Dealing With Family Issues While at Work

work family issues

Life is full of surprise family issues that can throw a wrench in your workday. Nothing blows up an afternoon of meetings quite like a call from the school nurse or your dad’s doctor.

It’s part of doing business in the modern work world. Most employees will admit having to leave work for family reasons and doing errands during the workday. You can probably think of a few examples from around your office just this week. You’ll never know when unexpected family issues will arise. But if you plan ahead, you can minimize disruptions when they do.

Maybe your father was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness or your mother’s house was burglarized. Perhaps your daughter is struggling in school, or your husband just served you divorce papers. Life will throw you curve balls, and you may be at work when it happens. Even if the personal crisis arises when you’re not in the office—it will likely affect your work performance to some degree.

“Work cannot be the place where you spend all your time talking about the crisis,” says Maggie Mistal, a career consultant, radio host and speaker. “When you are working, you have got to stay focused on the tasks at hand. Be a professional and get the work done that really needs to get done.”

Marjie Terry of Great on the Job concurs. “You should try to keep your personal crisis out of the workplace as much as possible because it can become a burden and unnecessary distraction for others. That being said, when you’re dealing with a longer-term crisis, you will likely need to rearrange your workload and/or schedule.”

Be Gracious

Ninety percent of employees have left work for family reasons, according to Care.com’s recent Better Benefits survey. It happens. But just because absenteeism is an expected part of doing business doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be grateful and gracious when your coworkers cover for you when you need to dip out to deal with a family situation. Especially if someone goes above and beyond, like leading a meeting or giving a presentation for you, be sure to send a small “thank you” – and consider giving them a shout out at a team or company meeting. A little thanks and recognition goes a long way when it comes to building team and boosting morale.

Be Cool

It’s natural for feelings to bubble up when your workday is interrupted by family issues, be it a call from your daughter’s principal or your dad’s cardiologist. When these situations arise, allow yourself to take a beat and identify the most effective way to move forward. Being annoyed will just add more stress to the situation.

Call for Backup

Having a backup care plan in place is super important for working families. This means having a plan for when an unexpected situation arises. In some cases this is a family member or close friend you can lean on in a pinch. Sometimes dual-income partners will alternate which one will miss work to deal with the situation. Lucky ones have employer-provided backup care – a reliable solution to fill care gaps that could otherwise force working moms, dads or caregivers out to call out of work, miss a deadline or reschedule an important meeting. At medlineplus.gov they recommend that if you’re unsure, ask your manager or HR if your employee benefits programs include backup care or other family care assistance benefits.

Be Proactive at Home

You don’t know when disaster is going to strike, but it’s a safe bet that it will at some point. Keep an in-case-of-emergency handbook ready and up-to-date for your nanny and your spouse, so they can handle minor flare ups on their own. Run through your plans with your children, so they know what to expect. And create a list of secondary phone numbers in case you can’t be reached right away while you’re at work. Having a plan in place ensures everyone knows what to do. It may even have the effect of showing your nanny and family how much they can handle on their own, decreasing the likelihood that you’ll get called home from work because your little one’s running a slight fever.

Don’t Share Too Much or Too Little

If you do decide to share, or if the problem is so disruptive that there is simply no choice but to share, choose your words carefully, Lifeline says. “Explain the situation clearly without going overboard on the details – particularly when describing situations that might leave the other party feeling uneasy.” There is a fine line between providing not enough and too much information.

“You don’t want to be a soap opera but you don’t want to be so private that people don’t have the opportunity to support you,” says Melissa Hopp, vice president of administrative services at the Community College of Baltimore County, Maryland.

Be Transparent With Your Boss

Many employers understand that parents need to take care of important family matters. Talk to your manager, and try to establish some off-the-books flexibility, if possible. Explain that if you need to leave work early, you can pick up where you left off from home. Be a good team player and emphasize that you’ll cover for other working parents when they have similar situations. Be grateful to your coworkers for the coverage they give you when you need to skip out.

Granted, this is what teams do for eachother, but if somone does something above and beyond (like gives a presentation for you), a small thank-you (flowers or batch of cookies) is a nice way to keep morale strong. And be sure to send a positive email to tell your boss to say you’re thankful and ready to jump back in the game once your child is back on track.

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