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How to deal with personal issues when you’re at the office

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

You’re having a fight with your partner, or mother, or neighbour… and there is real danger in your problems spilling over into your workplace. Perhaps a close relative or dear friend has just passed away and you’re in emotional tatters. What should you do?

We’re told we should leave our problems at home behind, but that’s not how it really works. Being at work is part of our life, after all. Few of us can just switch off and compartmentalize our problems that way (and even if we could, it’s not healthy anyway.)

The bad news is that there is no single solution: we are all different; our problems are different; and our employers’ attitudes are different. The good news is that there is a way to cope – you just need to find it.

Create some space to compose yourself

Struggling on whilst, inside, you’re boiling over is not the answer. You’re likely to doing some you regretful and make mistakes. Instead, the first thing to do is to create some room so you can compose yourself. Nothing more. If this requires you to scream, shout, cry or beat up something (preferably something soft, durable and inexpensive) then do it. Talk to your boss and ask for a brief spell of privacy. Or if you must (say, if your boss is a total dxxxx-bag), take a bathroom break. Do what you must to bring self-composure.

Talk to your boss, or HR

Once composed, I encourage you to talk to your boss or HR to declare that you have a personal issue and need some leeway to cope with it. You shouldn’t need to go into much detail about the problem, but will need to share enough to help these people understand the gravity of the problem. Make sure that you emphasise that you’re not asking for work time to fix the problem, just some time to cope with it.

If you need to take time off then your employer may offer you leave for compassionate purposes, but don’t expect this, as there are normally rules that define eligibility. It’s well worth asking anyway. Ask to take as much time as needed, but a long absence won’t necessarily help. Start with a day or two.

Talk to the ‘other side’

If your personal problem involves fights with somebody else, and if you think they’re amenable to it, then talking to them to explain the impact of the fight on your work. Even though you have a grievance to work through, getting fired or reprimanded won’t help anybody.

Dealing with the problem in the longer term

You may be already at the stage where the initial shock and emotion has subsided, but the problem still needs fixing. You’re still susceptible to becoming overwhelmed. The emotional stress you’re under puts you in a vulnerable state, and your work could suffer. This is where you need to be honest and realistic about your state of mind and you mustn’t attempt to ‘paper over cracks’. Openness and honesty with your boss is key. By agreeing some head-room, when you need it, will give you a pressure-release valve and this will prevent even more stress building up.

Stress-related Illness

Lots of studies and research goes into this, some of it contradictory. This is a complex problem. I can only speak from my own experience and the experiences of my friends and people I have coached; we all deal with it differently, but one conclusion I can confidently draw is that planning for long-term absence from work due to stress is a bad idea. Being out of the work environment (away from its busyness and distractions) can lead to unhealthy moping and a further downward-spiral and depression. Consider work as a break from the issue at hand, and it maintains a rhythm and structure to your life. However, I am not advocating carrying on regardless. Time out could be exactly what you need. And to hell with what you might come back into the office to.

How do you deal with personal issues when you’re at work?

Please share your story by leaving a comment below.

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This post is part 12 of 18 in the series Working & Living
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Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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