What to do when your personal life affects your job

When we’re in the middle of a crisis, we tend to think everyone is thinking about us and our problems. Fortunately this is almost never true

Q. I’m going through a very nasty divorce. While I’ve been trying to keep it out of the workplace, absences related to court appearances and other things have been raising questions among my colleagues and supervisors. How much information about my personal life do I have to share?

A. First, I know from experience that going through a personal challenge and staying on top of things at work can be incredibly difficult.

How much you disclose is entirely up to you. If you decide to share a little, simply say you’re dealing with some personal issues and trying not to bring them to the office. If you want to be more specific, that’s perfectly OK, and telling a close workmate or two will get the word out without you having to talk about it yourself.

When we’re in the middle of a crisis, we have a tendency to think everyone is thinking about us and our problems. Fortunately this is almost never true! Trust me, every single person you work with is either going through something themselves, just got over something, or will be going through something soon.

Also, remind yourself that it may actually help you get through this personal setback by staying focused on your work. Another strategy you might try is making a short list of other things that you can and do want to talk about with friends — that way you’ll be prepared with something else to talk about, which will help you feel that you’re still part of the office team.

Sorry for the difficulties, and hope you’re feeling better soon.

Q. I’m thinking of starting a family business, but know working with relatives can be challenging. Any up-front advice to keep me from losing my business and my mind if this doesn’t work well?

A. The first thing I’d say is, don’t do it. That said, I bet this initial bit of advice is coming too late and even if it’s not, I suspect it’s advice most will have a hard time following.

So, assuming you plan to move forward, your new mantra must become, “clarity, honesty and get things in writing.” Clarity around roles, money, authority and decision-making are essential and must be happily agreed upon by everyone involved. Written minutes of meetings or even business conversations that are then shared with all involved will help. Spend some time actually writing job descriptions, and clear policies and practices, especially around finances.

Next, before any business plan is put in place, agree on how disputes and disagreements will be dealt with. Finally, keep communication frequent and open, and deal with the little frustrations early before they become major resentments or problems. Need I say get this all written down too?

Even if this advice is coming too late for you and you’re already in the thick of things, and they’re not going well, declare a timeout and try to retroactively introduce as many of these practices as possible. Then either way, cross your fingers, say a prayer and hope for the best. Many hugely successful companies and businesses started or continue as family operations. Why not be one of them!

Q. Conferences on various topics take place all the time. How do I determine if sending an employee to a given conference makes sense? Seems like an awful lot of time away from the office.

A. In my opinion, conferences are a little less valuable than they were a few years ago. Access to information has gone through an amazing revolution, and keeping up with the latest can very often be effectively handled using the Internet.

To be clear, my bias isn’t against conferences. But I also know that budgets are shrinking, travel is expensive, and there are now alternative and good ways to get information without hopping on a plane. They’re called search engines.

That said, one critically important information gap that technology hasn’t yet effectively addressed is the power of face-to-face — the human interaction. When people with shared interests get together, there can be sparks, and sparks can lead to innovation and accelerate learning.

One way to get the interaction while controlling costs is to create local forums and trainings, bringing one expert in to work with many, rather than sending one or two people to expensive conferences far away. Where I work, we often invite staff from other nearby companies to join us for brainstorming, discussion and lunch.

The bottom line is, think it through, challenge requests to attend conferences, ask if there’s a better way, and encourage your employees to see how much they can learn on-line before getting an airline ticket. Then remember the human interaction factor, and create opportunities for that to happen too.

Paul Boynton, president and CEO of The Moore Center, Manchester, is also a personal coach, corporate consultant, motivational speaker, host of the television show and radio show, "Begin with Yes" and author of the book by the same name. He can be reached at beginwithyes@comcast.net.

Categories: Business Advice, Workplace Advice