(MoneyWatch) Divorce. Death of a family member. Illness (yours or that of a loved one). For some people undergoing periods of personal issues, work can be a safe haven. But for others, it seems impossible to separate the two worlds. Major personal struggles spill into your work lives, with disastrous results. Here's how to cope on the job if you're going through difficult times at home:
Talk to your boss
If you try to keep a major life disturbance a secret, your boss may notice your work isn't up to its usual standard and not know why. It may make sense to schedule a quick sit-down to fill him or her in. "No one is immune from tragedy and it's quite probable your manager has experienced challenges in his or her life, too," notes career expert Debra B. Davenport, president of The Davenport Institute. Don't feel like you have to go into great detail. "If you don't have good rapport, simply state the facts (briefly) and explain that you will require some time to address your situation," says Davenport.
Explain what you need
In terms of your company's bottom line outlook, your grief is a barrier to success. On an individual level, co-workers can feel awkward around you. Help people help you, and everyone wins. "If you spell out what you need from them it allows them to invest in you and feel like a part of the solution, instead of feeling useless, distant and nervous about interacting with you," says executive coach Stephanie Somanchi, MBA PhD. "For example, tell colleagues that you need to have flexibility every Tuesday afternoon for your doctor appointments, but that you intend to be available in the evenings for follow-up reports. Let them know how helpful it would be to avoid planning staff meetings during this time and to provide cover for unexpected calls."
Ask to telecommute temporarily
If getting dressed, commuting into the office and putting on a professional facade from 9 to 5 feels like a superhuman undertaking, ask to work from home for a period of time. "This will enable you to process and express emotions when you feel the need, rather than having to suppress them while at the office," says Davenport.
While you're on the train or before you leave your car, take a moment to close your eyes and calm your mind. "It may sound hokey, but the reality is that mediation is an excellent way to extract yourself from the stress of the world around you and reset your brain," says says Mike "Dr. Woody" Woodward, author of "The You Plan." "Mediation can be as simple as a five-minute deep breathing exercise where you set your smart phone timer, focus your attention on a simple and relaxing image, relax, and take deep breaths at regular intervals until you hear your alarm."
Know your rights
Depending on the reason behind your grief, you may be entitled to a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This will not only give you time to deal with whatever is going on and heal, but it will also protect your job security, says Davenport. Find out more information by visiting the website of the Department of Labor.
Follow up with progress updates
If you share, be sure to update people on your situation. "If you don't [people] do not know if you still need anything and may even feel unsure of when to engage or involve you again," says Somanchi. It can also bring you closer as colleagues. "For example, letting coworkers know that you have competed half of your chemo treatments and that you have greatly appreciated their support allows them to cheer you forward in your treatment."