How to Deal at Work When Dealing with Personal Problems

If there’s one thing we know about millennials, it’s that work-life balance is a huge factor in choosing where to work. That’s why it can be especially difficult to cope and stay focused when everything seems to be falling apart in our personal lives. And we’re all human. No one can be expected to function at 100 percent after receiving terrible news at work or when dealing with a crisis at home.


Whether it’s financial problems, turbulent relationships, health issues, or loss, it’s important to learn how to keep going, even when our personal lives may be asunder. So what happens when the work-life balance gets skewed and life – well, happens?

The answer is that it’s not going to be easy and there is no magic bullet to this. However, these tips may help you soldier on at work while dealing with your personal issues:

  • Communicate with your employer. Most crises take up time and energy and will, therefore, most likely have an impact on your work. It’s important that you inform your supervisor, especially when you anticipate your work being affected. Often, people tend to be highly sympathetic in these types of situations and will be eager to help.

It’s also important to articulate how you might need help. For example, you may ask your boss if you can lighten your workload for a few weeks or, in some cases, you may need to take some personal time off to sort yourself out.  You can also check out the Employee’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to help you navigate your situation.  Regardless, be clear about what will work best for you and ask for it directly.

  • Don’t share too much or too little. It’s important to share what’s going on. However, be discerning with what you do decide to open up about. Decide if it’s an actual crisis and decide how much detail to share. For example, a sudden falling out with a friend would not be considered as severe a crisis as the loss of a loved one. If the problem is so disruptive that there’s no choice for you but to share, choose your words carefully.

Explain the situation clearly without going overboard on the details – particularly when describing details that may make others uneasy. Basically, you don’t want your life to sound like a soap opera, but you don’t want to be so private that people don’t even have the opportunity to support you. For example, “I’m having serious health issues that I’m afraid might affect my work” is sufficient as opposed to saying, “I can’t stop puking all over the place and you don’t even want to see my bathroom.” Or “I have a family need to be home,” works rather than explaining your entire family drama in a lengthy email.

  • Set limits. When something is bothering you, it’s easy to spend all day thinking and talking about it. Friends or loved ones might keep calling or emailing you at work to discuss what’s going on. While they mean well, it’s important to be careful about the amount of time you allow this to happen at work. You don’t want colleagues getting the wrong idea and you also don’t want to get yourself too worked up in the office.

Ask people to refrain from contacting you at work to discuss the personal situation unless it’s an actual emergency, and assure everyone you’ll be available outside of work hours.

Try and set limits for yourself too when thinking about your situation. Set aside a time when you have to think about it for 5 minutes and then let it go. For the rest of the time, treat work as an escape from everything. Try to shift your perspective, since home can be the main source of stress at the moment. Work can actually be a good way to take your mind off things and put your focus elsewhere.

  • Use your resources.  Research the support services your company or insurance offers on your own or with HR. Your workplace may actually offer counseling, treatment, or care services that can be useful. Also reach out to loved ones, family and friends in your main support network after work hours. Talking to those we love can really help during times of crises and can help you get the mental clarity needed when you need to head back into work mode.

Whatever your beliefs, sometimes meditation or prayer before you start your workday can also really help. Focus on how you want the day to go, listen to some music and do whatever you need to do to get yourself into the zone.

Life happens and we’re all human. We’re not robots that can simply separate our work from our personal lives. Be open and honest when going through difficult times and work will become a lot easier to manage. Feel free to share in the comments below on how you managed at work during turbulent times at home!


To read more about millennials, check out our First 5 series.

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Francesca, this is great advice and well written. I must say your advice also applies to those of us who are not millennials. Working baby boomers may not have children at home, but we may be caring for our elderly parents, adult children in crisis, or helping to raise grandchildren, which can all be distracting and hard to balance with our work lives. I often take the “my job is my escape” route and only deal with family emergencies while on the job. Thank you again for the great advice!

Tammy Seleski

Such excellent timing to read this–my mom is seriously ill and I’ve had to balance work and hospital visits since Thanksgiving. Thanks to the understanding of my supervisor and program manager I’ve been given flex time to complete my tasks and reports. Balance is impossible without communication and the support of others.


I agree that this article has been published at the perfect time! I, too, received the news that my mother has a serious -terminal illness, just before Thanksgiving and one of my daughters is in crisis. I do look at work as my escape and am grateful to have understanding directors.

Ian Smith

Great article! I think the big point is to be certain everyday why you are working and be aware of what’s motivating you! Gurdjieff is a great source of insight if you feel you have lost your way. Work should be a holistic practice and rewarding at every level. Great article!

Juana Williams

Great blog! I agree with Nena,, baby boomers (of which I am one), also can also have family crisis that require attention. I have used the “my work is my escape” route.
Thank you for the great advice.


I agree that this is an excellent article and also can be geared toward the baby boomers also. I think it is for anyone going through a crisis of any magnitude. If you talk with your supervisor you may be surprised how helpful and understanding they can be as well as supportive for you.

Francesca El-Attrash

Thank you all for the kind and thoughtful feedback! Good point that this is totally relevant to Baby Boomers as well. Feel free to share as much as it helps!


I started attending stress management group sessions during lunch time, made it a point to give myself some “me” time out side of work, started an exercise program, and prayer. I’ve be dealing with mental illness at home for the 11 years and realized last year if I didn’t take care of me, there would be no one to take care of her. Also, used EAP at work. Great suggestions!