How to handle a personal life crisis in the workplace (with professionalism)

Are you struggling with a personal crisis? Find out how to handle it at work – and remain professional. 

As important as our jobs may be to us, we all know that what really matters are the things that happen on the sidelines.

Our family, friends and passions are what motivate us to show up for work every day and, when something goes wrong in the personal sphere, it can have devastating effects on our concentration, focus and stability in the workplace.

We’re only human, so if a personal, or even an existential crisis strikes, it’s natural that our performance will take somewhat of a dent while our priorities take over. Any reputable employer or business associate should be tolerant and lenient of emotional leave to a certain degree. But what is the best way to handle your personal issue alongside the job that must go on after the issue has subsided?

Here are some tips to help you navigate this tricky time.

Talk to your line manager

Airing your private life in the workplace can be an awkward conversation to have, but the first step is to let your line manager or supporting colleagues know what’s going on. Explain to them the basic details and if you will be taking time off to deal with the issue.

You don’t have to broadcast your problems to the entire workplace or discuss all of the particulars; just enough to keep your manager abreast of the situation as a formality.

Take a reasonable amount of time off

If you choose to take time off work for personal reasons (and you are entitled to do so), you should feel no guilt and absolutely use that time to heal and be near your support network of friends and family. Ensure you get plenty of rest and avoid strenuous activity while you’re away.

While it’s not prohibited to leave your house (sometimes a change of scene can even do you good), be aware that if a colleague spots you out having a carefree time when you’re supposed to be on compassionate leave, you may appear to be abusing the compassionate leave time agreement.

Keep your head

While it’s normal to mourn, feel down, or take time to come to terms with bad news of a personal problem, if your role involves working with external associates or clients (who will not be aware of your troubles) then try to mask this with a certain degree of discretion for the sake of professionalism.

If you’re stressed and your sleep is suffering, disguise tired eyes with sunglasses where appropriate, and pop on a bit of brightening makeup to lift your pallor. Talking about a problem is therapeutic, so chat to a trusted colleague or boss if you can, and don’t throw yourself into any projects over-enthusiastically by way of distraction.

Take your time and try mindfulness and meditation to help with your anxiety, if you find them helpful.

Don’t overshare

Unless a colleague is someone you consider to be a friend, be aware that there are professional boundaries in the workplace that should be observed. These are there to make sure that you and your colleagues enjoy a comfortable relationship while remaining focused on the task at hand.

Instead, open up to a counsellor or licensed therapist (which you can find on a national database from an accredited body such as the Counselling Directory) to help you through whatever issues you may be experiencing.