When Should You Share a Coworker's Personal News?

When a colleague in your office suffers a loss, how do you handle sharing the news with your coworkers? Or should you even share it at all?

Richie Frieman
3-minute read

Recently, I received an email from a Modern Manners Guy Twitter follower named Craig, about having whether or not to share personal news about a coworker with his colleagues. Now, before you think that Craig’s “personal news” was rudely gossiping about a failed relationship or poking fun about said colleague who “may have” had plastic surgery, it was the complete opposite. Craig was thinking from the heart when his coworker Alice lost her mother and was absent from work for two weeks. Being closer with Alice than anyone else in the office, Craig new about her mother’s illness for a while yet never made it known since it wasn’t his job to do. But when her mother passed, Craig was torn about whether to tell people himself, or let Alice address it (if she chose to). He asked me what you do in this situation, and having been in his shoes before, I was able to empathize with his dilemma.

I found this to be an interesting and good topic since it’s bound to happen in any office. As well, it’s a topic that honestly, I'm on the fence about. I mean, one part says, “Yes, everyone will want to know and send their regards,” while the other side of argues, “It’s a private issue that should say that way unless Alice brings it up.” However, having been through this, I learned to lean towards letting your colleagues know something rather than nothing. For starters, when someone goes missing for a while, people start to ask questions. Having no answers or the manager saying, “Don’t worry about it,” only makes the situation stranger. Secondly, the reason you should tell your colleagues is about your family in the office.  I don’t care what type of office you work in, or how cutthroat it may be, but your colleagues are an extended (and sometimes bizarre) type of family.  When you spend 40+ hours a week with people day in and day out, you become close, and as Craig did, you become concerned.

This doesn't mean you are entitled to be hyper-involved in everyone’s business, but it does mean that you can (and should) care.  With that, when it’s about the death of a family member or close friend of a colleague, something that you know is weighing on their mind, it can greatly affect their personal and professional life. Giving them space is key, and to do that, others in the office should be aware of what they’re going through. I mean, let’s say colleagues in the office didn’t know about Alice’s mother, and then YOU are the one that happened to dump a boatload of work her desk, or ask her rudely, “Where have you been? I’ve been calling and emailing you!?!?” Talk about feeling like a jerk, right? But how could you have known?

With that, I recommend sharing the news—but too much. Just enough to know that they need some space. It's not your job to go into detail, but showing you respect your colleague's feelings, is the most proper thing to do. When there is an issue with a colleague, the formal process should always come from the top down, so lean on management to make that call. Be it in an email or at a small staff meeting, state that said colleague has suffered a loss, you’ll be sending a card (which is a must) and you are respectfully giving them room/time to grieve.

Alright, Mannerly Nation let me know what you think of this topic, and comment below or on social media. As well, 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.

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