Working When You’re in Distress

Last week, I discussed using emotional intelligence to achieve a state of “radical candor” in the workplace. What I want to talk about today is how most emotional matters outside of work are handled in the professional workplace…at least as far as I’ve seen them.

Leave the drama, take the work

Here are my suggestions, based on the experiences of a person who is still working on his emotional intelligence.

Address the problem(s)

We all have bad days. Much as some managers might deny it, we’re emotional beings. And it is entirely possible that problems outside of work can and do affect how we behave when we enter the workplace. Depending on the severity of your particular situation, you might be slightly annoyed or on the verge of a full-blown emotional meltdown.

To the best of your ability, keep yourself together enough to do the job, then take care of your emotional or practical needs outside the workplace. Even with that effort, you might find your emotional state carrying over to the job. Try to focus on work when upset as a way to divert your attention from what’s bothering you. It might seem coldhearted or the habit of a dedicated workaholic, but focusing on something else also helps you get some perspective on the personal issues that are affecting you elsewhere.

Managers are people, too. If they see you struggling, they can be sympathetic to your situation and may ask what they can do to help so that you can get back to your job. Or, if they don’t ask, you can try to speak with your leader about what’s bothering you. If the manager perceives your situation to be a minor issue, you might just receive feedback on your behavior, then be told to get yourself together and get back to work. If your situation requires additional attention, they might send you home for the day or longer–with or without pay–to fix the problem. They might recommend, if available, an employee assistance program or other professional counselor. While it’s been nearly a decade since I was last in such a state, I have availed myself of both. Getting that help will go a long way toward getting the sympathy you need if your employer sees that you are taking steps to take care of yourself.

Seek help from your support network

Since the workplace is not usually the place people go for emotional support, it’s important that you stay in touch with family and friends so that you have someone you can talk with about non-work issues. (If you are upset by behavior in the workplace, that should be addressed there.) During a crisis in my early 30s, I spoke to a minister at a place of worship where I wasn’t even a member because no one else was available. After I’d unburdened myself, the minister directed me to a couple of resources for help, and I went on my way. That was an anomaly, as I’ve since become much better about building my personal network of friends and confidants.

Try to keep the drama out of the office

The bottom line with most businesses is that they don’t care what your personal situation is. Employers or customers hire you based on your ability to do a job. The fact that you’re having a bad day/week/month/year, sadly, does not matter most of the time, so any emotional displays that interfere with your (or someone else’s) ability to do a job in a consistent, timely manner are not welcome. Extended absences, tantrums, crying fits, or other hangovers from your personal life can lead to disciplinary action or termination. In the end, you have to take care of yourself so you can operate as a healthy, functioning professional.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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