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Telling your boss big news

by Brought to you by ACS Career Navigator
February 6, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 6

Credit: Shutterstock
Preparation can take the anxiety out of telling your boss about a leave.

No matter what kind of relationship you have with your boss, it can be nerve-racking to share big, transitional news. When you’re telling him or her that you need family leave, saying that you’re quitting, or sharing other big news, there are things you can do to make the conversation go as smoothly as possible.

Do your homework. Research your company’s policies, whether they’re for employee separation or for family leave. Read your contract and the employee handbook or ask what has been done in the recent past—but only if you can do it discreetly.

Research legal requirements as well. For example, in the U.S., the Family & Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides job protection and unpaid leave for a number of reasons, including pregnancy, birth or adoption of a child, and a serious health issue of the employee, parent, spouse, or child. Some states and companies provide even more.

Plan the solution. If your big news will take you away from your job temporarily, offer your boss a possible plan for coverage. Think about how your work is going to get done while you are gone as well as how you are going to remain productive during the transition periods before and after your leave.

Are there deadlines that can be shifted, either earlier or later, to allow you to see a project through to completion? Can additional people or other resources be brought in to accelerate progress? If someone else takes over a project, is that permanent, or will you take the project back when you return?

How available will you be during your leave? If you need to take leave to deal with personal issues, will you really be able to answer questions or participate in conference calls?

Create a plan for how you are going to transfer the information others will need to manage things while you are gone.

Plan the setting. Once you’re ready to break the news, your supervisor should be one of the first people you tell at work, and the human resources department should be another. Tell as few coworkers as possible beforehand. In these days of social media, information can circulate quickly and unpredictably; assume anything you post there is public information.

Request an in-person meeting in a comfortable, private location at a time with no looming deadlines. Don’t schedule too far in advance of the meeting; you don’t want your boss imagining all sorts of bad scenarios.

Open the discussion by stating the news and the fact that you have preliminary plans to ensure work continues smoothly throughout your transition. Let your supervisor’s reaction guide the conversation—does your supervisor adopt a personal, friendly stance or focus on business?

Discuss the information rollout plans, first with your team, and then with your wider group of coworkers. They may not need to know right away but will eventually be covering your work. Telling them early allows them to plan their schedules around your absence. You can send a formal announcement or tell just a few people and let word spread.

Transitions are always stressful, but planning and careful delivery of the news can start the process with the highest chance for a successful new stage in your career.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (



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