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Are your personal financial problems ruining your career?

COMMENTARY: You're on the verge of the bank foreclosing on your house, your spouse was laid off 6 months ago, and your 13-year-old twins need braces. What you really need is a big promotion.

So how come, just when you need it most, it goes to the guy who has no student loans, a wife who just got made partner at her law firm, and kids with perfectly straight teeth? It's not just because some people are lucky. There's actually a cause and effect relationship going on. When you have financial troubles, it can affect your performance at work. If you are performing poorly at work, you're less likely to be promoted and more likely to be terminated.

A new study by the Society of Human Resource Management found that 83 percent of HR managers felt that employees' personal financial troubles had at least some impact on an employee's performance. Another 16 percent said it had a slight impact, leaving very few who believed that financial troubles didn't lead to troubles at work.

-- 47 percent of HR professionals noticed employees' struggle with their "ability to focus on work"

-- 46 percent noticed issues with "overall employee stress"

-- 26 percent observed a negative impact on "overall employee productivity"

-- 24 percent said money woes are leading to "employee absenteeism and tardiness"

-- 20 percent are concerned about "overall employee morale"

-- 12 percent noticed a negative impact on "overall employee health"

-- 7 percent said "working relationships with other employees" are the least impacted.

So, what can you do to preserve your job, just when you need it the most?

First, contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Seventy nine percent of employers surveyed offer an employee assistance program that includes financial help and education. These programs are almost always available at a low cost or even free to the employee (and making the initial phone call is always free). They are confidential as well. Most EAPs will report the number of people who called, but not who called. If you're concerned about confidentiality, ask what the policy is when you call.

Second, try to focus at work. It's extremely difficult when you have bills hanging over your head, but if at all possible, try to compartmentalize your life so that you aren't thinking about that while you're at work. If bill collectors call you at work, you can legally get them to stop bothering you by sending a cease and desist letter.

Third, if you start to notice an impact on your work, let your manager know. While explaining your financial problems is never pleasant, your manager will notice your diminished performance anyway and you might as well give an explanation. Along with your explanation, state what you are doing to fix the problem so that your manager knows that this is a temporary issue.

Financial problems don't have to destroy your career. Being aware of the potential impact can help you avoid problems at work in the first place.

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