Saturday, January 24, 2009

TMI = too much information

As promised, I did want to address the TMI factor in workplace communications.  I realize this is a law blog, but this advice really does apply across different industries and office environments.

Far too often, I and others receive emails or perhaps voicemails from people (attorneys, staff, etc.) indicating they will be out of the office, or late or something similar and then sharing TMI = too much information.  I do not need to know that you have diarrhea, or an abscessed tooth or whatever.  Of course if there is a serious health problem and you will be out for an extended time, that is a different situation.  I am talking about brief absences.  And these don't have to be limited to doctors' appointments and sick days.  This can include your being out to attend to a child's event, such as a party at school.

Years ago, a staff member at my sister's firm would be absent from work a lot due to the usual illnesses that come up with a young child.  Every time she would email "Johnny has a virus and I will be out."  "Johnny has [insert illness."  They understand but it was getting old.  And when she specified that she would be out to join the class at the pumpkin patch field trip later on, that just about sent everyone off the edge.  A simple "I will be out of the office for some appointments tomorrow but will be checking messages and here is my cell" would have been fine, and more effective.  

You really don't need to share details, generally speaking.  If someone tells me they have "an appointment outside the office," I don't ask any further questions.  This is a good all purpose line.  I often have appointments or meetings outside the office.  That is enough information for most workplaces.  A former colleague of mine was given solid advice by a mentor, something along the lines of "don't say you are going to the hair stylist or your kids' school, etc.  Just say you have an appointment outside the office."  Someone else I know puts an out of office message along the lines of "I will be attending a series of meetings outside the office on ________, but I will be checking voicemails and emails.."  Now the series of meetings could include the dentist, the parent teacher conference, etc.  But we don't need to know all that.  Keep it short and professional.  Of course, keep an eye on messages if you can to guard for any work crises that may arise while you are out.

Thanks for your input.  I will try to go back to at least 2-3 times a week posting.   Hang in there, I know it is a difficult market.  I have a few friends now out on the street.  

Have a fun Saturday.  


Andrew Winters said...

Or how about an electronic in/out box so that people can leave messages about where they will be and how to reach them? That way, no e-mails need to get sent out at all but if you need to know where someone is, or is going to be, you can easily find out.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Great information. Looking forward to regular posting again. I saw some great questions asked in the last 4-5 postings comments. Maybe look through and pick some of the better topics.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason that people overshare is that they are just trying to prove that their absence is justified. I agree that while saying "I have the flu" is fine whereas "I haven't left the bathroom in 3 days" is probably sharing too much. But I think you have to look at the motivation. People don't want to seem like they're taking a day off randomly, or worse, to interview somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above. Some words have become "code" for "I just want a day off" or "I am interviewing." Sometimes you need to be a bit more specific to avoid unjustified suspicions. After all, not everyone is as trusting as HP is. There's a balance to be struck - don't talk about illnesses in detail, for example, but telling people you have to be at a school function for your kid does not seem to be overdoing it.

Min said...

I also agree - I give some information about why I am out so that it is justified. I may say "doctor's appointment..." but I wouldn't say "gotta go get that pap smear." Also, if anyone has a chronic illness it would seem worthwhile to explain why you have more appointments out of office than your peers. You don't want to be pegged as lazy when you are balancing work and iron infusions or something. But, I am not a boss so maybe my approach is wrong. It may depend on the particular environment there.