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I'm a software engineer from India.

Recently, I suffered a personal loss which made me sad. I usually have my spirits up, but this time I just didn't feel like laughing at every stupid joke in the team meetings and so on.

It should be noted that my work didn't suffer. I did the tasks assigned to me. I met the deadlines. I didn't have even a minor spat with a coworker. I was professional, civil and polite the whole time.

My manager had a talk with me. Told me that my behavior seemed off. I told her it was because I was going through I bad time. I couldn't tell her the reason, so I just said it was personal. In her words I wasn't "energetic enough." Soon, other team members pointed it out too.

When the time for performance review came, I got a bad one. I should mention that I was repeatedly told by this manager and the previous one that I was doing extremely well, before I started acting different. I'm sure this issue is the reason for it.

Now, I'm moving to a new company. My question is this: Is it necessary/advisable for you to feign happiness in order to fit in? If you are genuinely unhappy, is it necessary to actively participate in jokes even though you may not feel like it? Shouldn't doing your job right be enough?

EDIT: The easy answer here is to not let your emotions show and act normal. But I'd like some advice on how to deal with your superiors and colleagues on the days you can't bring yourself to do that. Suppose you've lost a loved one. Something just doesn't seem right to go about your day pretending nothing happened. And it could be possible that you don't wanna talk about it. How do you deal with people in your workplace then?

FURTHER EDIT: Since a lot of people wanna know about the exact conversation I had with my manager, I'll try to recreate it:

Manager: "So, Snowman, Me and some of the other people have noticed that you're not as energetic as before and your performance is deteriorating."

Me: "I'm sorry about that, but I'm still finishing my work on time."

"Yeah, but earlier you delivered before the deadline. What's the problem?"

"It's personal and I don't wanna talk about it."

"Are you not happy with the project? Did someone say something to you?"

"No, the project is good and my colleagues are great."

"Did something happen?"

"Yes, but it's personal and I'm working hard to get past it."

"Well, from tomorrow, I wanna see the old Snowman, full of energy."

"I'll try."

"You shouldn't say 'I'll try'. When someone asks you to do something, you should say 'I'll do it' " (spoken with a big smile, I'm silent. Meeting ends.)

It's not an exact transcript and a bit shortened, but it's close.

  • 53
    Did you say it was a "personal reason", or did you say it was because you had gone through a "personal loss"? I feel like the second one is a lot easier to sympathize with, even though it's just a 1-word difference. – Mehrdad Feb 26 '15 at 8:39
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    Strongly Related: Smile or Die at RSA Animate | Smile or Die in The Guardian |ISBN: 1847081738 – TRiG Feb 26 '15 at 12:38
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    Somewhat related – Telastyn Feb 26 '15 at 14:15
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    "It's personal" is different than "It's not work-related". Your manager might think there's something wrong in the workplace that you aren't telling him about. – Zibbobz Feb 27 '15 at 14:40
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    IMO Saying the phrase "It's personal" could also give the impression "Look, thanks for your concern, but I don't want to share any details.". – Brandin Feb 27 '15 at 14:44

15 Answers 15

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When you choose not to explain a behaviour, you leave a gap where people will fill in whatever they like. Some people are generous and understanding, they say "perhaps Snowman has suffered a personal loss and is sad" so they cut you some slack and later you recover from your grief and things go back to normal.

But some people are nervous and lack self confidence. "Snowman hates me!" they think to themselves. "No more laughing at my jokes, no more chit chat at lunch - I wonder what I did to upset Snowman?" And the team cohesion suffers.

Your manager asked you about it and you minimized it. Instead of saying "I have suffered a profound personal loss and I'm sorry that it's lowering my energy, but I will recover from it in time" you said "I'm just having a bad time lately." Perhaps your manager thought "Snowman doesn't even like this job any more and is looking for a new one." In an org where only so many good reviews can be given, your manager may have chosen not to spend a good review on you.

It's not right to tell you to suppress your feelings and your grief, but more importantly you probably can't. Since you consider this loss very personal and don't want to discuss it at work, you would have pretended to be happy if you could. But you couldn't. So you need to be more open with your manager. I don't mean describe your loss precisely. But "a profound personal loss" or "grief" are more precise than "bad time." As well, you can apologize for not being your usual self -- even though it's not your fault -- and that will make people feel better. You can accept the support your manager is trying to offer. Something like:

I'm sorry that you have noticed a change in me, and I appreciate you asking about it discreetly. I'm dealing with a personal loss and I'm taking it quite hard. I find it hard to laugh and joke right now, though I still love my team and enjoy this work. I know I'm meeting all my deadlines and getting all my work done, I'm just a little lower energy and not as conversational right now. I will get through this grief stage, I'm sure. Your support means a lot to me; thankyou for asking how I'm doing.

Some managers will push a little harder for details. Others will offer you paid time off, especially if you have family business to deal with as part of the loss. But all managers will appreciate you giving them an explanation that is not about work, your team-mates, or anything like that. Because when you're vague, that's what they tend to fill in for themselves in the blank place they have for the reason you're behaving as you are.

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    Upvoted and accepted. I've edited my question to include the conversation. As you can see, I didn't simply chalk it up to "I'm having a bad time". But I think your answer addresses the problem in the best way possible. – Snowman Feb 26 '15 at 16:53
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    "In an org where only so many good reviews can be given": Do companies really do this? Yikes. – singletee Feb 27 '15 at 17:15
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    look into "stack ranking", @Bret. But even where that doesn't happen, managers who declare all their people to be amazing are often told that's not possible, that by the law of averages some must be just ok if not outright bad. – Kate Gregory Feb 27 '15 at 22:01
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    Ages ago I worked for a company whose performance review gradings worked along the lines of "nobody's perfect so your boss has to find some kind of flaw in your, or they're not doing their job and will be graded accordingly". One year, my "flaw" was something along the lines of "Rob is normally so productive that when he has a very occasional bad day, this looks so much worse than bad days from other team members, because of how good Rob normally is" – Rob Moir Feb 28 '15 at 21:36
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    I had to sign up just to post this. Is it everyone's responsibility to be everyone else's emotional nannies? Doesn't that kind of projection you're talking about imply a certain level of narcissism (that a person foul mood has anything to do with you at all)? Can't adults be expected to have some notion of what they know and what they don't know? I can see making assumptions in situations where you're forced to consider all factors but proactively making assumptions that seem to have nothing more going for it than being something you want to have be true seems a little childish to me. – Bratchley Mar 3 '15 at 2:19
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You were not born to be a mechanical part in big assembly line. You are not a lion in a circus. You are not born to behave as other people require you to.

If you were bit reclusive because of a personal loss you were right.

You did communicate well through email and fulfilled all the required professional communication, which is all your obligation.

You are not supposed to take out your sadness at your workplace but you can acceptably have your low days.

I think you came across a manager who wanted to take a dig at you. Or maybe there was a lack of communication.

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    THANK YOU. Upvoted. There wasn't even a communication gap. I explained my situation to her. Her problem was that earlier I was finishing my work 'before the deadline' whereas at the time I finished on the deadline. Well, I still made the deadline, didn't I? – Snowman Feb 26 '15 at 7:46
  • @Snowman - Unfortunately, you set the bar high for your previous performance and there was a change. Everything is relative and people interpret things differently. In the US military, to be early, is to be on time. – user8365 Feb 26 '15 at 16:57
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    @JeffO True that, in our business you exceed expectation once and it becomes baseline next time :) – amar Feb 26 '15 at 17:48
  • +1 for "You are not a lion in a circus you are not born to behave as other people require you to." – Walrus the Cat Feb 27 '15 at 0:01
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    Pardon my cynicism but "You were not born to be a mechanical part in big assembly line" might be our perception as labor but I have a feeling the business system begs to differ. – user204 Mar 1 '15 at 20:29
37

Well, you've learned two important lessons, here:

  1. Don't bring your emotions, positive or negative, to work. You have to keep your mind compartmentalized enough to not let strong emotions affect your work performance and/or perception.

  2. A lot of managers have no real understanding of their reports' work quality, and judge performance based on perception, not metrics.

I know #2 sounds ridiculous, and it is, but that's the sad state of the world we live in. I had a colleague once who is a video editor. Ad agency reps used to complain that she was "slow" compared to other editors. The reason is she just didn't "look busy" enough. Her solution was to grow her nails out, then tap them on the keys on the keyboard without actually pressing them when she was waiting for computer and video processes to run. It gave the illusion that she was doing more than she was before, and the ad agency reps started commenting on "how much faster" she was, then. In truth, her productivity was unchanged, and right in-line with the other editors at that post production facility.

You've got a weak manager. It worked against you, this time. Now that you know how to spot one, make it work for you.

  • Thanks. Upvoted. I've learned that it's a better policy to act the part, but I would also like some advice on what to do if you can't act on some days. – Snowman Feb 26 '15 at 7:47
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    +1 for #2. That is, sadly, very true and although I hate playing that game, I've gotten many good performance reports based on nothing more than being at my desk 10 hours a day... of course, I'm connected to my home network and never actually working for all of those 10 hours, but that doesn't matter, because no one else sees that part. They just see my sitting at my desk, typing away at my keyboard, and assume I'm hard at work. – HopelessN00b Feb 26 '15 at 10:19
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    I agree with #2. But I am not entirely sure about #1. I really like this article here: business.time.com/2013/12/04/… And when you fake emoctions just because of your workplace, you will also fake the feedback the company will have from your current state. If a employee is feeling bad because of a Personnal loss, it has became my problem because it may affect his/her perfomance at the job. Of course, I won't enter in personal grounds, but I should at least concede some breathing space for the employee to be a bit down, sad, or whatever else he wants. – Hugo Rocha Feb 26 '15 at 14:31
  • To metrics comes the fact that there is no One True Metric for many folks, like programmers. – phresnel Feb 26 '15 at 16:02
  • @phresnel - Not disputing that. That's why you have to use several. LOC check-ins are pretty worthless, IMO. Burn-down charts are pretty useful, to me, as long as issues have a "degree of difficulty" assigned to them. However, using NO metrics at all leads to this situation, where employees are evaluated on feelings and impressions. That's far worse, IMO. – Wesley Long Feb 26 '15 at 16:18
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it necessary/advisable for you to feign happiness in order to fit in? If you are genuinely unhappy, is it necessary to actively participate in jokes even though you may not feel like it. Shouldn't doing your job right be enough?

The reality is that yes, most people repress their inner, personal pains in the workplace. Nobody really wants to work in a place where you know everybody's business. People generally want to come in, do their job and leave.

But if this personal incident was so traumatic that it is visibly affecting your outward behavior, the issue is you can't repress it. If you could, you would, but it's clear your emotions are overwhelming you. And trying to repress that level of malaise helps nobody.

My first suggestion would be for you to seriously reassess your desire to not share this personal pain. I am not saying you basically breakdown in front of your co-workers, but you need to let somebody be in the office know exactly why your behavior has changed.

So I would recommend you have a meeting with human resources to discuss the issue. Now hopefully you do actually have a human resources department. And generally the purpose of human resources is to help you and the company work together. But be forewarned: Depending on how your human resources department works (meaning how professional and respectful they are) this could go two ways.

  1. One way is they see you as a valuable asset and understand you are going through a low time and will work with you and your supervisor to help.
  2. The other option as to what might happen is human resources will look at you as simply damaged goods. Meaning, the outcome of you telling them this us they might just decide to look for someone to replace you.

Another similar option is to talk directly to your manager about the scenario. Who knows how it would play out, but if there is no human resources department that might be a choice.

But in general you cannot bottle up pain that is spilling out to this degree. It helps nobody. And it is clearly affecting your work relationships. So you need to find some realistic and negotiable way to let your company know why you are behaving this way and not just be moody.

You also added this to your question:

The easy answer here is to not let your emotions show and act normal. But I’d like some advice on how to deal with your superiors and colleagues on the days you can’t bring yourself to do that.

The reality is—like I explained before—unless your colleagues in some way have some understanding something is amiss in your life, you will simply come off as unjustifiably weird and moody. The best way you can deal with this on “…the days you can’t bring yourself to do that…” is to truly let someone in the company know what is happening. Past that, you will simply be looked upon as acting dysfunctional at best, and someone to be replaced at worst.

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Just to give a view from another side: Think about "managing expectations".

How you are seen by others depends on the match with their expectations. When you start out in a new job, the others' expecations may be quite neutral in many aspects. They then get used to how you behave and expect you to always behave that way. Whenever your behavior changes later, your new behavior will be compared to what people (still) expect you to behave like.

Point is, don't (pretend to) be ecstatic all the time; people get used to that and frown as soon as you hit the first not-so-perfect day. Don't even start laughing at every joke in the first place.

Now that you're starting a new job, I think it's a perfect opportunity to properly position yourself as a professional type who is not too emotional at the job in either direction. If people get to know you as a professionally serious person, they will much more sensitively notice when you actually (want to) leave that pattern in a certain situation, which gives you more potential influence(*). On the other hand, being "professional" in this sense should make it easier for you to behave consistently even through bad times in the future.

tl;dr: Try to control your mood at the job in both directions and you can only win. Don't be a zombie, but keep in mind you're a professional.

(*) Humoristic analogy from a fictional work: Nobody notices when a normal person says "thank you" for a chewing gum offered. But when the two-meters-tall native american, who was believed to be deaf-mute, suddenly says "thank you" people really start paying attention.

  • Upvote. This was really helpful. I wish I get a professional team next time. But sometimes (like in this case), you get stuck with a team with which pointless humor is a disease. I acted professional in the beginning. But, you know, you don't laugh at the boss's joke like everyone else, you get singled out. – Snowman Feb 26 '15 at 14:07
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Emotions at work

Some will say emotions aren't for the work place, which I feel isn't necessarily true. By all mean you should avoid being an emotional rollercoaster at the office or letting yourself get into extremes, but in times of tragedy emotion is both healthy and expected. With in reason of coarse...

Reasonable emotions

Feeling joy, sadness, irritation, anger, etc in reasonable amounts is expected. When your manager completely screws you over, throws you under the bus, and makes you work late you're going to be pissed off.

When I break the news it's fine to take a deep breath, sigh, and say something "This has to change". Now walking in slamming the door and screaming "WHAT THE %$#@ IS YOUR PROBLEM!" is not. If you show no signs of frustration than that will come across as really odd possibly concerning.

For times of depression the same is true. When a mild tragedy happens some sadness is expected, but you should reasonably be able to maintain composure at the office and you need to get over it after some time. (Life goes on, if a single bump in the road totally derails you that's a problem)

Major tragedies are a bit different. (This is stuff like losing a child, being diagnosed with cancer, the really grim stuff) I expect you to mostly keep your composure, but I'm not going to hold it against you if you have to excuse yourself to regain your composure short term. Medium term (few weeks maybe even months) I expect a certain level of struggle, but you do eventually need to move on and put your life back together.

Whats happening to you

I'm trying to read between the lines here but having someone key to your team upset. (be it depression, frustration, disappointment, etc.) is a problem long term. The short blip here and there is fine, it's when it's going on constantly for an extended period of time it starts to negatively affect the team.

So at this point sure YOU are getting your work done, but your depression is affecting others on your team. Your manager made a point of this which means you're past whatever timespan they consider reasonable for an unknown problem. If you truly do need more time perhaps chiming them in will help.

Still even if it was something truly tragic, there is a point you have to "get over it" at the work place, even if you're not ready move on personally.

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I spent 13 years as a programmer and 13 years managing programmers (just in case you already didn't know - programming, by far, is a better job). I learned a few things very early as a manager

  1. There are always two sides of a story and having heard only one side sounds convincing without having heard the other.
  2. Everyone on the team must play well together.
  3. Perception is reality.

I believe all three could apply here in your situation. The flip side of the coin is to turn her issues with you back on her as being part of the problem. I would ask her what she thinks her responsibilities are as a manager. She will say something like

  1. Managing the team's performance
  2. Provide the team with the necessary training to perform their job.
  3. Provide upper management with budgetary info
  4. Track projects to make sure they are on time, under budget, etc., etc.

She will more than likely say everything except for - making you the best you can be. She should come up with a work plan that addresses any short comings that she perceives, because when you fail at your job - she also fails as a manager to mentor you. You probably want to be more political than above and then again she may be one of those who want you to listen versus telling her she is not doing her job!

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First of all, "It's Personal" is a hugely different answer than "It's not work-related", and despite how uncomfortable it may be for you, you need to let your manager know that what you're going through isn't related to work or your co-workers. Right now, he has nothing to base his judgement on, so he really can't show you any sympathy right now.

You may want to consider opening up to him and your co-workers a bit more so that they'll understand a bit more, but even so much as just letting him know it's got nothing to do with him, your co-workers, or your workload, and that it's about your personal, out-of-the-office life, would help tremendously. You need to be more explicit in what you mean.


That being said, it's natural to have a slight slump in productivity when you're not feeling your best, and that might also be reflecting in your workflow. This is not a problem, so much as it is an inevitability of life and stress. You do not need to 'always be happy' to satisfy your co-workers and employer, but they have probably been through similiar situations, and making it clear what type of situation you're going through will help them understand what's happening, which will reflect better on you.

  • Thanks for answering. +1 for "It's Personal" is a hugely different answer than "It's not work-related" – Snowman Feb 27 '15 at 16:25
  • @Snowman You're welcome, and it really is. :) Communication can be hard, much harder than most people think. Sometimes all you need to do is offer some clarification. – Zibbobz Feb 27 '15 at 16:38
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There is a general expectancy, when someone comes in to work, that their personal issues are left at home. This seems harsh in cases of extreme loss or difficulty, but it is a good rule for the otherwise endless list of life's little complications that could negatively influence a business.

Right or wrong, even if you do not feel happy, you are expected to "show an effort" in getting better over time. It was very unfair of your boss to expect that timeline to be one day, but any good manager would have to agree that, eventually, they want you feeling better.

Like other answers have mentioned, refusing to share just how big your loss is means that your boss can do nothing to help you. She may assume that you are allowing your personal issue to affect your work performance, even though that may not be true.

I know you are looking for a new job, so this may not be applicable to your situation: in my workplace, if I wasn't comfortable talking to my boss or if she just seemed unfair, I could talk to HR about a difficulty such as this, and they may "persuade" my boss to give me some slack. That could harm your relationship with your superior, or she may just realize the issue is bigger than she thinks and back off. It really depends on the type of person she is and the corporate culture of your employer. (I am located in the U.S. - so there may also be a difference there)

As far as the on-topic answer goes: It would be harder to get hired as someone who is humorless and depressed than if you pretended to be okay. A completely new company may think you just hate your job. You could explain the situation, and they may be more understanding - but if there is another candidate with just as good of qualifications then they are likely to choose the "less risky" option.

If you have great qualifications, they may take a shot at hiring you anyway, as long as they believe you'll stick around.

For those days where you just can't pretend, you seem to be aware of the instances where your co-workers are expecting certain responses from you. Some will feel negatively when you don't act like your usual self, that isn't really your problem in my opinion. You can't be forced or expected to act a certain way (emotionally) to make someone else happy, just like they can't be forced or expected to act a certain way to make you feel better. Only you can make yourself feel better, but while it is necessary for you to take care of yourself first, make sure you are not taking your pain of loss out on your co-workers - it is not their fault and some may just be trying to cheer you up.


Now the off-topic answer: I am not a psychologist, but I have had my own difficulties - recently - that sound similar to yours, and I didn't realize that I was causing myself most of the hurt I was feeling. I am not saying this applies to you, but I put it here in case anyone in the future happens by it as well.

Sadness and pain are both very real and powerful emotions. Dwelling in pain and sadness, however, (usually called depression) is sometimes a chosen action, even when its because we just don't know any other way to respond to it.

"..but why would I choose to feel this way?"

Like I said above, it could be you just don't know any other way to respond. In reality, I don't know, because it can be different for everybody. That's a question you would have to ask yourself, and, if necessary, with outside professional help.

For myself, a process called "Inner Bonding" helped immensely and nearly immediately, but I'm sure its not the only path one could take. There are numerous strategies out there for dealing with our negative emotions, and many of them are free to look up.

If you are tired of feeling like you do and feel "stuck", its worth looking into.

This is a link to the free pdf.. I really recommend reading through it. You'll know if it will help or not pretty quickly I think. It starts with a relationship example, but read a page or two at least.

  • Great answer. Upvoted. Wish I could upvote twice. But a couple things I'd like to say: (a) Indian HR departments are primarily to manage leaves and such. It's extremely rare for an employee to go to them with a personal problem and ask for help, especially for stress/depression related issues. (b) I tried my best to perform my duties and be professional and cordial with everyone. I thought that's all anyone should expect fairly. If they did notice my sadness, I expected them to cut me some slack. Instead they got anxious for me to get over it ASAP, which pissed me off a little. – Snowman Feb 27 '15 at 3:36
  • It's not like I was the center of the group to begin with. Like I said, I was the new guy and they had known each other for years. – Snowman Feb 27 '15 at 3:37
  • @Snowman I've added a link, I think you should at least take a look. – DoubleDouble Feb 27 '15 at 17:05
  • Thanks. I flipped through it. Looks helpful. I'll definitely read it soon as I have the time. – Snowman Feb 27 '15 at 17:26
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Snowman here. Thank you everyone for the tremendous response. There were a lot of great answers, but none was perfect. I also learned a lot from comments and other questions here. So, I figured I'll summarize my takeaway here for anyone with a similar problem:

My goal here was to find a way to deal with people when I'm feeling down. I strongly suspect that it affected my performance review negatively and I don't want it to happen again. Earlier, I hoped that as long as my performance didn't suffer and I was professional, things should be fine. Sadly, I was wrong.

This article was linked from another question asked on this community. It says the keys to career success are:

enter image description here

So, keeping performance consistent was only 10% of the job.

Wesley Long made some good points. He said I needed to compartmentalize. Well, I thought that's exactly what I was doing by not letting my mood affect my work. That my perception got affected was something I didn't foresee. I thought as long as I'm productive, people won't complain. Again, I was wrong.

His second point was an eye-opener

A lot of managers have no real understanding of their reports' work quality, and judge performance based on perception, not metrics.

Having relatively less experience, I'll be sure to keep this in mind.

So, having a good image and forming bonds with key people in the company are way more important than performance .


Amar's answer has been received very well. It sure helps to remember that I'm not a lion in the circus. But there are managers who treat you exactly like that. I sure hope to God I don't get someone like that in the future, but if I do, I don't think defying them by saying I'm not a robot is gonna be a solution.

Some managers enforce what Barbara Ehrenreich in Smile or Die terms "Mandatory Optimism". (Thanks @TRiG for the link). If you're working for one of those, you have two choices to make:

  • Are you gonna fake your emotions (happiness) at work?
  • If you choose not to fake, are you gonna share your problems with your peers?

Good points have been made for both sides to these questions.


Should you fake your emotions (happiness) at work?

My answer: Yes. Totally. As far as I'm concerned, I'm gonna be the most energetic s.o.b. around. Nobody wants to know you're having a bad day, especially if the frequency of such days is alarming. If you let on that you're in a bad mood, it makes other people uncomfortable which affects your image and your clout in the team.

Kate's answer describes this best. Other people can be insecure and may take you lack of energy to be a reflection on them. This is crazy, but might very well be the case. Kate says:

In an org where only so many good reviews can be given, your manager may have chosen not to spend a good review on you.

That could be true. Who knows?

However, there will be days when you just can't fake it, Which brings us to the next question.


If you choose not to fake, should you share your problems with your peers?

My answer: No way in hell. Very few people can understand whatever you might be going through and sympathize, especially if they're wondering whether or not you're capable of carrying out the job. Unless it's universally understandable (your wife dies, for example), I wouldn't advise opening up. Going to the HR and other similar actions will open a whole new can of worms you may not be in any shape to deal with.

Not to mention that I have the right to privacy and I expect others to respect that.

That being said, the consensus here seems to keep your manager or at least someone on your team in the loop. (Not doing this seems to be my misstep.)

This will serve two purposes:

  1. The manager won't blame themself, or the company, or your colleagues for your behavior. (In my experience, however vehemently you deny it, they'll think it has to do with the office unless you convince them otherwise)
  2. They might be more inclined to cut you some slack. Or at least understand your behavior and not judge you based on that.

How much exactly should you tell them depends on the specific case, but it should ideally be enough that it brings about the results above.


Hanno makes an interesting point about managing expectations, but admittedly I'm not really sure how to do that.

  • I have to admit that I think your takeaway strategy will work for the workplace, or more specifically, your previous workplace, but I worry about how healthy it is for you. Especially if the issue you are going through is a long-term struggle. You are essentially saying: 1) Fake yourself, hide your true feelings, 2) Shut everybody out. Regardless of how those work out for your employment, neither is healthy for you. – DoubleDouble Feb 27 '15 at 16:02
  • @DoubleDouble: At this point, work is the only thing holding me together. So I figure I should focus on my job and let time heal the pain. You're right. It's not healthy, but it's my only choice. – Snowman Feb 27 '15 at 16:08
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    There are other choices, but it means working with and dealing with the pain. I think you are trying to protect yourself from it by focusing on work instead. – DoubleDouble Feb 27 '15 at 16:28
  • Rule of thumb: Being aware of working in an unhealthy way does not prevent the burnout. (I'm not saying doing it that way is wrong or a bad choice. Just pointing out there is a long term risk) – Volker Siegel Feb 27 '15 at 20:13
  • faking happiness is simply not a sustainable model. it gets old and burns you out. – amphibient Feb 27 '15 at 20:45
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Just an observation: there are jobs where being perceived as pleasant/cheerful is a legitimate part of the task -- "customer-facing" roles usually include that, for example. In that case your choices are to find a way to fake it adequately, to arrange to swap jobs and work in the back office for a while, or to arrange a leave of absence it you and the company can afford that (which may include consuming some of your vacation or sick time.

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When you have a serious personal problems, you really have two choices. You can maintain your privacy in which case, you will be expected to perform as usual and will be counseled if performance falls below your previous standard. There is a price for maintaining your privacy and that is it. You have to be really strong and well able to compartmentalize of you choose this route. You cannot afford to be private about the problem if you can't keep up your performance. It is too late to tell people you are having a personal problem after they notice the performance drop.

Or you can choose to work with your manager and HR and let them know what the issue is (without the personal details), so they can plan for the performance drop and get you help if you need it. A manager who knows you have a had a serious personal loss can push some of your work to other people and get them to stop bothering you about being happy when it is not appropriate to be happy.

The manager doesn't have to disclose what you tell him or her and in fact should not without your express permission. Managers I have had have usually told others something to the effect of "Joe is going through some problems, so I am going to reassign task X to you."

The loss of privacy is the price for this path and in some cases, you may find that there are people who don't understand your particular problem (these are generally the same people however who are not understanding when your personality changes with no explanation either though).

In general though most managers are going to get that you have a hard time with some personal issues and will smooth the way for you a lot (Note this may not apply if your manager is generally a jerk all around.). They are human being too. More people than you realize understand about these problems from the inside. And there are lots of things they can do organizationally to help you out that they can't do if you don't tell them what is going on.

It's up to you which path to take, there are prices to both paths. In my personal experience (I have dealt with mental illness, deaths of both my parents, physically being attacked and raped, the suicide attempt of a close family member, a 3-year old in my family who was diagnosed with cancer, and the death of my life-time partner over the course of my 38 years in the work place. And I have worked with people who were dying of cancer, had personal losses of their own or sick spouses or children. So I have seen a lot of this sort of thing.), it is often easier to work through the problem if you let your manager help you. The times I did not disclose the general outlines of what I was going through were the times where there was no slack given and it was much harder to recover. Of course, I generally won't stay anywhere that has a manager who treat people like machine parts. I have also seen this hold true for many of my co-workers.

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I know that ‘You were not born to be a mechanical part in big assembly line. You are not a lion in a circus you are not born to behave as other people require you too.’ has got twenty upvotes, but suppose you would have asked the question before the review and suppose you would have followed the answer... You would then have done exactly what got you the poor review.

The harsh reality is that although we aren't born as robots, even so we are on the whole supposed to behave as if we are. Don't take robot too literally, I just mean that you must try to always work, behave and so on as normal, regardless of whether you are diagnosed with cancer or your family was murdered by an axe wielding lunatic. It's unreasonable, but there you have it.

You must try to figure out what the most average person in your team would be like. Because if you deviate from the average, even from your own average, your manager will think: ‘he's being different, I wonder why?’ Questions quickly turn into worries: Will his performance suffer? How about long term? Is a character flaw playing a role? Then confirmation bias sets in and you're screwed.

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    You'll notice that although it has 20 upvotes, I haven't accepted it. Because after this experience I too think that we're expected to act mechanically. It has the upvotes, including mine, because it captures perfectly what we'd like to have, but can get only if we're lucky enough to have a sensible manager. – Snowman Feb 26 '15 at 15:19
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Not every time people can feel the same energy because we're humans and we are subjected to any kind of situations that might affect your frame of mind. I don't know if your attitude generated not so good vibes in the labor scenery, maybe your body language troubled people around you creating a bad ambience. Think about it.

Perhaps your boss was concerned about the others taking your example as an excuse to deliver below average. So don't take it personally.

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Consider being more open about your personal problems to your manager and your colleagues.

When you reveal the reason why you are unhappy, they might be able to understand your situation and give you some slack. But when you just say "it's personal", they might assume that you are just looking for an excuse.

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    Looking for an excuse to do what exactly? I'm not asking for days off. I'm not asking for lighter work. My productivity isn't affected. It's just that I look sad. And why would I want an excuse to do that? – Snowman Feb 26 '15 at 10:20
  • It depends on your team, but usually if you quietly mention to your manager about your loss, they will recognize it and give you some slack for a while when it comes to enthusiasm: many (if possible within the company structure) will also offer additional support or the option for flexible working or taking time off if you need it. Managers are human too, but without knowing your problem they can't respond to it. – Jon Story Feb 26 '15 at 11:22
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    @Snowman: Looking for an excuse not to be a "part of the team". One of the things none of these answers address is that at one point you fit into a team. You were a cohesive active member not just getting your work done but responding to the other members. Now you're not. That affects THEIR performance as well. It is a negative impact difficult to quantify but it is visible. Teams are social in nature, so you have to let them in a little. They don't need details, but giving them nothing begins to exclude you from being a part of the team itself. – Joel Etherton Feb 26 '15 at 14:38
  • @JoelEtherton: Your advice is valuable. But it's not like I shut out my team members. I tried my best to be professional and I talked to them in that capacity. But I do recognize that this is one thing I'd have to keep in mind next time. – Snowman Feb 26 '15 at 15:10
  • @JonStory: If only Indian work culture was like that. We try to emulate the US culture, but we're a long way from it. Here, if you ask for some time off due to grief and/or depression, most likely you'll be asked never to return. what I'm telling you is based on an actual incident my new manager told us about in a team lunch. All I was expecting was a little support in my time of crisis, but that didn't work out either. – Snowman Feb 26 '15 at 15:15

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