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Office etiquette: Showing concern for a co-worker’s ill spouse

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in Business Etiquette,Workplace Communication,Your Office Coach

Question: “My husband had cancer surgery six weeks ago, and I have been on leave from work to take care of him. Although there are 30 people in my office, only three have contacted me to see how we’re doing. I’ve always had a good relationship with my co-workers, so I’m extremely hurt and disappointed by this treatment. I can't seem to get beyond these feelings. When I return to work, I know people will ask about my husband. Since they weren’t there when I needed support, I have no desire to discuss his health with them. How should I handle their questions?” — Angry Wife

Marie’s Answer: Although your colleagues’ silence may feel like a lack of caring, that’s not necessarily the case. Here are some points to consider:

•    In such a large group, some co-workers may feel they don’t know you well enough to be in touch. Others, realizing that this is a difficult time, may assume that contacting you would actually be intrusive. And some may be hesitant because they simply aren’t sure what to say.  

•    Many colleagues have probably requested updates about your situation from those who have spoken with you. Upon your return, these well-meaning people are likely to greet you with genuine sympathy and affection. Try to accept their sentiments as authentic and respond graciously.  

•    If you prefer not to share detailed information in response to inquiries from your co-workers, simply say, "My husband is doing much better. Thanks for asking.”  Then leave it at that.

If some people do seem insensitive or indifferent, don’t waste any emotional energy on them.  Instead, be thankful for the caring colleagues who supported you during this ordeal and also for those who warmly welcome you back.

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