Wouldn't it be nice if you could escape upheaval at home by drowning yourself in your work? But the truth is, few people can pull that off. Speaking from experience, it's hard, sometimes impossible, to leave some issues from your private life behind when you walk through the office doors. And those issues affect your productivity; your bosses may wonder why they hired you.
When do you tell them that you are going through a tough breakup? Or that your parents are getting divorced? Or that your best friend is in the hospital?
Deciding whom to tell and when to do it can be a little tricky. As can deciding exactly what to disclose.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to take care of yourself, both at work and at home.
To Talk or Not to Talk?
If you think your problems are going to wreak havoc on your work, then you probably feel an urge to tell your supervisor exactly what's going on so you don't look like a loser. You want to unburden yourself, to explain the reasons for being distracted and less efficient.
But most of the time, your boss doesn't need to hear all the morbid details.
"If the problem from outside of work is not interfering with work, I would not disclose anything," said Bruce Pomerantz, a licensed psychologist based in Chevy Chase who focuses on clients with workplace stress. "If the problems are interfering, minimal disclosure."
The reasoning behind minimal disclosure to your boss, he said, is that you don't want seem "excessively weak" -- because then you may be seen as a potential liability to your office.
Moreover, it can be a little bit of a sticky situation if you are particularly new to your job. "It's a fine line when to tell your boss as a young worker," said Jack McLean, senior vice president of Manchester Inc., a management consulting firm in the District. "Honesty in all cases is the best policy, but that can come across as being naive, too."
But nondisclosure has its own hazards: You may just be making a bad impression. "If something is going on affecting your impact, then you have to let someone know. It becomes a reflection on you," said McLean.
It's much better to tell your boss that you may be a little distracted and can't do all the work you usually do, said McLean, than to miss the deadline and later have to say, "Well, I was having this problem. . . ."
The Stress Battle
You have control over your destiny -- sort of.
When you're feeling stressed, upset, depressed about troubles you can't seem to kick out of your head, and you can't focus, don't just sit there -- do something.
"With problems such as dealing with stress .... there are ways of handling it," said Pomerantz. "Practice relaxation exercises, sit alone in your office if you have one, take a drive."
And most important, he said, make sure you're dealing with the problem outside of work. "Address it adequately, be it therapy or taking time off to settle certain matters."
Sometimes getting involved in organizations outside of work will help allay your anxiety, said McLean. "Keep yourself busy, join a church group, exercise -- even if it's just walking around the block or to meetings," he suggested. "Get involved in activities that are supportive ... something that has positive people around you who aren't work-involved. It deflects things a little."
Start surrounding yourself with folks who are not feeling the same as you -- negativity breeds negativity. "Surround yourself with upbeat and positive people," said McLean. "Just try to steer clear of negative people who will reinforce what you're feeling."
And don't forget about your company's employee assistance program, said Tom Morris, a career coach and president of District-based Morris and Associates, a workplace consulting firm. "Find out how to use it and what the confidentiality is like," he advised. "Just being able to share with someone might help a little."
Taking Care of No. 1
Before you do anything, said Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking, a Gen X workplace think tank in New Haven, Conn., step back and think about the situation. "The one thing not to do is kind of wing it and let it affect your work, hoping it doesn't get too out of control," he said. That's especially true if you are new to the workplace, because that trust factor might still be shaky.
At the beginning of an issue, assess what sort of effect it could have on your life, and go from there. And first and foremost, take care of yourself. "Always the wrong thing to do is sacrifice your personal well-being for your career, because it will sacrifice your career," he said. "If you ignore relationships with people who matter to you, ignore your physical or emotional well-being, ignore the well-being of your household -- like allowing your basement to flood while you go to work -- then you're just kidding yourself."
If you leave the issue unattended, will it do damage to you or to your state of mind? How long is it going to take to resolve? How distracting is it going to be? Decide if it can be solved by taking a few days off or if it's longer term, advised Tulgan.
"The big mistake is to limp along and every time you get called in on a performance problem ... tell your boss you have a problem at home. Then [that problem] becomes an excuse," he said.
When you talk to your boss, have a plan and be professional about it. Tell your boss, said Tulgan, "This is my problem, I think it's going to have an impact on my work, but I wanted to give you a heads up and see what we can do about this." And when you wrap the problem up, let your boss know the issue has been resolved and you are back in the game.
If you have questions about getting ahead, you can e-mail Amy Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org