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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Explaining an Absence

Dear Sue: I have been out of work due to a deep depression caused by my job. For ten months we were understaffed, and I was overworked. I burned out, and could not function at work anymore. 

I am trying to deal with my anger at the people who created the stressful situation (at work) that caused my depression. This is my second serious depression. 

I am hoping to return to work part-time in the near future. My coworkers have never been supportive of me, and tend to gossip. I do not know what to tell them when I return to work. I know they will ask a lot of questions. What should I say? 

- Wondering

Sue Says: You can say whatever you want to say, which includes saying nothing at all. You need to do whatever will make you most comfortable.

Sometimes it helps to talk openly about what you have been going through, but if you feel as though you can't trust your coworkers to be supportive, and that they will gossip about you, than don't tell them anything.

When asked about your absence, you can try to avoid responding by saying something like, "Why, did you miss me?" or you can simply say that you were dealing with some personal issues, and leave it at that. If anyone has the gall to pursue the reason further, politely let them know that you prefer not to talk about it, and change the subject.

Dear Sue: I am stuck in a very tough situation with my boss. He is a great person, and I like him personally, but not professionally. Every promise he has made to me has been broken.

I was supposed to get a raise and insurance benefits, but haven't. I requested a better chair to sit in, but to no avail. He always has some excuse and laughs it off.

I am so stressed that I am trying to look for another part time job, but he sets hours that prevent me from interviewing. I asked him if he would write me a letter of recommendation, and he said jokingly, "But if I do that, then someone else will hire you, and I need you." He never did give me a letter. 

I wish he would fire me, because I would probably make more money if I was on unemployment, and at least I could look for work then. What should I do? 

- Frustrated Photography Assistant

Sue Says: Stop wishing you'd be fired, and start taking charge of your career. Did it ever occur to you that you could say "No" to this 'great' person? You can and you should! 

Let your boss know that unless he follows through with the things he has promised you, that you cannot and will not work for him any longer. If nothing happens and you don't get your raise, insurance or chair, then either quit, and find another job or say no to the hours he is giving you, and give yourself the time you need to look for another job.

He may be a great person, but he sounds like a lousy boss.

Dear Sue: I need a job yesterday. I have been out on disability because I had a nervous breakdown. I do not know how much to say or what to say as to why I left my previous job. What do you suggest? 

- Need to work 

Sue Says: You do not need to provide a detailed reason for leaving your previous job. You can use any number of common reasons for leaving a job; money, limited advancement opportunities, lack of a challenge, changes taking place, etc. 

Provide a reason you are comfortable with, and practice your response so that when you are asked, you are comfortable talking about why you left. 

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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