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So I was watching the TV show "After Life", and the premise of the show is that Tony's wife has just passed away. For this reason, Tony is not acting as his usual self.

Coincidentally, his employer decided to hire a new employee who will work for Tony. It is seen during the show that the person greeting the new employee in a one on one meeting warns her about Tony's situation.

"He's not himself at the minute, to be honest, he's had a bit of bad news. [... his wife] died. Cancer. He was obviously devastated, suicidal. I should warn you he might say a few things that are a bit brutal, at times, so don't take it personally."

This scene is useful for the show, letting viewers know what to expect, but it got me wondering: is this appropriate? I understand wanting to give the new employee a heads up, it might help her deal the boss's behaviour and it might also help the boss to have someone that understands the situation without having to tell her about it. But you're talking about one person's personal life to another person who doesn't know him at all. Wouldn't it be a breach of privacy to talk about it, going as far as mentioning his suicidal tendencies?

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    This is a fictional scenario from a work of fiction. As much as you'd like to see it as a "real world" example, it isn't. If you have a real workplace question then post that. I'm pretty sure we don't deal with hypothetical situations at this site. – joeqwerty Mar 10 at 17:49
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    Always best to warn people not to be too surprised if they see a colleague hanging from the rafters by the neck. Otherwise it can be a bit of a shock. – Kilisi Mar 10 at 18:18
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    @joeqwerty seems like hypothetical in and of itself is not an issue, but hypothetical questions can present problems: workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4425/… – mcknz Mar 10 at 19:47
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In my opinion this depends on many things.

Is the death of this person's wife common knowledge in the company or at least his department?

If so, new person might as well know...

Is the boss "being brutal" towards people or towards himself?

I think everyone is jumping on the bandwagon that the boss behavior isn't appropriate, but seeing that you mention that he is suicidal, I took the "being brutal" as more of (like myself) just not being sensitive about things other people would be sensitive about. For example, the boss assigns a task with the deadline of "before I died, which could be soon" or just simply not valueing his life or worth enough, all of this could be "brutal" to someone else's view.

I think explaining what he was doing to be brutal is important.

Now, what do I think the boss should tell the new hire?

something along the lines of:

Welcome to the team! I just wanted to make you aware that your direct line manager might seem a bit off at the moment. This is due to (if the team knows: his wife recently passed away; if the team doesn't know: personal reasons). I would like you to be mindful of this and understanding, but if he says/does anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, I would like you to come talk to me about this.

I think this is both keeping confidentiality and giving both of them a fair chance.

  • +1 haha "boss assigns a task with the deadline of "before I died, which could be soon"" - this could be straight out of that show. – DigitalBlade969 Mar 11 at 10:59
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It would be completely inappropriate. How would you feel if your boss (or anyone else) shares personal information about you to any new employee who walks in the door?

You should keep your mouth shut. Now, if you see that your boss is treating the new employee badly, you can speak up. But you speak up to your boss pointing out his/her behaviour is inappropriate. And even then you don't mention what's going on in their personal life. If the boss brings it up, you can say that this isn't an excuse.

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I think that, even though this is a "fictional scenario" itself, it's worthy of being a real-world Q&A. (I up-voted.) (Can you make it more general?)

I could envisage many situations where a "new hire" would be walking into a workplace where their new boss might be "off their game" in some way due to personal considerations (someone dying, bad news in the family, etc..).

From the point of view of the "new hire" in this situation I would appreciate the heads-up as in -- walking into a situation where the new boss may be any of: pre-occupied, taking personal phone calls throughout our meetings, cynical more-than-usual, makes 'suicidal' remarks, etc.

If I was given no information I'd be wondering if I'd done something to offend the new boss, are we starting out on the wrong foot? why is (s)he being quiet? etc. Plus I might mention something that would be "gauche" if I'd known better, like talking about our "renewal of vows ceremony" or something like that, which I could easily avoid.

  • It's an observation more than part of the answer, but there have been many times where I've said something (and should have kept quiet) because I didn't have any information to the contrary! And ended up offending someone when I didn't intend to. – seventyeightist Mar 10 at 20:04
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I would consider it inappropriate for a current employee to know so much about a boss’s emotional state, much less for them to have to tell a new employee as a kind of warning.

I find myself slightly miffed at the idea that this male boss is having his inappropriate behavior excused at all in the workplace - in the real world he should remain professional or take a leave of absence until he is able to do so. No excuse for being ‘brutal’ in the workplace, it’s unprofessional.

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    Absolutely fine in a tv series though, seen much worse – Kilisi Mar 10 at 19:30
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    Disagree that it’s ‘fine’ because it’s on TV, or because there are worse examples — cultural messaging that says men’s cruelty is excusable reinforces a society of male entitlement through lack of accountability for their actions. – user35316 Mar 10 at 19:34
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    No idea what that means, and don't really want to find out. – Kilisi Mar 10 at 19:44
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    This isn't a gender issue, don't make it one. – Alexandre Aubrey Mar 10 at 19:48
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    What if it was a female,transgender or non binary boss,would it be any different?Why did you drag in that it's a male?Perception bias? As has been said,not a gender issue.Also,this is comedy where hyperboles,generalisations and extremes are the prerequisite and played out into the grotesque sometimes.It may full well be a critique on gender bias or it's just mundane real life in an "unimportant" workplace exagerated for laughs and giggles,kneejerk reactions and tears.Oh and I didn't think IRL it would be the best idea to tell new employees though I admit there is a certain sense to it. – DigitalBlade969 Mar 11 at 11:50

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