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I am due to return to work from Christmas vacation two weeks into January. I wish to return early, on the 3rd of January instead. I know this is an unusual request because most people would want more vacation time, not less. My difficulty lies with how much detail is appropriate to go into with my boss. The circumstances behind my request are personal and sensitive.

Background

I am an electrical engineer, so I don't work shifts. Generally my hours are 8-5 with some overtime.

I had a miscarriage earlier this month. It was very tough and, while I am slowly coming to terms with what has happened, I have found it very difficult to occupy myself during this time. I have taken up my hobbies and tried my best to keep myself occupied, however I find myself dreading the following two weeks of free time and looking forward to returning to work where my tasks for the day are highly structured and decided for me.

I love my job. I want to go back to work. However, I am also grieving. My employer doesn't know I was pregnant; I was in my first trimester still. I do not know how to approach this sensitive subject and the level of detail that is appropriate.

Question

Is it okay to tell him I had a miscarriage? Or would it be better to just ask to come back early and not explain why?

Edit: There is no logistical issue. The company is open from early January.

I have a great relationship with my boss and so wouldn't have a problem telling him if there's a logical reason to do so. I don't want to make things awkward. I don't know I this is appropriate to talk about in the workplace. I am not concerned about the consequences of him knowing I'm trying to start a family (perhaps I'm naive). I didn't think of the fact that he could assume something else if I don't give a reason at all.

Update (from comments, 2 Jan 2017):

Ultimately, I have decided that I'm not as fit to go back to work as I originally thought. While I want to go back to work, I also am still quite emotional and am unsure if I will be able to keep myself together. I probably could but I don't wish to complicate matters at work. My husband and I have decided the best action is to stay at home and allocate instead a largeish home project we will work on together which will occupy my time, allow us to work together as a team, and give me the space to grieve in private. Thank you all for your helpful insight.

Final Update (26 April 2017):

I ended up taking additional grieving time off earlier this year. I told my boss that there was a death in the family and I needed time to grieve and he was completely supportive.

  • I answered the question in its current state, but adding the nature of your job could help with the answer. If you have a strict schedule for shifts and people staffing has to be done weeks in advance, it might be hard to start in just 3 days. If your job is flexible (coding for instance) it's way easier to modify your work presence on short notice. – Thalantas Dec 30 '16 at 13:40
  • I am an electrical engineer, so I don't work shifts. Generally my hours are 8-5 with some overtime. – user5621 Dec 30 '16 at 13:42
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    It sounds doable to staff you on short notice then. I'll add that info to my answer. – Thalantas Dec 30 '16 at 13:45
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    Are you comfortable sharing with your boss that you had a miscarriage but just aren't sure you should? I think most people are assuming you don't want to, so explicitly saying your preference for the amount of information to share would be helpful. Also, please edit your profession into the question so that people don't have to read the comments to find all the information. – Kat Dec 30 '16 at 17:17
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    Sorry about your loss :( – mgarciaisaia Dec 30 '16 at 18:21
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Call him and ask him, first of all, if you can possibly cut your vacation. If he asks why, "personal reasons" should probably be enough. You do not need to provide him with the exact reason - especially since his answer could be "You had a hard time, please take some time to fix yourself". Unless you have a very open work relationship, he should not really care about why you want to cut your vacation and will focus on whether it is technically possible.

Depending on your relations, you can tell him the exact reason, but this isn't needed - most people who cut their vacation have an unpleasant story attached.

EDIT : as discussed in comments, the nature of your job would allow you to simply show up and be useful, as there is no pre-planned schedule or rigidity making it impossible for you to come back on short notice. It looks technically possible given your type of activity to "just" start again whenever you're ready. Under that circumstance, stick with "personal reasons".

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    I think she can say more convincing things than "personal reasons" without really giving anything away. Maybe "something happened in my personal life that I'd rather not discuss, but being able to work would really help me put my attention on something that I love"... or something like that. Not claiming my wording is perfect, just saying it can be a lot more compelling if worded better. If you're too vague about it, it almost starts looking unnecessarily suspicious. – Mehrdad Jan 1 '17 at 10:55
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    > "You had a hard time, please take some time to fix yourself" There are reasons why managers would say such things - and it's not just to be humane. As a manager, I would be quite concerned that an individual returning to work due to grief might suddenly need to depart again. I'd also worry that he or she might overestimate their capacity for everyday stresses. There could be a real risk that OP negotiates an early return only to suddenly depart again - and that could cause a lot of awkwardness. – Jimmy Breck-McKye Jan 1 '17 at 22:06
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    Ultimately, I have decided that I'm not as fit to go back to work as I originally thought. While I want to go back to work, I also am still quite emotional and am unsure if I will be able to keep myself together. I probably could but I don't wish to complicate matters at work. My husband and I have decided the best action is to stay at home and allocate instead a largeish home project we will work on together which will occupy my time, allow us to work together as a team, and give me the space to grieve in private. Thank you all for your helpful insight. – user5621 Jan 2 '17 at 12:23
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You can most certainly offer to come back to work. It's a bit awkward, though. If you don't say why, people will guess, and their guesses may be "off" - such as imagining a giant family fight and you coming to work to stay away from a spouse you're planning to leave or divorce. If you do say why, people will become amateur doctors and suggest what you really need in order to recover properly. [This question has already accumulated opinions about working vs staying home vs going somewhere different as ways to recover from your loss. Everyone thinks they know what you need.] And on top of that, people will know you were pregnant and are likely to be again soon, which should change nothing - but you know that it does, which is why you hadn't announced at work yet. Nobody can predict which of these will be more of an irritant over time.

I would try taking it one step at a time. Call and offer to come back early - just say that some family plans changed and you'd rather busy yourself with work. If you can't get a yes that way, then saying something like "I need to keep myself busy to keep my mind off a loss over the holidays" should be enough. If you have a very nosy or pushy boss, well, this episode is likely to cure that behaviour. Asking something that gets an upsetting answer will teach the boss to be more careful what to ask if the answer isn't genuinely needed. Do practice saying something like "I'm sorry, I can't go into more details" for when you feel that someone is asking a question or making a suggestion that is over your personal boundaries.

By the way, miscarriages are far more common than most people believe. There's nothing wrong with keeping your personal life personal, but if you do (perhaps months from now) tell people about this loss, you'll perhaps be helping to adjust that misperception. We believe that the majority of women conceive when they want to, never miscarry, do not suffer serious complications, go into labour spontaneously, and push their babies out without surgery. Yet I don't know a single woman who fits that pattern. Being open about these disappointments can help others to feel more normal, and not the one weirdo who couldn't follow the typical pattern. It's not actually typical at all.

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    you "are likely to be again soon" because it is likely (though not guaranteed) that the pregnancy was planned because the couple is "ready" or "starting a family" and will conceive again within a short time. – Kate Gregory Dec 30 '16 at 20:20
  • I would say that is possible but not likely. Unplanned pregnancies are quite common after-all. – user30031 Dec 30 '16 at 20:23
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    "quite common" is not "the majority" - and anyway, what matters is not reality, but perception. If the OP's coworkers would only be pregnant because they had decided to start a family, then the miscarriage is proof of a pregnancy, which is taken as proof of being ready to start a family, which may be enough to "mommy track" the OP regardless of her past or future plans. You can't logic the OPs coworkers out of it even if you're right (and you're probably not right.) – Kate Gregory Jan 1 '17 at 13:33
  • I don't think "majority" is particularly relevant, common is enough. I maintain that you're making to many assumptions about how people will think, but that's just my opinion, take it or leave it :) – user30031 Jan 1 '17 at 13:43
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Is it okay to tell him I had a miscarriage? Or would it be better to just ask to come back early and not explain why?

First, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. I have family who experienced the same.

Next, make sure you are really ready to go back to work. As you mentioned, you are still grieving. While it makes perfect sense to want a distraction, work may not be the right one. Work expects your full attention, and unless you are ready to give it, you may be better served by being with family or friends or finding some other source of distraction rather than coworkers.

But if you are really ready to resume work, I think you would be better off just asking to end your vacation early without going into details if you aren't comfortable sharing. Your manager doesn't need to know the reason, just that you want to work.

You might have a work relationship with your boss and/or coworkers where you would feel comfortable sharing the reason. If so, go ahead and do so. Discuss it privately with your boss first, and make sure you mention any accommodation you think you might need (coming in late, leaving early, etc). You might also want to check in with HR and let them know, just in case you find work overwhelming, and need to change your mind.

It's a tough, personal decision, and really one that only you and your family can make. No matter what you decide, a good employer and boss will support your decision. I'm hopeful that you find the comfort you are seeking.

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    +1 for suggesting that the management can be supportive and make accommodations for the employee. Of course, the suggestion works only if the employee takes the initiative and asks for the accommodations. So it's on the employee to ask. – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 31 '16 at 1:32
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It's really a straightforward, simple management issue. Simply contact your management, and tell them that you are cutting your vacation short and you'll be back on 3 Jan, if that's okay with them. If they ask why, simply say that this vacation is not right for you (*).

If they haven't responded by sunup Jan 2, hound them until they say yes or no. If they haven't responded by end of day of 2 Jan, tell them that you are showing up on the 3rd and to roll out the red carpet for you.

(*) We had once a Vice-P who cut short his vacation in the Bahamas because the quiet there was driving him crazy. He couldn't wait to get back to the anarchy in New York City :)

  • Is there a reason I shouldn't say why? I don't mind explaining, is talking about a miscarriage just something that is not done? – user5621 Dec 30 '16 at 15:47
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    @stanri - I really have no objection to you stating that you have a miscarriage. I happen to be one of those who believe that less is more: if I say less, then I have less to explain and elaborate on - Hey, I am lazy :) Most people are not into long stories, long narratives and long explanations. Make that long and elaborate and you will be talking to just yourself in no time :) Plus, sharing that you had a miscarriage over the holidays might spoil the mood for some :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 30 '16 at 15:58
  • @stanri I take the "need to know" approach as well, but that's only because I am a private person and don't feel that it's anyone else's business why I do what I do. I have never felt like I should or must act that way, and many of my colleagues do not. This will probably depend a lot on where you live/work, though. Our cultures (I see from your previous posts that you work in the USA) are really quite different, far more than you'd think given the [nearly] common language. And if you ever moved back to SA, I'd have no useful advice for you at all :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 30 '16 at 17:52
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There is absolutely no reason to go into the details of your personal circumstances, especially painful ones, for something like this.

While not usual, I don't think most employers are put out by workers wanting to get back to work, so they're not going to demand an explanation in order to allow it.

If they do ask, out of curiosity, a vague "some of my plans for my time off fell through (or "changed," if that statement feels too much like lying for you), so I don't want to waste my time off just sitting around" will be more than sufficient.

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I don't think you have top ask management to come back early unless they hired a Temp or it's shift work. I would just show up on Jan 3rd. If someone asks just say "I had enough vacation, it's good to be back"

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First of all, my regards for your loss. I assume it does not help much at this point, but miscarriage is quite common in the first trimester (Wikipedia: "About 30% to 40% of all fertilized eggs miscarry, often before the pregnancy is known.").

On your question: as usual, I would suggest to keep your private stuff to yourself while at the same time not lying. Not because your case is somehow special (it is not, see above), but out of a general principle to not mix work and private life more than necessary.

I would, as your manager, not find it weird or cause for concern if you told me "I found that I'm not really in the mood for a vacation now, I would prefer to work now and take the vacation later in the year".

  • So, why the negative votes? – AnoE Jan 1 '17 at 18:10
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If you have told anybody at work that you were pregnant, you will have to tell that same person that you are not anymore. If you haven't told them, you do not need to tell them.

But if your relationship with your boss is as good as you indicate, you may feel better when you have told him, maybe only after you have told a few more people like very good friends.
This is regardless whether you come back from holidays early or not.

I would also suggest to stay home and find activities there rather than going back to work early, this is also as you can not easily change your mind and take the rest of that break after you started again early.

You may want to flee the house, in that case a few days in a hotel somewhere might be better. With your loved one if available, alone if not.
When working you will get back to your home at the end of the working day, which is not as much of an escape.

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Many good answers, would go with the keep it secret approach to avoid being overlooked when promotions are due, etc. Also it could influence the way people see you and your daily interactions. Most people can't really deal with such problems in a sensitive way, especially not the nerds in our line of work. :)

So if you have people outside work to talk to about your loss i would prefer them, but if you really need to talk about it with your coworkers or boss, there is nothing wrong with it either.

My suggestion would be to use that free time and do something for yourself. Personally i would just start some hobby project or even do one of the things of "the list" you probably have and never do. The hobby could be work related, maybe an arduino or raspberry or drone or whatever thing you always wanted to work with. But the idea is it would be a good assessment if you are ready for work again or if you keep getting distracted all the time.

Really sorry for your loss, wish you all the best!

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