How to Han­dle a Per­sonal Cri­sis on the Job

The Washington Post Sunday - - MARKETS -

Your beloved cat or dog runs off. A driver fid­dling with his GPS to­tals your car. A child or par­ent be­comes gravely ill. Your fi­bromyal­gia flares up. Your soon-to-be ex-spouse be­gins mak­ing ex­ces­sive de­mands dur­ing di­vorce dis­cus­sions. Some­one close to you dies.

Mean­time, you still have a job.

Don’t do what some peo­ple do: just dis­ap­pear. No mat­ter how dire the cri­sis, if you’re still con­scious, you need to be re­spon­si­ble enough to give bosses, direct re­ports and clients a heads-up that you’re not avail­able or not op­er­at­ing at 100 per­cent.

“Life hap­pens,” says pro­fes­sional and per­sonal coach Joanne Kor­man Gold­man of JKG Coach­ing. “There’s no shame in hav­ing a per­sonal cri­sis come up at work. Don’t wait. Ap­proach it like any other work chal­lenge you need to solve. Take ac­tion to get the help you need.”

If you have yet to deal with a per­sonal cri­sis on the job, be as­sured: It’ll hap­pen. You can get ready by putting a plan in place, Gold­man says. She rec­om­mends the fol­low­ing: • Make sure your fam­ily has emer­gency and busi­ness con­tacts for you, such as your itin­er­ary (if trav­el­ing). • Pro­vide your boss, co­worker and/or hu­man re­sources depart­ment with per­sonal con­tacts if you’re hav­ing a health emer­gency and they need to reach your loved ones. • Keep your de­vices charged so you’re ac­ces­si­ble when and if a cri­sis oc­curs. • Have a point per­son at work, in HR or oth­er­wise, whom you can count on to no­tify ap­pro­pri­ate par­ties and han­dle work com­mit­ments.

If your work or mo­bile phone brings bad news dur­ing work hours, de­cide if you need to leave the of­fice, han­dle the sit­u­a­tion from your desk or set the is­sue aside un­til af­ter of­fice hours.

If you do need to leave, con­tact peo­ple in the com­pany who can best as­sist you in main­tain­ing your work obli­ga­tions so you can deal with the per­sonal sit­u­a­tion re­spon­si­bly, Gold­man says.

If you’re go­ing to re­main on the job that day, make a plan with ac­tion steps to han­dle the next stage of the sit­u­a­tion. For ex­am­ple, sched­ule your doc­tor’s ap­point­ment, check on your com­pany’s med­i­cal leave pol­icy or call shel­ters to alert them of your miss­ing puppy, Gold­man says. Tak­ing steps to move through a per­sonal cri­sis is a great way to feel bet­ter and get back to fo­cus­ing on work.

If the per­sonal cri­sis doesn’t re­quire you to han­dle it im­me­di­ately but is im­pact­ing your abil­ity to work, take five min­utes away from your desk to bal­ance or cen­ter your­self. Find a quiet place, such as an empty conference room or a bath­room stall, and take some deep breaths slowly in and out, Gold­man sug­gests. Get some fresh air if you can—walk around the block or open a win­dow.

For an emo­tional boost, text, email or call some­one fa­mil­iar with the on­go­ing cri­sis. Con­nect­ing with some­one who cares about you, in or out­side of the of­fice, is a re­minder you’re not alone in fac­ing the cir­cum­stances, Gold­man says.

If the cri­sis is on­go­ing, ask your­self if you need to take ac­tion right away. There may be im­me­di­ate al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tions to de­lay deal­ing with the cri­sis un­til af­ter work hours, she says. For ex­am­ple, you might ask some­one you trust to fol­low through on the sit­u­a­tion un­til your work­day is over and you can at­tend to it.

Con­sider seek­ing sup­port out­side the of­fice to help han­dle an on­go­ing per­sonal cri­sis. A pro­fes­sional will sup­port you in hav­ing the tools and strate­gies you need to re­spon­si­bly ad­dress and move through what­ever life throws your way.

On the other hand, also con­sider the needs of the busi­ness. De­ter­mine if some­one else can cover all or part of your work re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. See if you can resched­ule meetings, Gold­man says. You may want to take a short leave of ab­sence.

Be­fore meet­ing with your boss, do your homework. For ex­am­ple, if you want to take a per­sonal leave of ab­sence, come pre­pared to the meet­ing with your boss, Gold­man says. Bring op­tions and so­lu­tions to keep your re­spon­si­bil­i­ties on track while you’re gone. Look to col­lab­o­rate with your em­ployer for the best op­tion for both of you.

How will your boss and co­work­ers re­act? You may not know how sym­pa­thetic bosses and co­work­ers will be un­til the sit­u­a­tion presents it­self, Gold­man says. Also im­por­tant, she says, is that you may not know how you will re­act.

“If the per­sonal cri­sis is un­fore­seen, and it’s a life or death sit­u­a­tion, what you choose to do will re­veal your val­ues,” Gold­man says. “Do you live to work or work to live? Do you put oth­ers’ needs above your own? These are ques­tions you can ask your­self to­day, whether you have a per­sonal cri­sis or not.”

Per­son­ally, I still re­gret at­tend­ing only the visi­ta­tion—but not the fu­neral—when my great-grand­mother died decades ago. I had just started a new job and didn’t want to ask off for an af­ter­noon fu­neral. My bosses were sym­pa­thetic to my loss, and I should have gone to the fu­neral.

You may be sur­prised at how kind your busi­ness as­so­ci­ates can be, given the chance. When Gold­man learned her mother died, she was on a busi­ness trip 3,000 miles from home.

“I im­me­di­ately called my man­ager, who called another co­worker,” Gold­man says. “The two of them rushed to my lo­ca­tion, sat with me, asked me what I needed, as­sur­ing me they would han­dle ev­ery­thing—travel ar­range­ments, busi­ness com­mit­ments, etc., so I could head home and be with my fam­ily. My man­ager drove me to the air­port and checked in with me reg­u­larly there­after. I was able to take the time off I needed to make fu­neral ar­range­ments. The bou­quet of flow­ers from the com­pany was the largest at the ser­vice. The ex­pe­ri­ence of my boss and co­worker was one I’ll never for­get.”

Note to bosses: the sym­pa­thetic, hu­man re­sponse boosted the bot­tom line. The ex­pe­ri­ence “brought our team to­gether on a deeper, emo­tion­ally-con­nected level, con­tribut­ing to our doubling our sales quota within two years of that hor­ri­ble day,” Gold­man says. This spe­cial ad­ver­tis­ing sec­tion was pre­pared by in­de­pen­dent writer K. H. Queen. The pro­duc­tion of this sec­tion did not in­volve the news or editorial staff of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

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