We live in a culture of perpetual oversharing these days.
That can lead to a blurry line about how much to share about your personal life while at work. Depending on your relationship with your coworkers and the type of work environment you find yourself in, you may feel more inclined to be open about your personal life. But how much is too much, especially when it comes to revealing information about your health?
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For those of us with chronic health issues, it’s a topic of constant concern, whether we like it or not. Wondering if your amount of sick leave is enough, if your boss will be open to your requests for more flexible work arrangements or time off for doctor appointments — it can seem like a never-ending laundry list of questions to grapple with.
As someone with a lifelong health condition that forces me to have lengthy doctor appointments for treatment every couple of weeks, this is something that’s been on the top of my mind since I entered the workforce. No matter how cool or understanding your boss or company may be, it can feel like an awkward dance to explain a complicated health situation to an employer.
While you are so much more than your health issues, taking the time to explain your situation to your boss can help remove some of the unnecessary stress.
Here are a few tips for navigating that conversation:
All employers are legally required to give their employees reasonable accommodations to complete their jobs.
1. Know your rights
First and foremost, understand the law. All employers are legally required to give their employees reasonable accommodations to complete their jobs. That means that your company cannot penalize or fire you for asking for some sort of exception to the standard way they operate (assuming you’re still completing the scope of work required in your job description.)
For example, long before working from home was as widely allowed or encouraged, I’ve had to ask managers for permission to work remotely in order to accommodate my medical appointment schedule. Back then, using my available sick time just wouldn’t have cut it.
2. Consider the what and why
Before speaking with your manager, think about what—if anything—you really need to share. Just because you have a health concern or a chronic illness doesn’t necessarily mean you have to tell your workplace.
Is there a component of your health condition that will actually impact your role at work, or cause you to need different or extra support from your employer? Do you get chronic migraines and need the fluorescent lighting turned off over your cubicle? Do you require a flexible work schedule to seek treatment during office hours? Get crystal clear on what you need to open up about.
While your workplace can, by law, require you to bring in a medical note explaining your situation, you should not feel forced to share any extra information.
3. Leave the oversharing to social media
No, seriously—concise is best, at least to begin the conversation. Keep your conversation with your manager high-level—just the facts—and as simple as possible. In other words, tell your boss only what she needs to know and how it will impact your work.
If you’re a particularly open person or have a close relationship with your manager, you can consider sharing more details, but only do so when you’re absolutely, 100% comfortable. While your workplace can, by law, require you to bring in a medical note explaining your situation, you should not feel forced to share any extra information.
4. Opt for in-person
While you can certainly do this over email, talking about complex topics like your health are often better explained in person. Crafting an email can sometimes lead to overthinking and/or sharing unnecessary information. Sure, talking in person might feel uncomfortable or more vulnerable, but think of it like ripping off a bandaid—you’ll be better off after it’s done, and it most likely won’t be as painful as you anticipate.
Don’t feel guilty about needing any extra support to maintain a healthy and productive life.
5. Be confident and solution-oriented
Come ready with alternatives and solutions when chatting with your manager. In other words, really own your role and explain how you’ll be able to still successfully carry out your responsibilities. Be clear about expectations—both yours and your manager’s—and don’t feel guilty about needing any extra support to maintain a healthy and productive life.
6. Don’t abuse your employer’s flexibility or trust
This is key! If your manager is going out of her way to support and help you have a more conducive work environment, make sure to stick to (or exceed) any goals or promises you may make.
For example, say you had surgery on your knee; if your boss requests that you email a head’s up letting her know when you’ll be ducking out for your physical therapy appointments, be sure to send that email, come rain or shine. While perhaps a small and simple ask, the gesture can go a long way in proving your reliability and commitment to your job. Once trust in the workplace has been lost, it’s almost impossible to get back.
Stay positive and remember that good health is one of the most important aspects of life—without it, not much else is really possible—so stand up for yourself and what you need.
This article originally appeared on Career Contessa.
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