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    Why, How, and When to Talk to Your Boss About Personal Problems

    In general, it is recommended to keep your personal life and professional life separate whenever possible. However, sometimes personal accomplishments, issues, or even crises will affect your work making it impossible to separate your work and personal lives. Perhaps you are dealing with a difficult family issue, such as a divorce or an aging parent, that will likely impact your availability or attendance for the next few months. Maybe your crisis is causing your mental health to suffer and you need to delegate some responsibilities to a coworker.

    It can be stressful and complicated to decide whether to discuss personal issues with your boss. If you are wondering when it might be prudent to bring up personal issues at work, and best practices for doing so, read on to explore some important considerations. This guide will highlight scenarios when you should and should not discuss personal problems with your employer. You will also learn how to navigate these difficult conversations if you decide you need to have one with your boss.

    How to Determine if You Should Tell Your Boss About Personal Problems

    If you’re on the fence about talking to your boss about a personal problem, it can help to take a step back and ask yourself some questions, such as:

    • How long do I think these problems will last?
    • Will this issue affect my work quality?
    • Will this issue affect my work schedule?
    • Can my coworkers help me during this time?
    • Is my boss generally understanding?
    • Are there any policies at my workplace regarding issues like this?
    • Is there a human resources (HR) representative who might be able to help?
    • Do I need some special accommodation?
    • Is there anything my company can do to help during this time?

    Use the answers to these questions as a guide when making your decision. For example, if you don’t think your personal issues are going to affect your work quality, you might not need to talk with your boss — at least not right away. If you need special accommodations, like the option to work from home, you will likely need to meet with your boss or another manager. If you anticipate that your personal issues will affect your work, it is best to discuss them with your employer as soon as possible to determine solutions and support. Consider that there may be resources available to you or accommodations that can be made to help you manage your work in a difficult time, such as an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP.

    How to Help Your Boss Help You

    Deciding whether to discuss personal problems at work is challenging and things get even more complex once you have made the decision to disclose them. After making this decision, you’ll need to figure out how to communicate your needs to your boss.

    In general, it is best to be as clear as possible about your situation, how it will affect your ability to work, and what you need from your boss during this challenging time. If you are worried that you will not be able to effectively communicate what you need, sit down and brainstorm or write some notes beforehand. Start by thinking about the result you hope to achieve by having this conversation.

    Do you want to explain that you are dealing with something personal that may impact behavior or performance in an attempt to gain understanding? Do you need special accommodations, such as a flexible work schedule? Do you need access to therapy through the company’s Employee Assistance Program?

    It is worth taking the time to figure out exactly what you need before you schedule a meeting. Your employer can only offer so much – knowing what support you need will help you ask for it while maintaining professionalism. The clearer you are about your needs, the easier it is for your boss to understand your situation and offer the appropriate support. It is also best practice to consider a timeline for getting back to work and/or when your boss should plan to follow up with you.

    How Much Should You Share and With Whom?

    This is another tricky question to answer when you are considering disclosing personal problems at work. How much detail should you go into? Do you mention everything or give the bare minimum?

    Depending on the issue and the level of accommodation you are asking for, you may not want or need to go into any detail. On the other hand, if you’re asking for considerable special treatment, a lot of time off, or a lot of leeway with deadlines and responsibilities, you may need to outline the problem with more specificity.

    You don’t need to go into anything too personal, such as sharing a medical diagnosis or the specific symptoms you’re experiencing. However, do the best you can to explain what you are experiencing so your boss can understand why you are coming to them.

    Planning for the Future

    As you begin to resolve your issues, it is important to consider how you are going to get back to normal working conditions and catch up on any missed items. During your follow-up meeting(s) with your boss, work together to plan for your return to work. You may want to connect with your coworkers, too. Work with them ahead of time to create a plan for how you can each support one another when a team member is unable to keep up with their full workload.

    While working through a personal challenge, it is also a good idea to seek resources that may be available to you through your company’s benefits. Mental health counseling is a powerful tool when struggling with personal issues and crises. Many organizations offer counseling through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Ask your HR representatives how to access this and other resources. This can help you cope with difficult problems in your personal life, improve your work-life balance, and come back to work feeling confident and capable.

    To Talk or Not to Talk?

    Only you can decide whether it is right to talk to your boss about personal issues or not. Keep the tips listed above in mind and you will be confident in your ability to make the right choice for your needs and situation.

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