How do you cope when there’s a lot going on in your personal life, and you’re still expected to function at your best in the workplace?
First, remember that most people in their lives will find themselves in a similar situation. You could be going through a traumatic marriage breakup, serious illness or death of a close family member or even be suffering from a worrying health problem yourself, and yet you still need to pay the bills, and you still need to turn up to work each day.
There are a number of ways of handling it, and what you should do depends partly on the sort of people you work with and your relationship with them (your boss and colleagues), and it also depends partly on you and your personality. Some people believe that a problem shared is a problem halved, and others don’t believe (or feel comfortable) sharing at all.
If you have a good relationship with your boss, and you are facing personal issues that make it difficult to concentrate on your work, then it’s probably a good idea to go to him and explain, if not in detail, at least the fact that you are facing a challenging personal situation. It may be difficult to do this, but do remember that your boss is human, just like you, and has undoubtedly faced personal problems himself, and should have at least some understanding of what you are going through.
Sharing with colleagues can be a good or a bad idea, depending on the nature of the problem and also the nature of your relationship with your colleagues. Obviously, if some are close friends, you may choose to share with them, especially if you are having relationship troubles or something similar. Pretty much every human being goes through relationship problems at some point in their lives, so most will be understanding.
How well you are able to work during this time will relate to how well you can push the problem aside while you are at work. If you are able to focus on your work, you may actually find that it helps you to forget your troubles (at least slightly), and therefore working hard and getting your job done isn’t a problem.
There are some personal issues, however, which you really can’t be expected to work through. If you have just gone through the loss of a close family member or dear friend, then taking time off work to grieve may be a necessity. How long you need off depends on you, and on how close to the person you were (if it was a husband or wife, child or close sibling, it’s not unreasonable to expect that you’ll need a few weeks off work). Very few bosses would resent you the time off while you are going through a process of deep, emotional turmoil.
If you are going through a difficult relationship breakup, whether you need time off or not may depend on the nature of the breakup and how well you are able to push the issues aside while you are at work. A divorce and bitter custody battle is probably a more challenging situation than breaking up with a partner of five months.
When you do find yourself in any sort of personal difficulty that may impede your ability to work, the first thing you need to work out is how much it will affect your job performance. If you are confident that you can come to work and push aside your personal issues during the work day, then great! Continue to work, and only discuss the problem with your boss or chosen colleagues if you feel it’s necessary to do so. If, however, you find yourself constantly thinking about the difficult situation in your life, and even find yourself crying on and off during the day, then maybe you do need to assess how well you are able to work.
The difficulty is that everyone deals with their problems in different ways, and what will work for person A won’t work for person B. If your relationship is breaking up, and all you can do is cry, then work probably isn’t going to be a good place to be. However, your boss may not be so understanding if you try and explain that your boyfriend has just left you for another woman.
While your boss may sympathise, he may also expect you to just move on and get over it and not let it affect your work. Why? Because a lot of people can do that. Others can’t! If you find that you really just can’t get through the work day, then you may need to seek professional help. Sometimes talking over your problems with a counsellor or psychologist and getting some coping strategies, can be enough to get you over the slump and back to working at your full capacity.
Ultimately, you need to use your own judgement. If you feel you can handle work while you get through your personal troubles, then do so. If you really are struggling to work, then you need to decide what step to take: whether you ask your boss for some time off or you go and see a professional to help you take stock of your situation. The important thing is to minimise career damage, and only you can decide what step you really need to take.
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