Try to keep personal crises out of the workplace


Cindy is going through a divorce--and everyone knows it. She comes into the office every morning armed with a new chapter to tell. Co-workers, who try to be sympathetic, are pinned to the copy machine as she goes into endless detail about the saga.

Cathy, on the other hand, has two young children, one of whom is frequently sick with a variety of allergies and respiratory infections. She has been distracted at work and has been making frequent calls to doctors and caregivers during the work day. Her co-workers are trying to be understanding but it's starting to affect their work- load.

Pat has a different problem. His father moved in with Pat's family last year. His father’s mental health has taken a turn for the worse and Pat has been trying to find suitable living arrangements for him. Pat knows he's been pushing it at work by taking too much time off without much notice. Just last week his supervisor asked how much longer this situation would go on.

Personal problems have an insidious way of creeping into our work lives. Try as we might to keep work and personal lives separate, sick kids, aging parents and marital problems don't wait. They're an inevitable part of life. But unfortunately, your job still needs to get done. And although your personal life may be falling apart, you need to take special care that your work image stays healthy.

I'm sure you’ve noticed that some people just seem to be able to separate their personal problems from their work lives. I've noticed that there are certain characteristics that they share. Here's what I've seen them do when they're faced with the distraction of a significant personal problem:

1.      They limit their priorities. They streamline their priority list down to the absolute essentials. They don't take on many new projects and they bail out of volunteer activities because they know their energy level will be depleted by distractions at home.

2.      They compartmentalize stress. Instead of letting stress spill back and forth between work and home, they do things to separate the two worlds. For example, one person I know doesn't discuss her stressful career at home. Period. Another person I know is having some problems with her teenage son. She sings at the top of her lungs on the way to work. She says it's a great emotional release.

3.      They take the long view. Their perspective is, "This, too, shall pass." Because they don't think of this as the end of the world, they have a more balanced perspective. They take it a day at a time. They know that the divorce will someday be final or the kids will grow up, but the job may not be there if they don't give enough attention to it now.

4.      They know how to block. They are so intensely focused on what they are doing at work, they are able to block out the rest of their life for awhile. Some years ago, when I was going through my own personal crisis, this technique worked for me. In fact, I used work as a great escape. The more I threw myself into my job, the more I forgot about what was facing me when I walked out the door.

5.      They have support systems outside of work. A business associate of mine has been going through a very long, emotional divorce. He talks to his counselor a least once a week, rather than over-burden family and co-workers. He says that he is able to manage his emotions at work because he knows each week he can let it all out in a safe place.

6.      They work out a reasonable arrangement with their manager. In the event that the personal problems are going to infringe upon work, they're honest with their boss and ask for a temporary work agreement that they can both live with. The employee is careful not to take advantage of the situation and he or she provides progress reports on a regular basis.

Most people will face a serious personal problem at some time in their lives. The degree to which your employer is willing to make accommodations for you is largely dependent upon how well you manage the situation yourself.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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