When we’re going through something in our personal lives, those issues don’t stay tidily contained to our existence outside of work. Instead, they tend to bleed into and affect every aspect of our lives, including our jobs.
When you’re dealing with major issues in your personal life, it’s important to consider how your work may be affected. For example, it’s not uncommon for people to demonstrate reduced productivity, frequent absences, or unusual behaviors in the workplace while they cope with challenges at home.
Remaining a valued employee and being accountable for your emotional needs can feel a bit like walking a tightrope. The following tips should help you navigate that walk a bit more easily.
Strategies for Managing Personal Problems at Work
Whether you’re coping with the death of a loved one, a breakup, or a major illness, here are some strategies to balance your personal healing process with your responsibilities at work.
The death of a loved one
Trying to maintain a regular workflow while coping with the loss of a family member or other loved one can feel like an overwhelming (if not downright impossible) task. Grief is complicated and difficult to compartmentalize, and it can take a long time to heal. The good news is there are a few strategies that may help ease the transition back to work.
For starters, it’s helpful to take advantage of any bereavement leave options offered by your company. In the immediate aftermath of a major loss, it’s ideal to focus on your feelings and not worry about to-do lists.
But at some point, you will have to return to work. When that time comes, it’s a good idea to be mindful about what you share with your coworkers. It’s okay to set boundaries around these conversations. If you’d prefer not to discuss your loss in the workplace, that is your prerogative.
Another helpful strategy is to enlist a trusted coworker to assist you in communicating with others. That way, they can keep colleagues up to date (so you don’t have to) and inform others of the boundaries you’ve chosen to set around conversations at work.
Finally, it’s a good idea to designate a private space to retreat to if you’re feeling overwhelmed or in need of a cry. Whether that entails taking a break and locking your office door or sitting in your car for 15 minutes, knowing where to get some privacy—and communicating this need to your supervisor—makes it easier to get through a workday.
Breakups can be emotionally devastating, and the aftershocks can reverberate well beyond your love life. It can be hard to focus on work when you’re pining for your ex or coping with loneliness. As Lifehacker puts it, “The end of a relationship feels a lot like losing a loved one, because, well, you are losing a loved one.”
So how can you maintain productivity even while coping with this type of loss? For starters, it may help to break projects down into smaller tasks and then focus on checking off one small step at a time. This way, projects will feel less daunting at a time when your emotional resources are limited.
Per Lifehacker, it may also be helpful to schedule time for reflection on your calendar. Then, if you find your mind straying to the breakup during work, remind yourself that you can address those thoughts during your reflection time after work.
If your ex shares your workplace, then things get a bit more complicated. You can help yourself—and your work performance—by setting strong boundaries. Inform your ex that you won’t talk about the relationship at work and commit to acting professional at all times.
If you catch the common cold or flu, then you know the drill: Call in sick, rest up, and get back to the office as soon as you feel up to it. But when you’re dealing with the diagnosis of a chronic illness, things get a bit more complicated.
A good place to start? Put together a strong support system. This system could exist outside of work and/or within it (provided you have coworkers whom you trust). Once you have this support system in place, don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether in the form of a ride to an appointment or getting dinner on the table. Leaning into this support can help your diagnosis feel slightly less overwhelming, which makes it easier to focus while you’re at work.
Treating a chronic condition often requires taking time off work to spend in doctors’ offices, so it may be impossible to avoid sharing your diagnosis with your colleagues. We’ll touch more on some of the best strategies for disclosing your diagnosis in the following section.
When and How to Disclose Personal Issues in Your Workplace
If issues in your personal life affect your work, then it may be necessary to share some of this information with your supervisor so they have context for the changes in your work performance.
That being said, it’s important to remember that once you disclose information, you cannot take it back—and you can’t control how your supervisor or coworkers will respond to it. For this reason, it’s important to think carefully before deciding when and how to divulge personal information. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind.
- Before sharing information with a supervisor or coworkers, get a good understanding of your legal rights. In some cases, such as if you’re dealing with a disability or you’ve just come out as LGBTQ, you may be entitled to legal protections. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from an employment lawyer before speaking with your supervisor.
- When speaking with your supervisor, approach the conversation from a solutions-oriented perspective. For example, you may ask to incorporate flex time or remote work into your schedule. Make it clear that you’re still committed to doing your job well.
- Remember that you get to decide how much or how little you share with your coworkers. You can share specifics or keep things vague by telling your colleagues that you’re dealing with some issues in your personal life and keep it at that.
Managing your work and major personal issues simultaneously is no easy task. By pairing these strategies with healthy self-care practices, you’ll increase your odds of weathering the storms of your personal life while keeping your work life intact.