8 Secrets Employees Don't Want HR to Know

Oct. 7, 2016

When life throws you a curveball, do you tell your boss or human resources department?

If you're like most workers, there are some things you just don't want your company to know. But the unexpected happens all the time and employees should have an idea of what to do.

We asked Alison Green, creator of the Ask a Manager blog and author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager", and Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace, an HR-focused think tank and online community, for some of the top situations that employees hide from HR.

Employees should be reassured that most companies have seen it all before. "Businesses are set up to deal with these issues," says Green.

Here are some suggestions for when to bring questions to HR (e.g., benefits, paychecks, disability or medical leave) and when to talk to your manager (e.g., day-to-day work issues).

  1. "I'm Job-Hunting"
    Employees treat job hunting as a covert operation, and sometimes they're justified. "In some workplaces, you will be pushed out before you are ready to go," says Green. But you need employment until you get that new job or until you make that cross-country move. Know your manager, says Ryan. If you have a good working relationship, you might give longer notice (which benefits the company) without fearing repercussions (like getting fired).

  2. "I'm Pregnant"
    This is one secret with a limited time frame, because sooner or later, the baby bump shows. If you're worried, observe your company's culture, suggests Green. "Are they family-friendly and accommodating to women with young children?" But any questions about this are best directed to HR.

  3. "I'm Having a Health Crisis"
    Most employees would rather eat worms than tell a boss personal medical details. Even if you keep quiet about your health crisis, says Green, your boss might still notice something amiss -- especially if you're emotional or taking unplanned time off. Don't explain details beyond "I need some extra time off for medical treatments," unless you want to. Like pregnancy, HR can help with health or medical leave benefits.

  4. "My Nanny Quit"
    An unexpected change with your child care is a huge inconvenience and it takes time to hire a new nanny. Be upfront and tell your boss what happened, says Green, but be reassuring. "You can say, 'In the meantime, I might be late or need to work from home, but it won't be forever,'" she suggests.

    Some companies actually provide backup child care as a work benefit, such as through Care.com's Care@Work program. This program offers employees of participating companies access to child care either at home or at a nearby child care facility. Check with your HR department to see if your company offers any kind of child care benefits and, if so, how you can get enrolled. 

  5. "My Long Commute Is a Taking a Toll"
    Your extensive commute is exhausting, and you want to try telecommuting. "Ultimately, this is your manager's call," says Green. "It comes down to culture and the manager's own personal take on it." Present a detailed plan explaining the benefits to you and the company. Suggest starting slow with one or two days a week to work out any kinks.

  6. "My Parent Needs Care"
    What happens if your dad's health is deteriorating and you need to check in throughout the day until you can hire senior care? "People forget their manager is human," says Green, and often sympathetic. If your boss sees an uptick in personal phone calls, explain you are working on a personal problem and not just slacking off.

  7. "I'm Seeing a Therapist "
    Many employees want to hide mental health issues from work because they fear a stigma. If you aren't comfortable talking to your boss about it, then don't, suggests Ryan. "Don't lie, but you can be vague," Green says. Just tell your boss you have a recurring medical appointment. If your manager asks for information or starts treating you differently, notify HR.

  8. "I Hate My Boss"
    "If you don't feel happy about your relationship with your boss, it causes your performance to falter and your health can suffer," says Ryan. These complex human situations are tricky and often go beyond any HR policies and procedures. Ryan suggests asking HR to help find a solution based on the actual relationship mismatch, not on blame. Removing the power struggle should lead to a better, more realistic solution.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is an award-winning freelance writer and a mom to two girls. She lives in Massachusetts and has written for local and national publications.

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