I worked successfully at my job for 4 years, 3 of them remotely. I was the sole developer on staff so I had no backup. My boss and our clients seemed very happy with my work, and in fact our client base began expanding a little too fast. Unfortunately, I had a very tough year for personal reasons, and I began missing deadlines and making mistakes. The last straw was when a parent was diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Realizing I couldn't handle it, I recently gave notice and have been helping transition my replacement. As a result, all the embarrassing shortcuts and sloppy work I did over the past year (meaning to clean up "later") are being revealed.

I'm strongly tempted to explain why my work was so lousy-- for instance, I found I had been walking around and working with pneumonia and three broken ribs, which were almost healed by the time I got an X-ray. On the other hand, everybody is busy at work and I am sure no one wants to hear my sob stories. If I had been in the office, it would have been easier to see that I was moving heaven and earth to get the job done.

The issue is that I hope to work again in a couple of years, when my dad's cancer resolves, and my youngest child goes to kindergarten, and of course I would like a good recommendation at that time. I haven't heard a word of criticism from my boss, though I sense that he is less than pleased lately. Should I explain all, and if so, when and how?

--answer to Monica's question in comments: no, nobody else in the office knows. When we communicate, there's no chitchat, just work-related emails.

EDIT: You are all right, I should have alerted my boss to the issues as soon as they happened, but at the time I kept thinking things would get better soon. For example, I thought I had a bad cold in February, but I didn't expect to still be sick in April. I thought that having two babysitters (a regular and a backup) was good enough; didn't expect that both would become unavailable all summer.

Operating without any backup at work and without enough backup at home, I was not able to recover from any bad luck, big or small. So although I have been a hardworking, honest, and smart employee, it was a flaw that I didn't ask for help soon enough or forcefully enough... and in the end, the result was probably the same as if I had been lazy but better at delegating (though I suppose the company/clients saved money on hiring extra personnel.)

Well, maybe I can bring this up when I really leave for good in a few weeks, and say that next time I find myself struggling, I will ask right away for help.

  • 6
    Are you saying that nobody, including your manager, is aware of the special circumstances? Sep 18, 2015 at 16:18
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    The one thing you should take from this experience is that hiding personal problems that are affecting your work is an ineffective strategy. When my mother got diagnosed with a terminal illness, the first thing I did was go to my boss and tell him what was going on and how I intended to handle it (she lived out of town) and develop a plan for keeping my projects going in my absence. Mangers can't help you navigate tough life situations if they don't know what is going on. They would generally prefer to get you help than to wait until things are so bad you have to quit or be fired.
    – HLGEM
    Sep 18, 2015 at 17:08
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    Honestly, sloppy work and embarrassing shortcuts are the best many people are capable of, so I wouldn't sweat it. Sep 18, 2015 at 17:09

2 Answers 2


On the other hand, everybody is busy at work and I am sure no one wants to hear my sob stories.

Sickness is not a sob story. A parent suffering a terminal illness is not a sob story. A sob story is something (usually made up) you tell somebody to garner sympathy to make yourself feel better. Letting your colleagues and especially manager(s) know about circumstances in your life that will affect your performance is vitally important to making sure everybody can deal with the problems in your life in the best possible way.

If your manager/boss has a human bone in his body, he will want to know about these things asap to be able to help you help him get everybody through your performance-affecting problems and find a way around them. You probably should have told him sooner, but you definitely should tell him now.


Your boss will have an opinion of the work that you are delivering, and an opinion of you as a person. If you inform your boss for example that your parent is badly ill, it will have several effects that are positive both for you and for your boss:

  1. Your boss will not be angry at you and think you are lazy, and make useless efforts to shake you out of your laziness (which wouldn't work because laziness isn't the problem). Instead, your boss would give you moral support if he is a good boss, which will make you feel better, may actually make your work better because of reduced pressure.

  2. The boss will know what to expect. He will assume that you do your best, but that your best might not be good enough, and take precautions. So instead of "you messed up, we lost lots of money because you didn't deliver", it's "good you told me, your colleague fixed the problem and no harm was done".

  3. It's much easier for your boss to get help. That colleague mentioned before will not say "I am not going to do overtime because of that lazy cow" but "the poor woman, I'd rather do some overtime than having a sick parent". Which means your colleague feels better - he or she is not the mug who does overtime because someone else is lazy, but the hero who saves the day. And the boss is in a much better position as well. And of course the co-worker will do a much better job.

All around, everyone will likely be better off if they know what's going on.

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