When your personal life impacts your work

  • January 18, 2017
  • /   Quint Studer
  • /   training-development,quint-studer

We’re all guilty. We bring our home to work with us.

As human beings, it is hard to segment life into neat little boxes. What happens at work can affect our home life, and vice versa.

I conducted a session for the Studer Community Institute on Tuesday morning, but the night before I received a note from Bob Murphy, a good friend. He shared that his mother had been admitted to a hospital in New York. Right before I started my talk on Tuesday morning, Bob was still awaiting word. Bob seemed very attentive. As always, he was taking copious notes, but there’s no way his mother was far from his thoughts. He took his home life with him to work, a completely human, understandable thing to do. It’s almost impossible to avoid.

Quint Studer Quint Studer.

The goal shouldn’t be eliminate the crossover. It should be to realize and embrace this work-home balance and take steps to make it work – at work — as best you can.

One way to do that is to be more transparent at work. I’m not suggesting you share everything, but I do suggest working to erase the stigma that “you shouldn’t mix business with personal.”

The spillover already is happening in your own mind, so why do some of us feel we have to bury what’s going on? It’s OK to have bonds with our co-workers, and it’s OK to have a workforce ready to embrace a teammate going through tough times.

Years ago I was speaking after a CEO who was typically very upbeat. His organization was going through some rough times, and during his speech he just didn’t seem like himself. After the speech, rumblings began. “Were they going to lay off employees? Is there bad news coming?”

Because the CEO and I were close, some of those concerns were raised to me. So I asked if anything was wrong.

He told me that the day before, his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.

We talked for a while, and then I shared with him that because the staff was so used to his enthusiastic, upbeat personality, some of the employees were getting mixed signals.

After the break, the CEO went back on stage and explained the reason behind his subdued behavior that day. He talked about his wife’s diagnosis and treatment and thanked the audience for their thoughts and prayers.

We all know that’s not an easy public conversation. But as a leader, he understood that if he did not explain what was going on, it would create unnecessary anxiety in the workforce.

While it is clear that we can't use personal issues as a reason not to perform at our best, it is also clear that struggles outside work can affect us at work.

The best news would be if all workplaces and all personal lives were healthy. Even then, life things happen. My sister, my only sibling, was dying of cancer at the end of 2014. She passed away Dec. 1, 2014. My father became ill and passed away less than 60 days later. These impacted me at work and home. At times, things just happen.

Of course this process works the other way. Have you ever had a conversation with your spouse about a low-performing employee that took up most of your evening? We take work to our homes, too, which I can address in a future column.

Here are a few tips to take control when it comes to your personal life spilling over into your work life:

— Share what is going on. It’s never comfortable, but it is important that your supervisor is aware of issues outside of work that could affect your performance. It is understood you still need to meet job expectations, however, it will help all involved it if your supervisor is aware. They may be able to help with scheduling, assignments, etc.

— If you are in leadership, be aware that word travels fast. I worked with a person who was going through a divorce. She was in a top management position. The staff knew her spouse. As things transpired, talk began around the organization. While it’s easy to say that shouldn’t happen, it typically does. I encouraged this person to let the relevant staff know what was taking place and ask for their respect for privacy. While it creates short-term talk, it moves the organization forward. The person just could not do this and the undercurrents lasted weeks when it could have been put to an end much sooner.

— Seek help. If your organization offers an employee assistance program (EAP), access these services. People have more pain than needed and sadly some die because of the stigma of seeking mental health. Actually, seeking help is a sign of mental health, not the opposite. EAP services are a great workplace benefit, one that is not utilized enough. If your company does not offer such a service, still seek help.

— If you are a supervisor, please recommend help to an employee who is having performance issues. While you are not there to diagnose or treat, sharing the availability of such a serve is good. At times based on where the employee is in the progressive discipline process, a mandatory referral to the EAP may be appropriate.

Gallup research shows that a key item that impacts a company is employee retention and engagement.

One of the most important questions to build engagement is this: Does my supervisor care about me as a person?

While showing care certainly fits our human values, it also makes good sense for the health of the organization.