Life throws us curve balls from time to time.
Maybe you were just served divorce papers, or recently learned that your child is struggling in school. Perhaps you have an ailing parent, or your spouse was suddenly laid off.
If and when you’re faced with these types of personal crises, they will most certainly affect your performance at work.
That’s why it’s imperative that you tell your coworkers what’s going on. But how you do it can be complicated.
Should you tell your colleagues what you’re dealing with?
There are two compelling reasons to tell them, says Dr. Tamar Chansky, author of “Freeing Yourself from Anxiety.” “The first is the practical reason. A crisis is often time-consuming and sometimes unpredictable. So, from a work perspective, it will be important to do some planning with your colleagues and your boss to cause as little disruption to the work flow as possible.”
The second reason to share — and you can decide how much or how little to disclose — is that “underneath it all, these experiences are not something unique to us,” she adds. “These are the ties that connect us all. Knowing even a little a bit about what’s going on with a person creates a more emotionally safe work environment where people don’t have to call out sick or otherwise go underground if they are struggling.”
This is important for the overall health of the company, Chansky explains. “People need to be people. Companies need to trust and know that when their employees have room to take care of themselves that they will also be able to better take care of their responsibilities at work.” Stress and being stretched will only lead to lower work productivity and an uptick in sick days, she says.
When should you open up about your personal crisis?
People don’t love ambiguity; they don’t like guessing. So, whenever possible, wait until you know what your needs will be or how your schedule will change before telling the office. “If this isn’t feasible, you can put colleagues on alert that your situation is changing and, if this is the case, that there’s nothing you need from them right now.”
Even though you are the one dealing with the crisis, your colleagues will appreciate your taking charge to keep them apprised of the situation, she says.
How should you tell your colleagues about it?
Tell any close colleagues in person, as they will want to support you and help you think through how you’ll juggle life and work during this time, Chansky explains. “You may wish to start with your boss and get his or her input about how to share the information.” For instance, he or she may suggest you hold a small team meeting, rather than sending an email to the group.
Whenever possible, “be concrete, not complete.” “Just share a few facts about how this will change your schedule or work load,” she says. “Don’t feel that you need to share personal details.”
Over-sharing may unnecessarily worry your colleagues or make them feel burdened. “It is neither necessary nor advisable to pour your heart out or share personal details.”
Also, don’t feel like you need to justify your situation. “It will not have the desired effect and you have nothing to justify. Crises happen, they are universal.”
How will they react?
Don’t go into this expecting everyone to understand and empathise, Chansky says. “People’s understanding could absolutely smooth the way, but it is not necessary to you doing what you need to do.”
People respond to crises differently depending on so many different factors: whether they can relate to the circumstance, their stress level at the time, and their ability to separate the fact of the crisis from the fallout that it may trigger. “Try not to take your coworkers’ reactions personally,” she says. “They aren’t really about you — and in a time of crisis, you don’t have any extra room for other people’s baggage.”