to it is something else you are home for 10 days. (We had someone that often suffered from post big game hangovers and they learned you can’t do that during COVID because symptoms can match to a certain amount and if you don’t disclose more you are stuck at home quarantining. Made worse when you say your family is sick … . )

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yeah – my immediate boss has been excellent at advocating for working from home when and if possible for anybody needing to stay home for possible exposure. She would like to have us all home right now, but we deal with the public so it’s just not possible to have all of us home all the time.

    2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Indeed. It’s a bigger challenge if the over-sharer is in a smaller group or is otherwise in a position where they have more perceived power within the group (seniority, etc.). You don’t want that person inadvertently setting the tone for the rest of your team, y’know?

      We once had a hard-core over-sharer in a larger team, and it wasn’t an issue; it was just that person’s quirk. When, during a re-org they were moved to a much smaller team where their were by far the longest-tenured person, it created a very different dynamic. There were some other elements to this that didn’t help matters, but her over-sharing and focus on how she “thinks being open is important and collegial” sent very mixed messages to newer/younger staffers.

  6. Mr Jingles*

    Maybe she is lonely and has no one else to tell? Maybe she’s frightened by medical procedures and maybe her familydownplays her sickness and tells her she couldn’t call in sick for that and she needs your affirmation that it’s really ok.
    Maybe ask her whyshe feels she has to share. Itcould shed a light on that behaviour. My boss asked me why I’d always overshare when I am sick. Really helped me gainperspective when I told him I didn’t want him to think I was a slacker and he said:
    Do you really think I’d believe that about you? What have I done wrong that you don’t know how much I trust you!

  7. Jennifer*

    I think it’s possible that she either worked somewhere in the past where she wasn’t believed when she had medical appointments and had to give all the details in order to get time off or she thinks that she and the OP are good friends for some reason.

    “I hope you’re feeling better,” is a nice, generic comment to make when someone returns from sick leave. If she cools it with the overly detailed sick leave requests, maybe you can meet her halfway there.

    1. pretzelgirl*

      I wonder this as well. I have a friend who had a work place like this. Her boss always demanded to know why they were calling out or going to the doc. The boss would giver her a hard time about calling off (this was prior to COVID 19, I am not sure how things have changed). So maybe this person is used to giving alot of detail as to why they are leaving early or calling off. Old habits die hard.

      1. pretzelgirl*

        Also if she is coming from the restaurant or retail industry this may have been something she had to do. They are notorious for basically forcing you to work even if you are sick as a dog (although 2020 may have changed the industry mindset). I had a coworker come in after she woke up from anesthesia from her wisdom teeth removal. She tried to get time off, it wasn’t granted and she needed the job/money. She couldn’t risk getting fired.

    2. SarahKay*

      I tend to go for “Did everything go okay?”, or “I hope everything went okay”, depending on the person I’m talking to. I figure that lets them know that I care, and also gives them scope to just say “Yes, fine thanks” and change the subject, or tell me more if they feel they need to talk about it.

  8. Sara without an H*

    OP, does this person overshare with you about other topics? I’m a little concerned about your comment that the employee “feels slighted by my apparent lack of concern.” Have you noticed any tendency on her part to share more than is appropriate in a supervisory relationship?

    I may be oversensitive to this, having once had to manage someone who wanted a mama, rather than a supervisor. But if the employee shows a tendency to overshare across the board, you should consider gently reinforcing professional boundaries.

    1. Renata Ricotta*

      OK, but to some extent most humans are “attention seekers.” Seeking attention isn’t necessarily a cardinal sin or a sign of some insidious level of narcissism. In a personal relationship, I would also likely feel comfortable sharing, and mildly hurt if I told a friend or family member I was going to get an MRI and they seemed totally uninterested in the results. That doesn’t mean something extreme or negative is happening.

      And different people draw the line between personal/work relationships at different places. This one is kind of in the gray area where it could go either way, which is why Alison said that the OP could decide how she wants to handle it.

      1. Firecat*

        Yeah there are so many innocent and not oddly needy reasons for this.

        They are socially awkward and struggle to understand the lone between closed off and overshare.
        Their previous job was in healthcare.
        Their previous job demanded these details so they got into the habit of providing them.
        They are stressed about their health and so divulge to much.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yes to healthcare field. I’m back office adjacent and even pre-COVID my bosses would ask for generic symptoms to make sure nothing really nasty or contagious had accidentally been spread by a patient. They are even more symptom-tracking now due to COVID.

    2. Just a Thought*

      Ouch! People are different — with different needs and resources for meeting those needs. I think coaching to reduce the oversharing would be useful. To me that can look like interrupting during the next too detailed review and say “I want to make sure you that you know that you don’t need to share all of this to get your time off approved”. And then Alison’s suggestion about why you are not doing follow up on her health issues. You’ll find out if she can take a hint or whether you need to be more direct and and end up with a more distant but more professional relationship.

    3. Autistic AF*

      This kind of bias, ironically, contributes to over-sharing in my experience. Being forced to prove there’s a legitimate medical problem creates some really toxic patterns.

        1. Sylvan*

          Someone who’s treated as an attention seeker might try to prove they’re not just seeking attention by providing details.

        2. Jennifer*

          I agree. I got the “attention-seeker” vibe too. There could be other reasons why she feels she needs to provide details, but I think this is a potential reaosn.

          1. Autistic AF*

            It’s certainty a potential reason. We’re responding within a thread where it’s stated as THE reason, however. Why is “attention seeking” more likely than any other reasons, like those firecat commented above?

        3. Autistic AF*

          There’s a well-documented bias against women in the medical community, which OP’s direct report has likely encountered given the need for advanced testing such as an MRI. The point is that even if her manager isn’t pushing for that information, there are still systemic issues.

  9. Courtney*

    I had to read this to make sure it wasn’t my coworker. She goes to the doctor 3 or 4 days a week and regularly takes half days and cancels meetings due to her ailments. And sends *detailed* emails describing symptoms and treatment plans and the HEPA filters she needs, etc, to all of her coworkers. It is my impression that she overshares for attention; might be the same with this person. In addition to the concern Alison has about the behavior creating an expectation of sharing medical info, I’d add that it can just make people uncomfortable to have to hear about and react to another person’s medical issues on an ongoing basis. You try to be empathetic and understanding, but when it is an ongoing problem and a constant subject of discussion with that coworker, it becomes emotionally draining and very distracting.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This. I said above it’s about hitting the balance of making everyone comfortable (while also making clear somehow that the over-sharer is the exception).

      But still, when the oversharing is making other people uncomfortable management needs to reign in the over-sharer.

  10. LawLady*

    I used to do this something terrible, and I think it’s because I had parents who believed that unless I was bleeding out or 100+ degrees, there was no reason for me not to go to school. So when I was sick I had to really lay it on thick with just how sick I was.

    Thankfully in my first job after college, my manager was able to sit me down and say “hey, I trust that you’re really sick, you don’t need to tell me exactly how you’re sick, you can just tell me you’re ill and you’re going to be out.”

    1. Queen Anon*

      I knew someone in high school whose parents always made her and her siblings go to school sick unless they were literally throwing up that morning. I’ve wondered off and on throughout the years how many people that family infected in their various schools and if they’re still doing it at work.

      1. CoveredInBees*

        I wonder how many (if any) sick days those parents had to care for sick children. By the time they’ve reached high school, they could probably stay home alone if it wasn’t too bad, but it might have become habit by then.

      2. pretzelgirl*

        I wonder how COVID is going to change this mindset. Right now (at least at my workplace and kid’s school) we have been told to stay home if we are sick. We get screened daily and get sent home if we even have stomach trouble etc. Even if its not COVID. My kids get sent home for a headache or anything else and need a doctor’s note to return. No more powering through so you “don’t look bad” for being sick. Which is good I am glad both places are taking precautions.

        That being said thanks to masks and social distancing, our family has been relatively healthy.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, same here. Last year I had a cold in February, so before COVID. After that, nothing. My husband had to get tested in the fall, but I haven’t yet had to. I’m in an area where we’re allowed to exercise outdoors without a mask. I find masks so uncomfortable that I prefer to stay at home rather than go anywhere unless I absolutely have to. My husband’s doing the grocery run for us. My son’s been at school since August. They keep all books at home so that anyone can switch to remote learning if they get sick or are exposed. He had one week of remote learning in August, and another in November because a teacher got exposed but tested negative, but since then, nothing. The teachers aren’t expected to do hybrid teaching, but he’s independent enough that he can do assignments if he’s at home. He’d rather be in school, though, and I don’t blame him, the assignments just feel like tons of homework. What with kids stuck at home and deprived of the company of their peers for months on end, I honestly worry about their mental health and their socialization.

    2. Hlyssande*

      This this this. I’m almost 39 and I still find it hard to shake the ‘justification via overshare’ pattern. My school nurses really didn’t like me, I’d be the kid there several days in a row because my parents sent me to school ‘just to give it a try’.

  11. OkGo!*

    Question: Do I need to inform my boss of an appointment? I am mostly given free reign to do what I need to and control my calendar. I’m doing some PT soon for reasons that are private and I don’t want to disclose (I think she would only ask in a friendly way, but I don’t know how to respond to that). Can I just put it on the shared calendar that I’m out and leave it at that?

    1. WellRed*

      I usually give my boss a heads up: “I’ll be leaving early tomorrow for a dr appt” but that’s it. I think the same could be done with recurring appts like PT.

    2. Uranus Wars*

      If you are mostly given free reign and have control of your own calendar I wouldn’t. Even if you didn’t you really don’t have to disclose why you are taking PTO to a reasonable boss. I make hair appointment, nail appointments, dentist appointments, during the day now and just block my time out, whether or not I take PTO. I commented below but after a year at this place I realized management DOES NOT CARE (as long as my work is done).

    3. Renata Ricotta*

      It probably depends on the culture of your workplace, whether you need to flag it as medical related. I put similar things on my calendar as a “personal appointment,” and also indicate whether it’s out of the office or not so people know I’m not available to schedule something else immediately afterward (because I have to have time to get back to the office). If someone was asking whether it was flexible/easy to reschedule, I might specify it’s medical to explain why it isn’t easily moveable.

    4. TPS reporter*

      Note this only applies to exempt employees: The general policy in my office is to inform only if we’re going to be gone for a half day or more. Otherwise, an hour or two out is part of the flexibility of being an exempt employee. We just want you to get your work done and be available for important meetings. If your appointment conflicts with an important meeting then that is a reason to notify.

    5. 3DogNight*

      You really need to confirm this with your boss. Where we work, we have free reign over our calendars, too. If we’re doing something where we’d be gone less than an hour, then no issues. More than 2 hours and we need to take PBA (or VACA or whatever). My husband works for the same company, in a different group, and his time line is 1/2 day. Other groups where we work, if you’re more than a minute unaccounted for, it’s a huge problem (think call center). So it is a very cultural difference, and business need based.

    6. Cat Tree*

      I always let my boss and direct team mates know, just in case they have an urgent question so they know to ask someone else instead of searching for me. I never have to explain what the appointments are for. I have several chronic conditions so I have a lot of appointments and it has never been a problem.

    7. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I think you could say “I have a couple of appointments coming up; I was planning to note the times I’ll be out on the shared calendar. Is that all you need, or would you like an email as well?” If she asks what they’re for, you could cheerfully respond “oh, just a few things to take care of — nothing major!”

    8. pretzelgirl*

      It depends on the boss and the culture. My current place, as long as I give him a heads up he doesn’t care. I worked for a boss once that made you take an entire day off for one doctor’s appt. Even if it was early. I am not sure why. I think eventually he was told to knock it off, bc other departments could come in late or leave early etc.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Yeah, that’s strange. I wonder what’s behind wanting someone to take the entire day off for just one appointment. Maybe this is someone who has a lot of experience with doctors who run extremely late? Maybe it’s a weird power play where they’re trying to punish people for appointments by making their absence as obvious and inconvenient as possible? Huh.

  12. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I had an attention-seeking coworker and while she was not quite this bad with details she would overshare on any of her or her family’s ailments and feel annoyed if you didn’t even say hello when she walked in and would have loved for anyone to ask how her appointments were, to enable her to share some more for attention. For this person, it stemmed, I believed, from some deep insecurities.

    But it also might be like others have said, from previous bosses needing the extra detail.

    I think telling her gently to tone it down a little might help.

    1. Just a Thought*

      Right – so is that attention-seeking or need to feel connected to help reduce their anxiety.

      1. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        For that person? She was attention seeking because (maybe) one person being shared with would be enough to reduce the anxiety. When the sharing is with *everyone*, one at a time, there’s something else going on. There was a lot going on in her poor head.

  13. Uranus Wars*

    I have been on both sides of this and I think it’s hard to decipher the why but it could be worth talking to her about “hey, I trust your time” but also it might be time to look and see if there are other boundaries she crosses.

    I way overshared when I first got here because previously I worked at a place who once thought someone who WAS ADMITTED TO THE HOSPITAL when they went to the ER was lying off about calling in sick, even with a picture of him hooked up to IVs sent in by his mother to our boss who asked if he could come in later that day. So for my first year I would massively explain my requested time off.

    I recently managed an oversharer. But she overshared about EVERYTHING. Because she wanted me to be her friend and not her boss, and that was another conversation around things that I, as a boss, don’t need to know. Do I want to know how you weekend was? Yes. Do I want play-by-ply of your fight with your husband or of any sickness that reigned down on your home? No.

  14. caradom*

    This person is an attention seeking nightmare! She follows the same path other people like this do: she overshares information that is not appropriate and then completely violates boundaries by getting prissy when you don’t check in on her and make a fuss. Next time she starts to overshare act like management: ‘unless it is relevant to how it is affecting your work we shouldn’t be discussing it. It’s not appropriate considering our job roles.’

    Before you do this inform your manager and HR so if she becomes more nutty they are forewarned. Then when she starts repeatedly shut her down: ‘This is too much personal information. If you require further support please say so and I will check if we can provide it.’ If you feel comfortable say something along the lines of support being counselling.

    At the moment you don’t mind. But the more you let it go the worse they get

    1. Renata Ricotta*

      I think it’s worth remembering that OP specifies this is *not* in “nightmare” territory for her — it isn’t gory, gross, or over the top and in line with how one would talk with a friend. She doesn’t mind hearing it, and it’s not at “nutty” level. It’s just more than is strictly necessary and she doesn’t want her other employees getting the wrong idea that it is. OP can choose whether to gently redirect for the sake of other employees who might inaccurately surmise this level of disclosure is necessary for them too. I think some of the extreme reactions to this woman, who is making conversation in a way that would be perfectly fine in a lot of social situations, are pretty unkind.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        I agree that people are being a bit extra when it comes to calling this person an attention seeker. That’s somewhat unfair. Here’s the thing, though: as a friend, there’s very little power you can exert over someone else. As their manager, there’s a heck of a lot more. The kinds of conversation that you make in social settings can sometimes be fodder for business decisions, and it’s important for both you and your manager for you to have a level of discretion that’s reflective of your manager’s role. Without that discretion, you can create some awkward at best, or invite your manager to normalize massive intrusions into their subordinates’ personal lives at worst.

        1. caradom*

          That’s the point, it is not a friend it is her manager. I wouldn’t blink if it was a friend.

      2. Autistic AF*

        OP’s also unsure of how their direct report feels about their generic welcoming afterwards – they say “I think she thinks it’s cold and distant of me.” They also haven’t addressed that if they’re asking whether they should. The answer in both cases is better communication, but the “attention seeking” crowd doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge that OP shares responsibility for that solution. Approaching it as the direct report being “prissy”, “nightmare”, “nutty”, etc. is NOT better communication – this is an adult who deserves to be treated as such.

        1. caradom*

          You need to tell your manager you are unwell and to make accommodation. You don’t get to start reeling off in depth personal information. He’s a manager, not a friend.

          1. Autistic AF*

            Do you honestly think it’s that simple, and that that simple act of generic disclosure will always work?

      3. caradom*

        Yeah but it starts off with ‘I’m not fussed’ but often progresses to ‘I can’t deal with this anymore’. Your boss is not your friend.

  15. Stormy Weather*

    When I had breast cancer, I sat down with my boss and told him and advised exactly what my treatment plan was going to be and what time off I was going to be needing. This included surgery and radiation therapy and various appointments.

    I had to reschedule my hours so I could get the radiation therapy daily. I needed to work at home at least one day a week because radiation gives you horrid fatigue.

    Because my boss knew what was going on, we were able to keep me working. I was also able to go up to him some afternoons and say, “I’ve got fatigue,” and he’d say, “go home.”

    Now I wasn’t talking about how my partial mastectomy scar was feeling or how I was in pain, but there is a reason to share medical information.

    1. blink14*

      Agreed – I started treatment for a chronic disorder that originally was going to require me to miss one day a month for about 6 months, before I would able to switch to the at home version. I laid out my plan for my boss with the expectation that I may need to take the following day off after each treatment as well. I ended up switching to the at home version sooner than I thought, which has worked out better all around, but this was a case where I had to give my boss a lot of detail.

    2. Bee*

      Yes, I was going to say: if this is the kind of thing that requires MRIs, it might be something she feels she needs to keep you in the loop on in case her needs change.

  16. blink14*

    Some people share too much, and some people share too little. I had a former co-worker who bounced between both extremes – sometimes we heard way too many details about an illness or appointment, and other times, we heard nothing but they would come into work visibly ill, which was very problematic.

    I have to be somewhat open about a couple of my chronic conditions, because both of them put me at a higher risk of getting sick if someone comes in sick, and potentially even more ill than that person. I was very upfront and stuck to the facts on this with the above former co-worker, as was our boss about her own situation. It was agreed upon that any of us feeling sick would stay home and either work from home or take sick time (we have VERY generous sick time).

    One time, I had just come back from being out with pneumonia, still felt like hell, and this co-worker came in, visibly sick themselves. My boss about lost her mind and forced the person to go home, and stay home, until they could produce a back to work note from a doctor.

    In this case, I would encourage you to tell your employee that you want them to take the time needed, but they shouldn’t feel obligated to tell you why – basically saying I trust you with your sick time, do what you need to do. But, given that they will still share information on some level, a simple “hope things went well” or “glad to see you are feeling better” can also go a long way to just acknowledge someone else’s struggles.

  17. Laura*

    Getting an MRI is different than generally “not feeling well” and I’d hope that my manager would care about what was going on as well. I often shared some details with my manager because I rightly anticipated it impacting my work and timelines, and I’d rather they understand the gravity of something happening to help mitigate.

    I don’t see anything in the OP that indicates this employee is sharing broadly and widely in public. It sounds like she just goes into detail with her manager. But perhaps I missed it.

    1. Lana Kane*

      This is tricky, because I’ve also known coworkers who don’t want their managers talking to them about their health. This is not the only example, but theone I remember most was a coworker who set up a series of appointment with her psychologist. She didn’t tell her supervisor anything other than that she needed these dates/times off for a medical appt. Our supervisor approved them and said, “hope everything is ok”. This made my coworker upset, because she didn’t want Supervisor commenting on her medical issues in aaaany way.

      Others just dont want to talk about this stuff at work, since work is where they forget about what’s going on in their personal lives.

      All to say – this is definitely going to vary by person and at some point, someone’s going to get it wrong!

    2. Web Crawler*

      Getting an MRI is only sometimes different than “not feeling well”. Like others have said, it depends on the person.

      I got an MRI because I have frequent migraines and they wanted to rule out Bad Things. I prefer not talking about it at work.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yup – had to have a knee mri after a car crash – “doctor is very thorough and want to do all the diagnostic tests just to be safe (that was how I put it to my job).

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, better to be safe than sorry. That said, if I needed an MRI, I’d probably have to take the whole day off, or at least the afternoon. I have moderate claustrophobia and just the idea of going head first into a narrow tube makes me twitch. I’d probably have to be tranked to a fare-thee-well to be able to go through with it, and I’d definitely need someone to drive me home.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I had an MRI several years ago and was able to schedule it in an open MRI, which is more like a donut instead of a cave. ( I actually felt a bit like I was in some futuristic TV show while it was passing back and forth around me.) If it’s an option, I always recommend the open MRI for anyone prone to claustrophobia. It also depends on what part of you they are imaging. My spouse had a head-only MRI, and they only cranked him into the tube far enough to get his head.

          My MRI was also not for a serious or major illness, and I was able to schedule it in the evening so it did not conflict with work. I doubt anyone at work knows I’ve even had one. (I did send an annotated picture from it to my spouse and mother to show the actual result.)

  18. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I’ve had managers who were not satisfied with me calling out sick or going to a doctor’s appointment; I had to justify how sick I was before they reluctantly ‘granted’ the use of my allotted sick days, or bring a doctor’s note – once from an ER visit! When I started a new job with a sane manager, I overshared so I couldn’t be accused of taking a day off for a case of the sniffles.

    It’s a sad reality that some bad managers helped create this kind of habit or reflex. Maybe that’s not the case here, but I’ve seen and experienced it enough to think it could be.

    1. blink14*

      Been there! At my former job, my boss would play the game of “well, I might let you make up the time instead of using your sick time, but you know, the home office doesn’t do that”, and then sometimes the human in her would come out and actually be generous. Our sick time was literally 4 days/year.

  19. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    It might be helpful to explain to the over-sharer that, whether they intend it this way or not, providing too many details can come across as asking for permission and/or approval to take care of their life in a certain way, which isn’t an appropriate thing for you to grant as a manager.

    That might seem heavy-handed, but the reality is that a manager with, well, looser boundaries or who is a bit paternalistic could easily take advantage of someone providing too many details. Even if you’re not that type of manager, from a professional development standpoint it’s not a bad thing to want employees to develop a healthy sense of self-preservation.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Thanks. I think it’s also a good idea to add biases here as well. You don’t know what your manager’s biases are, nor do you know how good they are at checking said biases. Heck, your manager probably doesn’t have full knowledge of their implicit biases! That means that it’s probably best to not provide information that might play into their negative biases unless absolutely necessary.

        When I say bias, I don’t just mean race or that kind of thing. For example, an old job used to have a staggered start/end time option that you could choose without needing a life justification. Obviously lots of people opted in so that they could manage daycare and school drop-offs, but I remember a colleague who shifted her schedule so that she could pick her puppy up from doggy daycare. That was totally allowed where we worked, but being explicit about it didn’t help her relationship with her rather anti-pet manager. You can’t make everyone happy, but sometimes it’s just easier to keep certain details on the downlow.

  20. Richard Hershberger*

    Reading the comments, they seem split between she over-shares because a previous employer made her justify any time off; and she over-shares because she is seeking attention. Either could be true, but so also it might be that neither is true. Lots of people routinely share medical information as a topic for discussion, like they might talk about the family vacation and how the kids are doing in school.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Agreed. I’ve come at my commentary from similar assumptions. It’s just that even though those things can be okay topics of discussion, the connotation can be different when a time off request to your manager is involved. So many questions come in from people whose employers have been openly judgmental in response to knowing how people use their PTO and sick leave that it makes sense to not contribute to an environment where you’re basically asking your manager to pass judgement on the specifics of your life.

    2. Lana Kane*

      Absolutely. There are several reasons why this happens, and you can only know by having a chat with that person and discussing it.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I come from a family of over-sharers, and they don’t do it for attention, they just believe in living their lives like open books. It is who they are, and these people are trainable – they just need the rules spells out for them.

  21. Cassidy*

    Years ago, while in college, I worked as a server at a well-know steakhouse. A co-worker called in sick one evening due to an emergency tooth removal. The manager, a real jerk, threatened to fire her if she didn’t come in regardless. She was a single mother, conscientious and very polite, who never made it a habit of calling in. But in she came, with her chin in a sort of sling, barely able to speak, hopped up on pain medication. (A big picture of that scenario for me was that I was getting a college degree so that I would greatly lessen my chances of having to be at the mercy of such a BS manager).

    I still remember how so very furious I was on her behalf, and it took me a while in my professional work to not feel I had to over-share details of a doctor’s appointment or feeling unwell as proof that I was calling in with good reason. Not sure if that’s the deal with the OP’s employee, especially given the part about “You don’t care how I am,” but the post reminded me of my co-worker’s experience nonetheless and the lingering effect it had on me for a time.

    1. pretzelgirl*

      Restaurants are notorious for this. I think there was a meme floating around a while ago that was basically a guy calling off bc one of his parents died. The boss replied, ” I am so sorry. You will be coming in tonight, for your shift though…right?”

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I once had an accident on the way into my job at a restaurant. It was raining and I slipped while closing my car door and managed to completely close my thumb in the door(!!!). I stumbled into the back door of the kitchen and then passed out in the dish sink. My coworker had seen me and came running, grabbed a clean towel for my bleeding finger, and then ran for the first aid kit. A few minutes later, while I was still trying not to vomit, my manger came in and said, “Hurry up and put a band-aid on that, I just sat you a table.”

      1. Autistic AF*

        Sure, it’d be illegal. It’s the employee’s burden to prove that in court, though. Someone in a restaurant likely has no union and there might not even be HR.

  22. Fried Eggs*

    I had a boss once who always said “I hope everything’s okay. Please let me know if there’s anything you need from me” when I was going to a lot of doctor’s appointments.

    I always thought it was the perfect way to show concern and empathy without prying.

    Could be a good way for the LW here to show concern without offering to “talk.”

  23. BellaDiva*

    I once sent a picture of my newly acquired stiches and bruised face to my boss with “Hey Boss, are these kind of piercings okay for the office?” (I tripped and fell face-first into a table edge and had four stitches through my eyebrow – at least I didn’t send him the picture of the gaping wound, lol).

    1. CoveredInBees*

      A very know-your-audience move. I think it’s hilarious now, but might have mixed feelings at work.

      1. BellaDiva*

        Very true. I’ve worked with him for about ten years now, so definitely knew how he’d react.

  24. Medea*

    I wonder how the advice would change if it was about a family member’s issues. One of my colleagues had a relative hospitalized with something life-threatening. It was a really horrible time for the whole family. Colleague had a hard time working regular hours etc. We were as supportive as possible within the team but the regular updates on the procedures and the general status of things was hard on me. I cannot imagine sharing such details with anyone at work, let alone the whole team.

  25. Firecat*

    Did your coworker use to work for a hospital? Lol.

    As a former healthcare worker I struggle with this. Our team was just very informed about all things health so it was not unusual for a coworker to ask 30 questions about your health to give you their medical opinion.

    Now that I’m in a new job and worried I overshare.

    1. SnapCrackleStop*

      I’m one of the few non-clinical people on my team, even though we don’t work in care delivery. There’s definitely more sharing than I’m used to elsewhere because folks are often looking for others to weigh in with their experience.

  26. ChronicallyGuiltyofThis*

    As a person with a chronic illness, I have a tendency to overshare details of medical appointments and time off, but I do it intentionally! I know that I take far more medical time off regularly than most other employees, and linking it to a chronic condition my boss is vaguely familiar with helps remind him why I’m gone so much. I wonder if there’s something like that going on here.

    I do try to tone it down in front of interns or newer people so they don’t feel obligated to do the same, for what it’s worth.

  27. Amy Santiago crossed with Sheldon*

    I’ve recently been in this situation from the employee’s point of view (and I also work in a team of 5 which makes me wonder…). I went through a medical procedure and on telling my boss he basically jumped in and said “you don’t have to tell me anything”. I think he meant well but it put me in a really awkward position as I felt I needed to tell him because
    a) I wasn’t sure if the treatment side-effects would turn me into a three-headed demon (they didn’t, it was completely fine)
    b) I wasn’t sure of the impact on my work time and mental health.
    I really wanted to tell him so that he was informed and able to provide any work based support needed but his immediate dash away from the topic left me concerned that he would not know enough and potentially I could find my position threatened if I didn’t have full management support there to defend me if needed.
    It all turned out fine but my suggestion to the OP would be to say:
    “I don’t need to know the full details but are there any aspects that you feel you need me to know from a work point of view so that we can ensure the right support/adaptations are in place for you?”
    That way you are focussing the conversation on work but making them feel protected and supported at work.

  28. Office Rat*

    I had to double check that this was not about one of my coworkers. She does loud phone calls about her medical issues in the middle our our workday on her cell phone. We are pretty easy going, and are always allowed to step out because we aren’t customer facing, but she never does. I have seen surgical sites, been asked about deeply personal mental health issues, and asked advice on how to “handle HR” when she wants time off for the billionth time that week.

    When I first came on board, I was shocked because she keeps her prescription meds on her desk. Due to my previous career, I instantly recognized pain meds and anti-anxiety meds. I try not to look, but sometimes they are just sitting there with the tops off and pills sitting out.

    I think the only reasons she’s still there, because she’s also a poor performer, is her team manager is very weak on managing any issues that come up and it would take consistent documentation to deal with her.

    Luckily we are all in Covid work from home, and it sounds like we may never be going back to an office, so I don’t have to deal with it anymore because we don’t work closely together.

  29. Faith*

    I had a senior coworker who–after talking about how they maybe had a rash–pushed down their pants, pulled up the back of their shirt, and asked if I could see a rash on their lower back. Seriously. Said coworker lived alone and I know wasn’t trying to make it anything sexual, but Holy Inappropriate Actions, Batman.

    I was so shocked in the moment that all I could do was muster a “I’m not a doctor, I have no idea, you should see your doctor.” I thank years of reading AskAManager for the fact I was able to make any coherent response.

    So…yeah. If you’re not talking accommodations/some other way it’s affecting work, leave your medical commentary at home or in the doctor’s office, please. And ESPECIALLY don’t ask junior coworkers to diagnose you.

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