How to Tell Your Manager About Family Issues While Remaining Professional

Whether you’re going through a breakup, grieving a lost pet, or dealing with something even more serious, personal problems don’t always go away when you’re at work. When you’ve got something on your mind, it can affect your mood, your attention span, and (unsurprisingly) your performance.

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There are plenty of factors to take into consideration before sharing something intimate with your manager—including whether the issue is taking a toll on your work, what kind of personality your boss has, and whether they can help you. Not all problems belong in the workplace, but there are times when being open can benefit you—and your boss.

Here’s what you should ask yourself to help you decide whether and when to tell them.

Balancing work and family responsibilities can be challenging. When a family issue arises, you may need to communicate with your manager to request time off or temporarily adjust your schedule. However, you likely want to maintain professionalism and privacy around your personal matters. Here are some tips for tactfully telling your manager about family issues.

Consider Whether Your Manager Needs to Know Details

When you have a family issue, your first instinct may be to share all the details with your manager. However, that may not be necessary. Your manager needs enough information to understand how the situation impacts your work obligations, but they aren’t entitled to your private family matters.

Before communicating with your manager think carefully about how much they need to know. For example if you need to take two weeks off for a family emergency, your manager may only need to know the dates and that it’s a serious family matter. They don’t necessarily need to know that your parent is having surgery or your child is struggling with bullying at school.

Keep It Simple and Direct

When informing your manager about a family issue, keep the communication simple, direct and focused on work impacts. You want to avoid oversharing or venting about personal frustrations.

An email stating “I’m having a family emergency and need to take today and tomorrow off” is sufficient in many cases. If your manager needs more details about the situation and how work will be covered, they can follow up with you. But keep those discussions factual and related to work arrangements.

Use Discretion Around Timing

Be thoughtful about when you inform your manager of family issues. Don’t discuss private matters when they are busy with something else or during an important meeting, for example.

Also, give your manager adequate notice when possible. Don’t wait until the last minute to request time off for a scheduled family obligation. However, for unexpected issues, let your manager know as soon as reasonably possible.

Request Accommodations Professionally

When you need to request a schedule change or time off related to family issues, do so tactfully and professionally. Don’t make demands or assumptions. Frame it as a request for your manager to consider.

For example, “I’m requesting next Monday off to take my father to a medical appointment” or “Would it be possible for me to adjust my hours next week while my daughter is home sick?” This gives your manager the opportunity to accommodate without feeling obligated.

Follow Company Policies

Make sure you understand and follow your company’s policies around schedules, paid time off, leave of absence, and remote work if applicable. Abide by proper procedures for requesting time off or reporting absences.

While family issues come up, you want to maintain professionalism by adhering to policies. This helps avoid misunderstandings or perceptions of special treatment.

Be Prepared for Alternative Arrangements

Ideally your manager will be understanding about family obligations. However, be prepared that they may propose alternative arrangements to accommodate the situation.

For instance, if you need to miss an important meeting, they may ask you to have someone cover for you or reschedule. They may counter your request for a reduced schedule with options for remote work or shifting hours.

Have an open mind in case your initial request can’t be accommodated. Acknowledge your manager’s needs to keep business operating smoothly.

Express Appreciation for Accommodations

If your manager is able to grant your request for time off or other arrangements, thank them. Express appreciation for their understanding and willingness to accommodate your family situation. This maintains goodwill and also encourages flexibility in the future if needed.

A quick follow up like “Thank you for approving my last-minute request yesterday, I appreciate your understanding” goes a long way. People like to feel their efforts to help are recognized.

Reassure Your Focus at Work

When family issues arise, reassure your manager that you remain focused on performing your job duties. Avoid over-disclosing issues that suggest you are unable or unwilling to meet expectations.

If your manager accommodates a request, confirm your dedication to complete all work obligations. For example, “I’ll be sure all my projects are covered while I’m out tomorrow so deliverables remain on schedule.” This maintains confidence in your professionalism.

Set Boundaries Around Oversharing

While being transparent with your manager has benefits, take care not to overshare personal matters. Keep communications focused specifically on work impacts.

Decline conversations that veer into private details or family drama. Redirect discussion to practical needs like schedules and coverage. Setting appropriate boundaries helps differentiate professional and personal relationships.

Dealing with family issues while maintaining a career is difficult. When you need to involve your manager, keep the communication direct, professional, and centered on specific impacts and needs. With discretion and empathy on both sides, private challenges can often be accommodated without compromising workplace performance or relationships.

Key Takeaways for Communicating Family Issues to Your Manager:

  • Consider whether your manager needs to know personal details or just basic information.
  • Keep the discussion simple, direct and focused on work arrangements.
  • Give adequate notice when possible and follow company policies.
  • Make schedule requests professionally. Don’t make demands.
  • Be understanding if alternatives must be discussed.
  • Express appreciation for accommodations granted.
  • Reassure your focus on performing job duties.
  • Set boundaries around oversharing personal matters.

tell manager about family issues

Is There Something You Need at Work?

Maybe you need a lighter workload or a more private workspace where you can avoid being around other people for a bit. It’s worth telling your manager about your personal problem if there’s something you need at work—but you have to know specifically what you’re asking for. So think through whatever accommodations or requests you need before you open up the conversation.

On the other hand, if there’s nothing tangible that would help you or you’re not clear on what that might be, hold back. You don’t want to treat them like a close friend you’re venting to—better to spill the beans only if you have a (realistic) end goal.

Is There Something Your Boss Can Do About It?

After deciding what you may need as a result of your personal issue, you have to figure out if it’s something your boss can actually help you with. Does your boss have the power to give you more time off, cut you some slack on a project, or temporarily reassign some of your work to someone else? If so, then bring up your dilemma to them.

But don’t waste capital on asking for something you know they can’t provide. If your boss doesn’t have the ability to make changes that would make things easier for you, there’s probably little point in telling them what’s going on.

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What should I do if my family issues affect my job?

If you’re currently experiencing family issues that are impeding your ability to perform your job, it may be helpful for you to speak with your manager and request temporary accommodations.

How do I communicate with my manager about family leave?

Review your organization’s policies for family leave Before communicating with your manager about your family issues, review your organization’s policies for personal leave. You can find such information in your employee handbook or employment contract.

Should I tell my manager about my personal problem?

It’s worth telling your manager about your personal problem if there’s something you need at work—but you have to know specifically what you’re asking for. So think through whatever accommodations or requests you need before you open up the conversation.

Should I Tell my Boss I have a family crisis?

Yes, tell him – as close to ‘in person’ as possible – and soon. Be honest (don’t worry about the rantiness). If he doesn’t know about the problem, he can’t help redistribute your workload to assist you. If he just sees that you’re not performing, without knowing that you have a family crisis, that will reflect badly on you.

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