I am cross posting this verbatim from my Dad the Single Guy blog because I think it will work as is for this audience as well:
A friend of mine who studies and embraces work-life balance shared a link on her Facebook recently to a US News blog about managing the work environment when things at home are not going very well. And seeing as I’ve lived that experience, I was wondering how close I came to following the thoughts in the blog, since clearly I did not have the blog to fall back on.
(As an aside, of all of the things I have spent time researching, that is not one of them. I always went with a mix of gut instinct and need to know, rather than creating a strategy).
Over the 13+ years I went to work with a wife at home with a brain tumor, in a rough count, I told or confided in 21 people at the supervisor level. In some cases I told managers of managers, so all of these people were not my immediate supervisors, but all had supervisory responsibilities over me or my immediate bosses. (I should say about two-thirds of this list covers the five years I spent working for CBS). The other high-level observation is that the list grows quickly over the last 18 months as Risa’s condition worsened.
The 21 people noted above do not include my peers or the people who I managed who I also confided in over the years. So without 1-critiquing the US News post and 2-offering up a check list of do’s and don’ts, here are some thoughts:
Maintain professionalism at all times. Don’t say more than you are comfortable with and know how you will end the conversation on your terms. People are generally curious, and try to relate things back to their own point of reference, it helps them understand the event. Know where your limits are and be willing to say, “I really don’t want to get into that.”
Be honest with your boss(es) and co-workers. You know what you are dealing with and you (should) know what that is doing to your mental and physical capacity. The work will keep on piling up whether you can take it on or not. You need to ask yourself if you can handle it, and try to stop the flow when it gets overwhelming.
Along these lines, see if you can work from home. I know in my case, I commute 4 or so hours a day. Work from home is time back. Also, don’t be afraid to take a mental health day (and when you can wrap it into a long weekend). Taking a day to take someone you are caring for to medical treatment, or dealing with a personal issue is not the downtime you need. Physically and mentally, I found the odd mental health day did wonders.
Find a place to escape. For me, it’s the gym. Under normal circumstances, you’ll find me at the gym at 345 in the morning. It’s not an ideal time for anything other than sleeping, and I know that. But I also know it’s the time I can go to the gym and not have to worry about anything, deal with anything, get texts or call–it’s truly “me”time with no distractions.
There is a way to balance personal life issues with a full-time work schedule-and even personal life issues with your personal life so it’s not all over-whelming. You do need to feel out the people you interact with and know what their limitations are-both to cope with you while you are coping and to potentially have to pick up some additional work or responsibilities while you are out.
During my career I’ve gotten two great pieces of advice about how to handle these stressful situations. I just so happens, both came from female bosses.
One when my younger brother died suddenly. My boss (I was working at ABC News) told me to do what I had to do to get it right-because I only had one shot at it. And looking at that advice more at the macro level and less micro to that specific event-she was right. Do what you need to do. Know what you need to do and communicate that to the people you need to. From there the rest follows.
The other piece I got was when I started at CBS News and my boss at the time asked me if it was OK to ask me questions about treatments, radiation and dealing with cancer. What I did not know at the time was that her mother was approaching end-stage cancer. We all carry something, and whether we mean to or not, we tend to judge one another on how we carry those things.
Your boss, co-worker or peer has something going on in their life that pulls their focus away. It’s not a contest who has it worse-we all have degrees of things we have to carry. Be compassionate and considerate.