Last week my manager suddenly departed for his home country due to a family emergency.

Tomorrow he is supposed to resume work and our first interaction is a regular scrum call with everyone in the team. When we start the call I want to express that we were concerned about him and his family.

So how do I ask him if everything went well back at home?

up vote 104 down vote accepted

If you are concerned about the wellbeing of your manager's family and you are on good, friendly terms with him, you might ask him in private. Don't mix "official business" with private affairs, least of all in an official meeting with all team members present.

If there was a case of death in his family, he might become emotional in an official meeting or try his best to suppress his emotional reactions. In any case, you put him in a very aggravating situation.

If you are no more than casual business acquaintances, he might perceive your concern as uncalled-for and nosy.

You can tell him shortly "It's good to have you back" to convey that his situation is not completely ignored, but don't refer to any more specific details about his absence.

  • 41
    @MisterPositiveI think it depends on the company and the culture. I am not friends outside the workplace with any of the managers in my department, but I am close enough (professionally) that I can ask this question to them - this includes my own manager. But I would still bring it up in a private conversation and not in a public meeting – psubsee2003 Aug 14 at 12:43
  • 27
    In every company I've worked at, "It's good to have you back, $MANAGER, I hope your family situation turned out okay" would be a natural thing to say to one's direct manager under these circumstances, even if one did not know them well outside of work. But don't pry for details; let them share as much as they are prepared to, no more. And I 100% agree with not bringing it up in a meeting. – zwol Aug 14 at 13:29
  • 23
    It's hard to imagine something more inappropriate than "I hope your family situation turned out okay," if a member of his family has just died. Always engage brain before opening mouth!! – alephzero Aug 14 at 15:55
  • 7
    @alephzero I'm imagining that I don't know any details at all, just that they had a family emergency of some kind. In that situation, what else is one to say? Yes, if I know someone died I would say "You have my sympathies" or something like that instead. – zwol Aug 14 at 18:02
  • 8
    I like the "It's good to have you back, $MANAGER." though, I'd leave it like this. – Tomáš Kafka Aug 15 at 14:07

You don't, you mind your own business and wait for him to share any personal information he might want to share.

While it maybe ok in private if it's a good friend, it is not ok in a scrum meeting with others present. You don't comment uninvited on other peoples personal issues in a professional setting.

  • 28
    And don't expect any information at all. People don't have to share their personal lives at work, and it's really impolite to ask. – Snow Aug 14 at 10:50
  • 28
    @Snow Quite agree about the "don't expect", but depending on the culture it may be really impolite not to ask. – Martin Bonner Aug 14 at 13:37
  • To the point as always, a good answer. It is worth mentioning though - that close(r) and (more) personal relationship with a boss could begin with a simple "I hope everything is OK with you and your family" and then just go back to business mode. I don't really see much harm in a one-line person to person moment. In sum - business mode is OK, saying a one-line well-wishing-comment is probably profitable for work relationship (but carries risk) – Stian Yttervik Aug 15 at 7:43
  • 1
    @StianYttervik maybe ok in private if it's a good friend, but not in a scrum meeting with others present. You don't share other peoples personal issues in a professional setting – Kilisi Aug 15 at 9:51
  • 1
    @Kilisi 1-1 was my implied setting yea. I didn't remember / did not see that particular section of the question so my bad. I like your answer, it is exactly on the nose, I just wanted to add that it is not necessarily wrong to one-line-comment it, when and if you are 4 eyes with the boss. – Stian Yttervik Aug 15 at 9:56

I think this is very depending on culture, both regional/country and corporate culture. In my company, it would be very weird NOT to ask the manager if he/she is okay. Of course, I wouldn't do this in front of everyone and leave room for them to say: Yes/No and leave it at that, but that's the same for every personal conversation.

I do think my manager would address this himself before the scrum meeting though.

As @YElm explains, you should keep this for a private moment/email with this person.

Obviously, this depends on your pre-existing relationship and the character of the manager. If he's never shared much about his private life, you may want to refrain from saying anything.

If you decide to say something I would phrase things in another way in order to avoid coming across as nosy: rather than asking

'Are you OK?' or 'Is everything OK?'

I would simply sympathise and say something along those lines:

'I am glad you are back and I hope you are OK.'

This is a kind statement without explicitly asking the person to answer or add any detail. Be prepared to quickly go back to professional topic after this, so it does not feel akward if the person does not want to discuss it.

  • 2
    A kind but vague email is probably less stressful than an in-person interaction. "Glad to have you back, hope your family is doing well" leaves them room to respond on their own terms or not at all. – arp Aug 14 at 17:49
  • 6
    @arp I would not use that terminology. You have no idea what happened. The entire family could have died horribly in a house fire and such a question in that scenario would be distressing and awkward. Just stick with "hope you're OK" if anything and move on. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 15 at 9:56

Just say something along the lines of "Glad to have you back." Depending on the relationship this can either work on a professional or personal level. Later, privately you can offer him some generic help along the lines of "let me know if there's anything I can help you with right now" -- again it's generic enough that he can answer with "do you have report X ready by any chance ?" or if he chooses to "I'm still not quite over Y, could you cover the Z meeting for me, please ?"

I was once completely stopped dead in my tracks by the simple question "are you OK?"; after a long pause I simply said "thank you for caring enough to ask."

And this was a much simpler situation, where I had taken successive leave for a hospital visit, a hospice visit, a funeral...

So it may be kinder to express your sympathies one on one or even in email where the recipient can respond at the time of their choice or not at all.

On the other hand it would probably seem cold to not say anything at that first meeting; "glad to have you back, sorry about your family troubles" expresses sympathy without putting the recipient on the spot for a response.

  • 1
    In the UK the typical approach (in your situation) is to just say "yes, thanks" even if you aren't. This is a Brit thing: we lie constantly, pretending we're fine even if we're not. Just one of those pre-designed social interactions that doesn't really serve any practical purpose except for both parties indicating some level of caring, and then they move on. If the two are particularly close then the response may actually involve facts, but often it won't. Cultural differences! +1 – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 15 at 9:58

"[We're] Glad to have you back, Bob." then pause a tiny moment, and if Bob does not reply, then move immediately on.

  1. This will always be appropriate,
  2. but is also kind (not clinical. truly nice to hear),
  3. and provides an opening for Bob to reply or not, without obligation, and is not a leading question which tries to force a positive response..

because:

    • This keeps details completely private but it also does not attract attention, pique curiosity or invite speculation.
    • Most people treasure this discretion when face-to-face, and it will not invite any questions that cannot be answered with "yes, I had some time off recently but I am back now."
    • It doesn't matter whether 'everyone' already knows or not. Bob should be the one who decides whether it is officially public knowledge or not.
    • It's nice to hear because it addresses the person directly and compliments them. It actually makes them feel nice inside!
    • Feels a lot more genuine, and less tokenistic than a platitude like "sorry for your loss".
    • It is not impersonal, clinical, formal, or stiff, yet is still completely professional. It is work-related and not overly-intimate.
    • It has a positive note without minimising their trauma. (unlike things like "Well, things can only get better from here!")
    • It indirectly acknowledges their trauma, without referring to it directly which can be very confronting and emotional. A person might look forward to getting back to work to get a bit of emotional reprieve, and feel quite strong, but unexpectedly crumble over something as simple as hearing the word 'loss' in 'sorry for your loss'.
    • Bob can say absolutely nothing, or just "thanks", without any obligation or awkward silence.
    • But at the same time it is also the perfect opportunity for Bob to say something, as personal or detailed as he is comfortable with.
    • Bob's reply can be positive ("thanks for all your support, Carol is doing much better now") OR negative ("It has been very hard. There is still a long way to go.") because it is not a leading question like "is everything okay now?" These can be hideous to hear when you have gone through a horrible time, or, even worse, just the beginning of one.
    • Many people struggle with a proper response to questions like "Sorry for your loss/what happened" etc because they are unsure if "thank you" is the correct/'logical'/polite thing to say.

Keep personal life exactly that. Personal.

You don't want to mix your boss' personal life with everyone else's professional life. Leave it be, if you are that concerned ask him outside of work time as he may have returned when he recovered or felt ready to return.

Even worse he may not feel he is emotionally ready to return but wants to take care of business.

I feel these kinds of conversation are best reserved for water cooler chat. if you happen to bump into him, while getting a glass of water, you can bring it casually while talking about random things.

Just please don't talk about it, if there are multiple people talking. It will make him very uncomfortable. These things are best reserved for 1:1 casual conversations.

Alternatively if your company use Skype/Slack for internal coversations, you can ping him to talk about how he is doing informally.

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.