How to Work When Your Personal Life is Falling Apart

When there's a serious issue unfolding at home, it can be difficult to show up at work with a happy face.

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We often have to show up at the office even when there's a serious issue unfolding at home. Death, divorce, fights, and a myriad of other unfortunate life situations might stop your life in its tracks, but the harsh reality is that work must go on. To maintain your work-life balance and keep your job, here are several tactics employees can use to make a tough time a bit easier:

1. If you trust your supervisor, tell them what’s going on. Be aware of your company's Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) policy before you do this, as unpaid leave may not be a viable option for you. Bosses may be more understanding than they’re given credit for, and proper work-life balance is an asset to both you and the organization.

But revealing a personal problem to your boss can have unintended consequences. Though against the law, your issue could hold you back from future advancement. On the flip side, telling your boss could build your trust quotient, raising your stock as an employee. The bottom line here is to know your boss well before spilling the beans.

[See 22 Ways to Be a Better Boss.]

2. Find out if working from home is a temporary option. Simply eliminating the commute and amount of interaction you have with work colleagues can help provide stress relief, allowing you to better cope with a difficult situation. This flexibility can help you keep the tears at home while keeping busy.

3. Set aside a pre-determined time to think about your personal problem. Sounds sick, right? But scheduling a time to be sad, mad, or frustrated can help you better handle the other parts of your day. When you feel emotion taking over outside of the scheduled time, stop the thought in its tracks and save it for its allotted time. Akin to building a wall between your life and your job, this tactic prevents leakage that can make both parts of your world worse.

4. Commit to not discussing the problem at work. Even if your co-workers are your friends, explain to them that you do not wish to talk about the sensitive subject matter at work. Tell them that you appreciate their understanding and that you are willing to talk outside of work (if you are interested in additional support).

[See How Loving Your Job Helps You Succeed.]

5. Use a few vacation days. You'd rather be in Bermuda, but sometimes you need to take time for yourself. Don't be stingy with your time off. If you need a few days away from the office to deal with tough times, tap into your vacay stash. Just don't stay away too long or returning can be that much more difficult.

6. Throw yourself into work. Starting a new project might be too ambitious during a personal crisis, but taking care of maintenance or housekeeping items that are often overlooked can be great distraction. Clean out that inbox, reorganize your desk drawers or start a new filing system. These mind-numbing tasks could be just what the doctor ordered to get your thoughts away from the heavy issue.

7. Be vague. Just because you decide to tell your boss or tip off a few co-workers that something is going on in your personal life does not mean you have to reveal the details. People are generally smart. For the most part, they will read between the lines and not press you for more information.

8. Keep it neutral. Don't be too happy or too sullen. Keeping up a charade is stressful, so do your best to stay balanced at work at all times. If a personal crisis does arise, this will help you better conceal it if that's your choice. Being honest at work, and in life, is usually the easiest approach. But it is important to view the situation from all angles, as once the proverbial cat is out of the bag, it’s there to stay. Make a daily effort to keep your mood and emotions balanced and the hard times might not be as hard.

[See People Who Will Help You See Career Success.]

9. As a co-worker, do not comment on other people's attendance. Co-workers are always quick to drop silly comments. “Banker's hours must be nice!” or “You look tired.” What they don't realize is that you might be out of the office for something that is not fun. In fact, for once in your life, you'd rather be at the office. Resist the urge to drop a bomb on these people by telling them what's up. It might be satisfying for a second, but in reality, it's not nice. Let these comments bounce off of you and pay it forward by never commenting on anyone else.

Work can be the ultimate getaway from your personal life. It's not fun to think about, but if you go through a difficult time in your personal life, work can be a blessing in disguise.

Andrew G. Rosen is the founder and editor of Jobacle.com, a career advice blog. He is also the author of How to Quit Your Job.

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