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My usually taciturn peer of 7 years (let's say Anna) overshares when explaining her sick leave or coming back from one. It's a fairly recent development of about one year.

It's not necessary to tell your employer or your colleagues the exact reason for your sick leave in Austria. Still, Anna informs the whole team every time.

Yesterday she came in after staying at home with her sick two-year-old. Our boss, one more colleague and I were having a jour fix and snacking (sandwiches, muesli, sweets). When Anna joined us, she told us everything about her kid's stomach flu, including how much and when they had to poo. I think it was impolite and inconsiderate.

I wish Anna was more discreet about her and her family's illnesses. I already mentioned to her once that giving the exact reason for a sick leave is legally not required. We all have children and spouses and nobody really talks about their (or own) medical conditions in the office. Definitely not about toilet business when others are eating.

How can I address the issue without making the uncomfortable situation even worse?

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    Do you know if Anna actually wants to share this information or if she feels obligated to? "My colleagues won't believe I had a good reason for being absent unless I don't spare the details..." – user34587 Mar 14 at 8:40
  • @Kozaky Maybe you're right. While the company is very employee-friendly in regard to sick leaves, maybe this particular colleague feels bad about them nonetheless... – E.S. Mar 14 at 8:43
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    "Too much medical information" is not the issue here. If she had headaches and provided a full explanation about how it hurts and how she's not able to sleep, you probably wouldn't mind too much. So the issue is much more talking about feces and such (while other people are eating), which is indeed, I think, considered inappropriate in most countries... – Laurent S. Mar 14 at 16:40
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    Just be happy you've only got one coworker who does this. Every place I've ever worked (in the US) seems filled with people who want to play "Top That Terrible Testimony!" - I get regaled with all the tales of woe from illnesses to car and home problems and more. Far more intimate details than one would ever want to know about someone else (except perhaps a spouse), whether I want to hear it or not. While they're talking, I just take a trip to the beach... – FreeMan Mar 14 at 17:09
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The problem is you've detailed the behaviour as legally not required instead of unwanted.

You need to explain to Anna that while it's great that she feels like she can be open, and while she may be a bit desensitised to details of the illness, that's not necessarily true of others.

You then should ask her to not discuss such things in your presense. You could also suggest these topics are not typically shared with coworkers.

  • Thank you! Would you suggest waiting till we are alone and reminding Anna about the instance of oversharing, then addressing the issue directly? Or telling her in a round-about way right after she does that again, with other colleagues present? – E.S. Mar 14 at 8:48
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    @E.S. What I can suggest, is never speak for others. Do not say something like "People feel uncomfortable when you x or y", just tell her how you personally feel towards her sharing these things. Also, try to not do it with others present, as it could be that she truly does not understand that this is not a topic for everyone, and there is no need to confront her like this in front of entire team. – Atizs Mar 14 at 8:50
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    In private. You want limit her potential embarrassment. And it's probably better straight after it has occurred. The longer you wait, the more of a big thing it seems, the more embarrassed they will be. – Gregory Currie Mar 14 at 8:52
  • Thanks. It always happens with the others present but I'll try to find an opportunity to talk to her not much later after the event and alone. – E.S. Mar 14 at 9:00
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    Can't speak for Austrian culture, but if this was the UK - a simple "That's a bit too much information Anna" in a lighthearted way (at the time it happens), wouldn't ever cause anybody embarassment. Specifically pulling somebody aside turns this from "you probably could do with not talking about that so openly" into "This is a serious issue that needs dealt with". – Bilkokuya Mar 14 at 11:22
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Yesterday she came in after staying at home with her sick two-year-old. Our boss, one more colleague and I were having a jour fix and snacking (sandwiches, muesli, sweets). When Anna joined us, she told us everything about her kid's stomach flu, including how much and when they had to poo. I think it was impolite and inconsiderate.

I wish Anna was more discreet about her and her family's illnesses. I already mentioned to her once that giving the exact reason for a sick leave is legally not required. We all have children and spouses and nobody really talks about their (or own) medical conditions in the office. Definitely not about toilet business when others are eating.

How can I address the issue without making the uncomfortable situation even worse?

If she brings up details of a child's illness while you are eating, you simply make a face and say something like "Ugh. Please, not while we are eating." Most folks will stop at that point.

If you just mention that giving the exact reason for a sick leave is legally not required, then you are giving legal advice, not asking for restraint. Next time, make it more clear what you want her to do, rather than recommending what she is legally required or not required to do.

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    "Ooookaaay, we don't need all the details" – David K Mar 14 at 12:41

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