What's the best way to handle personal issues, such as health issues, relationship problems, family changes, and so on, in the workplace?
Sometimes, it's feasible to keep personal subjects separate from work — your co-workers don't need to know all the details about your relationship or dental surgery. But in other situations that might not be feasible. For instance, if you have an illness that will require you to change your schedule or responsibilities, informing your colleagues may be the best course to take.
One of the easiest and most direct ways to inform your colleagues about an illness is to send a letter or email message telling a particularly trusted co-worker.
Who to Inform About an Illness
Being open and honest without revealing too many details can be challenging, but it is essential. If you are experiencing a serious health issue, at some point you will have to tell your employer.
While you need to provide enough information so that your needs are understood, you don’t want to burden your manager or colleagues unnecessarily with too many personal details.
You also may not wish to share details on a personal matter. It’s a fine line — revealing too much can make both sides uncomfortable, and it’s unnecessary.
Aside from your manager, you may want to inform colleagues you are close with about your illness. How much you tell them will depend on how close you are, and your comfort level at the given moment.
It’s fine if you don’t want to let everyone know your diagnosis and feelings.
The only thing you need to share with your colleagues, in a professional email, are the facts that may impact their work, due to changes in your schedule or capacity.
What to Include in Your Letter or Email
Here are further things to consider as you write a note to colleagues about your illness:
- You can be vague or specific: It's up to you how many details you share about your diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. If you'd prefer, you can say "I'm having health issues" and not go into specifics.
- Let colleagues know how it will affect them: Will you need to skip the daily morning meeting several times a week due to doctor appointments? Will your schedule change? Let colleagues know the ways that your health issues may alter your work, and particularly how they may impact their own work.
- Ask for what you want: Would you prefer not to talk about your health at work? If so, you can say, "I wanted to let you know, but am hoping I can focus on work while I'm in the office." If there is something specific you'd like your co-workers to help you with (like handling a complicated weekly report, for instance), let them know. Don't shy away from being direct. People can feel uncomfortable around illness and being straightforward about what attitude you'd prefer, and what help you need, will likely be appreciated.
- Keep it professional: If you're emailing from a work email address, this is a workplace communication. Even with co-workers who double as friends, aim to keep it professional.
Letter Examples Informing a Colleague About an Illness
This is an example of a letter informing a colleague about an illness. Download the letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) or see below for more examples.
Health Condition Letter Example
In the first example, in addition to thanking her trusted colleague for assistance, the worker asks her if she would be able to handle inquiries about the illness while maintaining confidentiality.
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345
September 1, 2019
Acme Office Supplies
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321
Thanks so much for all your support over the past few weeks, while I've been going through all the screening and tests to diagnose my symptoms.
My doctor found that I have a cyst that may be benign, but that will require surgery, some time away from the office, and possibly an extended period of recovery.
I have a favor to ask of you. While I am away from the office, would you act as my intermediary to the rest of our colleagues? I know that people will have questions, and they may not feel comfortable asking me directly, and I may not be up to answering right away. I trust your judgement, and would appreciate it if you would keep everyone informed without disclosing anything too personal about my condition or prognosis.
Please be honest about whether you think this is something you can do for me. I will completely understand if this would make you uncomfortable, and I will make other arrangements if so. I can meet you to talk about it further during lunch one day this week if you have any questions.
Health Condition Email Example
In this example, the employee shares fewer intimate details but informs one of his close work friends about his condition.
Subject: David Adams - Status Update
I know that you and the rest of my friends at work have probably been wondering why I have been out of the office so much during the last couple of weeks. I have been undergoing some tests to evaluate the symptoms that I’ve been experiencing. They have found that I will need some treatments, and I am scheduled to begin those next week.
During the next few months, I will likely need to reduce my workload a bit, and I have already discussed this with our management. They have arranged for me to be able to work from home, and reduce my hours here in the office until my medical issues are resolved. They have been incredibly understanding and supportive, and I believe that I’ll be back full time before you all start to miss me too much.
I am letting you know because we have a long standing relationship, and I regard you as a friend. I’m not comfortable talking about my illness with the whole of the office. I would appreciate it if you would only share the necessary facts with anyone who might inquire.
I appreciate your friendship, and your discretion. Feel free to keep me in the loop over the next few weeks. I’ll be checking email, and you can always reach me by phone.