How to Deal with Your Bad Day at Work

It happens to the best of us. Something’s going on in your personal life – medical issues, family issues, relationship issues – that negatively impacts your work. You might not even know what’s upsetting you, but for whatever reason you are simply not your best.

Of course, you don’t want personal issues to impact your work product or professional demeanor but sometimes that’s easier said that done. So, do how do you handle your bad day while you’re at work? Here a few tactics to try, with scripts to help you talk through it with your colleagues:

Own it. Especially if you have a day packed with face-to-face interactions or a lot to get done, it’s a good idea to let your manager know that you’re having a rough time. You don’t need to be explicit about what’s happening in your personal life. For all your supervisor needs to know, you’re worn out from throwing on a cape and saving the world last night.

But often, simply letting your colleagues know that you aren’t operating at 100% is helpful. Opening up allows you to confront your feelings and it sets appropriate expectations for the day.

Sample Script: I’m planning to meet all of my obligations today, of course. But, I should let you know I’m simply not my best today. I may need a little more understanding or time as I work.

Take time away. In some cases, calling attention to your situation might not be an option. Maybe you truly don’t have an understanding boss. Or maybe working from home and sending an email on the topic inflates the issue more than you’re comfortable with. If you don’t feel comfortable calling out your struggle, try a different tactic. Take some time to yourself.

That doesn’t mean you need to take the day off, although sometimes you might consider that option. Instead, try to adjust your schedule to spend more time away from meetings and colleagues. Focusing on your work can be a great distraction. Alternatively, working alone can give you space to process your feelings even as you continue to do your job.

Sample Script: Given everything on my plate today, I’m going to spend some time with my head down to really work through my assignments. Forgive me if I’m slow to respond via email or you can’t find me at my desk immediately. I’m going to find a private space to get my work done.

Care for yourself. Whether you tell colleagues what’s up or keep to yourself for the day, you should dedicate some of your mental energy to finding ways to improve your attitude. Listen to a playlist you like, take a long lunch, or – if you’re really crushed with work during the day – promise to give yourself a treat on the way home.

This tactic might seem superfluous, but it’s actually very important. The simple act of allocating a small amount of time to yourself helps reinforce that your feelings are important. It also helps add order to what can feel like a chaotic day of emotion, because you’re allotting time in your schedule to tend to your feelings.

Sample Script (to yourself!): Hey, today is not great. That’s okay. It will get better… especially after you eat that delicious cookie you’ve promised yourself!

Make a plan. Finally, make sure you carve a path forward. If you’re really just having a one-off bad day, your plan might only need to extend until 5:30 pm. But if there’s a more persistent issue in your personal life, you might need a more long-term strategy for coping. It will likely be a combination of the above three topics over more extended periods of time. It will also likely require you to confront issues at home.

While you might aspire to the “home stays at home” mentality of work, there will inevitably be that day that challenges your partition between the office and your personal life. The key isn’t to let that cause you guilt. Instead, make sure you’re prepared to continue working even as you deal with your personal challenges.

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