A reader asks:
I oversee a team of five members, and one person is very open about medical stuff. If she has a medical appointment, she not only informs me that she will be out of the office for the afternoon, but also what her symptoms and pain levels are, what kind of doctor she will see, what they are looking for, etc. To be clear, I never prompt her to give me this kind of information. On a personal level, I don't particularly mind hearing it -- it's not gory or gross. It's more on par with what you might share with a close friend.
Is it OK that she shares all this information without prompting, or should I put a stop to it? I regularly remind the team of sick leave procedures, and at the same time remind them that their health status is private and that they have no obligation to disclose anything beyond the duration of their sick leave.
Also, I recently realized that this team member feels slighted by my apparent lack of concern! When she comes back from a medical examination or from leave, I simply say, "Welcome back." I don't ask if she's OK or how her MRI went or what they found. I think she thinks it's cold and distant of me. Should I address this, and if so, how?
It's up to you whether or not to put a stop to it. But one argument for stopping it is that she might be contributing to a culture where other people feel like they're expected to share these sorts of details too -- or one where her co-workers also get stuck hearing personal medical details that they'd rather not hear.
If you do speak to her about it, that's the framing I'd use -- something like, "It's important to me that no one here feels obligated to share personal medical information in order to take time off. I know you're comfortable sharing it, but I want to ask you to rein it in because I don't want to inadvertently create a culture where others think they're expected to share their own medical info. So going forward, it's enough to just let me know that you'll be out of the office, without including medical details as well."
If she continues to do it even after that, then at that point I'd probably just let it go or stick with, at most, a kindly delivered "no need to give reasons -- I trust you to manage your time."
As for her feeling slighted that you're not checking back with her about the outcomes of these appointments: In general, it's good to show a personal interest in your employees as humans (within reason and without violating people's boundaries). If someone tells you that they're not feeling well or have a scary medical appointment coming up, it's kind to ask later how they're doing or if everything went OK. I could see how someone might feel a little slighted if they shared something like that with you and you never mentioned it again. But it's a little stickier with this employee, because she's sharing so much of it and you presumably don't want to open the door to even more medical discussions. Because of that, you could consider staying something like, "I really care about protecting your privacy and I don't want to pry, so please don't ever take my lack of follow-up on this kind of thing as anything other than that." Normally I'd say to add "If there's ever anything you do want to talk with me about, please know that you can" ... but with her I'm worried about increasing the quantity, so I'd likely leave that off this time.
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