I love my job. I work with a great team, I genuinely enjoy what I do, I am valued and contributing to something that genuinely helps people. But. I am currently in the midst of a lot of personal issues with my family. Without getting into too much detail, some very unsavory things have been said and done. I’ve pulled back from my family so I can fully parse my thoughts and feelings around these events so I can decide what boundaries are needed moving forward.

So how does this connect to work? My manager asks about the time I spend with my family, a lot. I try to offer surface-level comments about how it was good and they’re doing well, but my true feelings on the subject are always simmering beneath the surface. My manager means well, and I don’t believe he’s being inappropriate, but I don’t know how to communicate about family estrangement. If I suddenly say, “Please stop asking about my family,” I know he’s going to be concerned after I’ve kept up the charade for so long.

— Anonymous

I am so sorry to hear about your family estrangement. Family rifts are so difficult, and language is often inadequate when trying to explain what’s going on, how you’re affected and what you need. Your manager clearly means well, but you need time and space. I would suggest telling him that you appreciate the kindness he extends by asking about your family but that things are difficult right now, you’d rather not talk about it, you are doing as well as can be expected and you hope he can respect this boundary. Sometimes, you have to be direct and honest about what you need.


I work in a creative job within government. We are a small team, but we have a lot of leverage and leeway because our output is mighty, the higher-ups love our work and we save the government millions of dollars each year. My dilemma: We all have very specialized jobs, and a few of my colleagues seem to disregard my work and my contributions. They feel their work is more important (even though higher-ups have said the reverse), and it’s a constant battle every time we start a new project.

I have raised the issue with my manager, who promises change, but who is also conflict averse and so nothing changes. I feel demoralized on every project, even though I do get high praise from management. Do I raise the issue, again, with my manager? Go over their head to their manager? Take it all the way to the very top? Should I just simply start looking for a new job where my skill set and contributions will actually be valued? Or should I move my way into management (and I have the qualifications to do so) and get rid of all the colleagues who irk me?

— Anonymous

More information would help here. How is your colleagues’ disregard for your contributions affecting your work? And if your managers appreciate your work and tell you so, why do you care about validation from your colleagues? Certainly, we all want to be recognized and valued for our professional contributions, but why are you considering taking this to the very top?

Before you do anything drastic, raise the issue with your manager again and be clear on what the issue is, how it is affecting you and what the ideal outcome is. You shouldn’t have to solve this problem by yourself, but sometimes it is helpful to give managers a gentle push in the right direction. If all else fails, then yes, you should move into management and fire all your enemies. (I kid. I kid.)

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Opinions: A Decade of Arguments, Criticism, and Minding Other People’s Business” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at workfriend@nytimes.com

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