The 3 Rules of Talking About Your Health at Work

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 While we may label ourselves as professionals, we're humans first — humans with lives that don't always fit perfectly into a 9-5 workday. But how do we talk about our personal lives at work without ignoring professional boundaries? That's what one woman asked recently in the Fairygodboss Community. 

"How do you manage boundaries around talking about your personal health at work?," she asked. 

"When do you decide to disclose when you're tackling a health challenge, attending a doctor's appointment, on a new medication or something like that?," she continued. "Do you have different boundaries for telling your team versus your manager?  I have a health change on the horizon and am looking for advice."

Several women provided their advice based on their personal experiences. While some advocated for sharing less...

"I wasn't close with my supervisor in the past so I told him the bare details, but enough that he would understand work impacts, if any, and if time off was needed," one anonymous woman shared. "It really depends on if you trust your team or want to disclose, it's really not necessary unless you want to."
Another added: "I have had a major illness for 23 years.  I only discuss anything if it affects taking time off.  If I'm struggling through a tough day, I don't mention it and I change the subject if someone asks.  As a rule, I usually take time off as 'vacation days,' but you can use sick days for doctor's appointments.  Recently, I've started using sick days but I say nothing but 'doctor's appointment' on the time off request."

Others advocated for sharing more. 

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago.  I was very open about it.  I told everyone at work.  I knew I'd have a difficult year ahead but I wanted to try to continue working.  Having the support of my management and team was important," another woman shared. "Beyond the support I received, I was also able to tell a whole lot of people about the importance of early detection,  which I believe saved my life... Now that I am cancer-free, I am able to be a resource for others who have been diagnosed or know someone who has."

Ultimately, commenters agreed this was a personal decision based on several factors or rules. FGB'er barb_hensen summarized those rules well. 

1. Boundaries should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Decisions to talk about your personal health should always be made based on your trust level with your team or manager and the types of relationships you have. Being close to a boss personally may mean giving them a bit more context when you take time off, while being very formal with a boss may mean simply saying you have a doctor's appointment. You should also take into account the company culture your relationships operate within and look for precedents that may help you form your opinion. 

2. Talking to HR helps you understand your options and benefits. 

As barb_hensen says, going to your HR team may help you to understand your work options and benefits when a new health situation comes up.  
"They can help you with time-off (if needed) and understanding your health benefits and they might be able to give you cover if your health issue ends up impacting your job performance," she wrote. 
Going to HR also keeps a layer of removal from your boss, meaning less of an impact on your interpersonal relationship. 

3. Ultimately, your health is private and protected. 

HIPAA exists for a reason. In the end, it is completely up to you whether or not you decide to disclose your health information. You shouldn't feel pressured by a close relationship, a company-wide precedent or invasive questions to open up about something that is your business and your business alone. The decision to talk about your health or to keep things a bit more quiet is ultimately up to you. 

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