Texting your boss "I have a family emergency"
How To Text Your Boss If An Emergency Comes Up And You Can't Make It To Work

You don’t have to share any details you’re not comfortable with.

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Sometimes, life gets serious. You can't always plan for a loved one to need you on a Monday morning or for unexpected situations to pop up in your life. To add to the stress, you also have to think about work if a situation calls for you to be elsewhere. You've likely spent some time fine-tuning your professional communication skills, but figuring out how to tell your boss about a family emergency can still feel really unclear, especially if you’ve never done it before. Though you can't plan for an emergency, you can be confident the next time you have to text your boss in a particularly sticky situation.

If your absence will affect a team working on a larger project, then you'll definitely want to fill in more people than just your boss. It can also be a good idea to confide in a coworker who you know well and are comfortable with, who can relay a larger message for you to the rest of your team. The point is, once you enter the working world, life isn't just about you anymore; you're likely a part of something bigger, a group of people working toward a larger goal, or have people relying on you in some aspect.

That said, work shouldn’t necessarily be the top priority in your life. It’s OK to have friends and loved ones come first. “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!” Nigel Marsh, CEO of strategic consultancy at WEST82nd and host of The Five Of My Life podcast, tells Elite Daily. “Put the people you love at the center of your life — don’t leave them at the edges. Family first. Always.”

To figure out the best way to handle a last-minute absence from work and how to tell your boss you can't come in, Elite Daily reached out to experts on the topics of trauma and relationships for their guidance. Work-life balance takes on a whole new meaning when you realize you might have to actually text your boss in an emergency.

"Hi. I'm reaching out because I have an emergency I need to attend to. I will call as soon as I get a free moment to give you an update."

You're likely not going to have time to give many details right away. However, you should simply explain the situation at hand so your boss knows you're dealing with something very real. The key is to express the nature of what's going on — whether it be serious and long-term or something that will just delay you a bit. Don't cut corners in this part of the conversation, according to Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Living SMART: Lifestyle Change Made Simple.

"Keep it brief, but accurate. Do not downplay or up-play the situation," Klapow tells Elite Daily. "Convey that this is an emergency to you, what you are going to do, where you can be reached, and that you will reach back out as soon as you can." This will allow your boss or supervisor to plan accordingly on their end and also know that you'll talk more about your situation when you’re available.

"I’m currently dealing with a personal emergency. I am OK, but I won't be in today. As soon as things settle, I will call you."

If the emergency is personal, you might not want to share all the details — and that’s OK. You are entitled to privacy. Letting your boss know that you're OK, but also setting those boundaries, is totally fine to do. As Klapow explains, this text is enough in terms of communication when things go sideways. "In the end, if it is an emergency, it is personal," he tells Elite Daily. "And if it is personal, that needs to be conveyed."

While you don’t have to reveal anything you don’t want to, what is important is that you convey how this situation will affect you and your work capacity. “Be definitive,” Marsh says. “Rather than say ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to make the meeting’ say ‘I’m now not going to be able to make the meeting.’” You need to show your boss in the message that something very personal is happening, and although you may not want to bring that into the workplace, you do care enough to keep everyone who needs to know informed.

"My _______ was in an accident, and while it's not life threatening, they do need to go to the hospital."

On the flip side, you may want to share some details so your boss knows the severity of the situation — or the lack of severity, in some cases. You can add at least one line explaining how things are being handled, so that your coworker knows what else to expect from your absence. Klapow suggests this simply: "Don't hide all the details."

If you have to go to the hospital or something of the like, you can absolutely tell your boss. There is no need to provide them with specifics if you don’t want to, but providing some details can help the people in your office better understand and handle the situation, as well as provide you with the right support.

"I will be updating ________ and they can pass along any information you or the team need."

According to Klapow, in every text you send to your boss during an emergency, you'll want to give them some point of contact. This could be a scenario where you tell them you'll call later when things have calmed down, or you assign a coworker as a person to contact with any new details. If you have a friend at work, you may be more willing and comfortable to keep communication open with them in regards to your emergency, as it might just feel less tense than speaking to your boss.

"Designate a coworker as a point of contact if you prefer not to talk to your boss for updates — but let your boss know that first," Klapow says. This way, you're not the primary source of communication while you're trying to handle a situation, and you know that everybody is staying informed.

"My apologies for not making it in. Here's the situation..."

In some cases, you might not be able to contact your boss right away, and you'll have to explain later. Starting with an apology and then explaining the situation will keep things professional in a time that's otherwise pretty chaotic. Odds are, your boss and coworkers have been worried if they noticed you're not around in the office. It's always better to be late than to never show up at all, and in this case, sending a concise text like this one is key to keeping up the communication.

Brevity, as Marsh explains, will keep things professional and clear. “Don’t go on and on,” he says. “Get to the point.” Simply let your boss know what has happened and how it is going to be handled in the near future. In some cases, you might need extra time off. Depending on your company's policy, you'll want to make your boss aware of this early so they can prepare for your absence.

"It looks like I am going to need to be out for the remainder of the week. I think everything is going to be OK, but I need to get more information. I will update you as soon as I know."

Some situations are unfortunately not over in a single morning, and you'll want to give yourself the much-needed space from work so that you can focus on your emergency. Most offices have a policy set in place for situations like this, and maybe you've even saved up some sick days. "It is key to know your company's social norms,” Klapow says. Educate yourself now on the policies of your office, so that if you ever run into an emergency, you know what kind of safety net you have to fall back on.

"Communication varies tremendously depending on the size, type, location, and leadership of an organization," Klapow tells Elite Daily. Your company might have a phone tree set up or a preferred method of contact in these urgent situations. Knowing who to notify with the right message is all part of being professional during an emergency.

“Because I have a family emergency, I now know I won’t be able to make Wednesday’s deadline. Is it possible to move it to next week?”

Another thing to keep in mind is what Marsh calls outcome focus. “Work out why you are communicating,” he says. “What precisely are you hoping to achieve? Are you calling for sympathy or to ask for something specific?”

While you likely have lots of things on your mind and emotions to deal with, it’s important to focus on what needs to be relayed to your workplace about how this situation will affect your role there. You don’t need to have all of the answers, but you do need to provide some form of clarity and be upfront. “Don’t let the emotion of the situation make you confuse everyone,” Marsh says. “Be clear on what you are saying.”

“I apologize if my absence puts you in a tough spot right now. I talked to ________ and they said they will cover the project while I’m gone. Please let me know if that helps.”

After sending the initial “I have a family emergency to attend to” message, you will likely have to follow-up with your boss and coworkers. Of course, you don’t have to allot all of your mental capacity to your job — after all, you have other things to deal with — but it is very professional to be considerate of how you not being there will affect other people. Briefly checking in with a coworker to see if they can help cover for you while you’re gone is one small way you can ease the situation.

“See the other person’s perspective,” Marsh says. “Obviously you know how you feel, but try and understand how what you’re saying affects the other person and offer some plausible, helpful solutions to the problems the situation is causing them.” Providing solutions, even if temporary, will go a long way in the workplace during your absence, and people will remember your thoughtfulness in the future.

When in doubt, call.

Calling may seem old school these days, but if you're unsure of how to text your boss during an emergency, don't doubt the power of a phone call. "The advantage to calling first is that you can then let them know in your own voice that you will follow up via text,” Klapow says. “You have established the personal connection."

Texting can be great for sending those updates as they come, and calling can be better when you need to explain a situation that’s just too much to type. Your boss will appreciate hearing what's happening straight from you. Plus, if you’re someone who usually just sends texts or Slack messages to keep in contact, a call might reinforce the weight of the situation.

"Either way, it's important to keep them in the loop. This doesn't mean hour-by-hour updates, but don't leave them hanging," Klapow says. No matter what the emergency may be, it's just the right thing to do to contact your boss. Let them know what is happening and whether you're OK. Your well-being is a priority, and they'll appreciate the fact that you reached out.

Knowing how to call out of work for an emergency is a useful skill to keep in your back pocket. Of course, the best-case scenario would be that you never have to use it, but things happen and it never hurts to be prepared. As long as you are professional and concise, this should be one less stressor in your life during chaotic life moments.


Nigel Marsh, CEO of strategic consultancy at WEST82nd and host of The Five Of My Life

Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of Living SMART: Lifestyle Change Made Simple

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