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Interpersonal Edge: Want support? Keep drama out of work

Q: I’m having a hard time in my personal life over the last year, including health issues. I’ve told several co-workers about my problems and expected they would help lighten my workload. Instead, they seem to be avoiding me and acting impatient. Shouldn’t I get a free pass when I have personal issues?

A: No, the reality is if we expect a free pass due to personal problems, we risk eventually getting a free pass … to the unemployment line. In general, if we vent personal problems in the workplace, we risk others seeing us as incapable of productivity. We also generate resentment because most co-workers already have enough on their plate.

There are lots of places outside of work where we can get needed mental health support –

counselors, support groups, online chat groups, friends and family. Co-workers may be friendly, but work relationships are about tasks not mental health.

In general, if you need time off or request adjustments to your schedule, outside training or professional development work better than requesting adjustments for personal crises. Complete and total authenticity is critical in intimate relationships. Revealing everything about your personal struggles at work creates way too much complexity for your co-workers.

If you have a serious family or personal health situation skip your co-workers and go to your manager. Have a discussion in which you concisely describe the health problem and what your doctor is requiring. Make it clear you realize this problem is inconvenient for all of you. Then negotiate what is possible without being entitled or demanding special treatment.

The more you can talk about a health problem with optimism and a timeline for recovery the better. Also, the more you commit to spending time catching up at work once you recover the more generous your boss will be. What never works is using pity and having no empathy for how your issues negatively impact others.

If you have a crisis when your child lands in the hospital out of the blue, most workplaces will grant you a lot of latitude. However, if you have a history of asking for special treatment, trolling for pity, and using life dramas to lighten your workload, even a crisis won’t get you much support.

Be aware that every workplace contains employees who have personal lives full of drama, chaos, and crises. A few employees will feel sorry for these drama-inclined ones (big mistake) and will continue their work. After a while, everyone at work knows who operates in constant crisis mode. They are often avoided. Most co-workers realistically view the poor planning of the chaotic ones as indeed not their problem.

The employee who receives better support and patience from co-workers is the one who has not been acting like a soap opera star at work. People who minimize discussion of outside/personal challenges and exude calm are the same ones who get maximum help in a crisis. People who live in perpetual crisis have already exhausted any compassion for their problems.

The last word(s)

Q: I’m interviewing new employees and finding so many of them have zero integrity. They take a job and quit the minute a new opportunity comes along. Is there one question I can ask to determine integrity in a new hire?

A: Yes, ask them what they would do if you offer the job to them, but they have to start work tomorrow? If they tell you they would just dump their current employer do not hire them

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