When to Share Personal Issues at Work

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If you’re going through a period of stress in your personal life, should you bring it up at work? At what point should you tell your supervisor about a personal issue that might be affecting your job performance? Are there situations in which sharing details about your personal life at work might be seen as a bad idea?

As with most workplace issues, it depends on the context—and, of course, your current relationship with your boss and/or coworkers.

At The Muse, decision coach Nell Wulfhart suggests asking yourself five questions before sharing personal issues with your boss, including “is this issue affecting my work” and “is there anything my boss can do to help?” If you’re dealing with a personal stressor but are still hitting your deadlines and meeting your workplace expectations, for example, telling your supervisor about what’s going on in your personal life might come across as an overshare.

However, if you’d like to request a little extra time to complete a certain deliverable—or simply explain to your boss why you haven’t been as focused lately—it might be appropriate to have the conversation. As Wulfhart explains:

A good manager wants to know what’s troubling you when it’s affecting your performance. If they don’t know the reasons, they might think you’re slacking, losing interest in the job, or doing poorly on purpose. Knowing there’s something else going on is useful information that can help them adjust how they manage their team.

So if this issue is directly or indirectly impacting what you do on a day-to-day basis at work, speak up! Even just telling your boss that you’re aware that your work hasn’t been up to scratch is going to be welcome news: it shows you’re paying attention and taking responsibility. And if you’ve got a plan for fixing it, even better!

Wulfhart also suggests asking yourself whether you’re willing to use up some of your workplace capital on a particular conversation or request. If you’re not familiar with the idea of workplace capital, it essentially means “the goodwill you’ve built up in your job so far.” If you’re a new employee and haven’t yet proven yourself as a hardworking team member, for example, you might not have the capital required to make a special request. (Think of it like asking to take PTO that you haven’t yet accrued.) If you’ve been with the company for a while and have a history of high performance, you’re more likely to have workplace capital to spend—which means you can ask for a little extra time to complete a project, or the ability to work from home for the rest of the week.

You also need to ask yourself whether sharing this information makes sense with your company’s culture. Some workplaces encourage their staff to be open about their personal lives; others keep work and personal issues separate.

Lastly, it’s worth asking yourself if you can get what you need without having to share too much personal detail. Can you call in sick and take a mental health day, for example? If you need time to deal with (or recover from) an issue at home, sometimes you can take that time without having to offer an explanation.

You may also have workplace benefits that are designed to provide support during difficult personal experiences, from bereavement leave to FMLA to an EAP. Don’t hesitate to access your benefits when you need them—after all, the HR team has probably had multiple meetings to discuss how to encourage employees to use these benefits and resources! Depending on your workplace, you might be able to access anything from counseling sessions to meditation classes.

If you’ve experienced a personal issue that affected your ability to complete your job, how did you deal with it? Did you talk to your supervisor? Did you take a few days away from work? Did you use specific benefits? If you didn’t tell anyone at work about your personal issue, how did you get through it—and what advice do you have to share?

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