When a Coworker Has a Death in the Family

When your personal life affects your work, how much information should be shared with your coworkers? And who should do the sharing? Modern Manners Guy tackles a tough situation.

Richie Frieman,
April 22, 2015

A loyal Modern Manners Guy fan named Barbara messaged me about a weird situation at work. Her father passed away and her boss sent an email to the entire staff letting them know the news.

At first, she thought it was a kind gesture, but something didn't quite feel right. “I didn’t want to be ungrateful, but I also didn’t want everyone in the office knowing my personal business. I was going to email a select few coworkers myself,” said Barbara. Unfortunately, her boss took that judgment call out of her hands.

From her boss’ perspective, I'm sure he thought he was doing the right thing by alerting her colleagues about the passing of her father. It’s a life-altering event to say the least and he wanted to show her that the team was supportive. 

On the other hand, along with having to deal with the death of her father and the stresses that come with a funeral, Barbara was also forced to have her personal grief made public. Sure, she wanted to tell her colleagues what happened and let them know why she won’t be in the office, but isn’t that her business? Her personal life has nothing to do with work, so why should her boss bring the two together and into the spotlight? 

This is a case where professional and personal worlds collide. Though the death is a personal matter, it will cause Barbara to be away from work, which means someone has to cover for her - take on her workload, her pending meetings, her client communication, etc. And although work responsibilities are beyond trivial compared to losing a family member, they're also just a fact of being an adult.  

However, I do think Barbara's boss should not have jumped the gun and instead allowed her to initiate an email to her colleagues about the reason for her absence. Or at the very least, he should have asked her, “Would you like me to tell the team?” before dashing off to share details about her private life. 

In the end, it's up to Barbara how much information she wants to share. Maybe she’s a very private person and doesn’t want sympathy or attention? Or maybe for her, the best way to heal is to not have to talk about it with colleague after colleague, day after day. 

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Do you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career for great tips and advice on job success. It's available now!

Flowers and note image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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