When Personal Issues Pervade Professional

Personal Issues at Work

“Why does Michelle seem so distracted?”

“That last report wasn’t up to Jack’s usual standards.”

If your personal issues are leading your manager to ask these kinds of questions, it is time to acknowledge your challenge and take proactive steps to handle the situation.

For every 15 people on a team, 2 of them are likely in the midst of a major life hurdle such divorce, death, or a financial struggle. When I became one of those “two people” recently due to a sudden family crisis, I had to scramble. This event left me devoid of a routine, sprinting at some moments to problem-solve and sitting around at other moments, waiting. In that waiting time, these strategies came to mind:

Openness is Helpful; Oversharing is Not

Let your manager know that you are experiencing a personal challenge. Sharing a condensed version will prepare him or her for any moments of distractedness you may experience. They don’t need the details. A brief disclosure will prevent any speculation on their part. You may also find their support helpful.

Budget Your Mental and Physical Resources

These types of issues take a lot of mental space and create intellectual and physical exhaustion. Be realistic while your brain and body are under duress.

Many offices have an unspoken “no one leaves until the manager leaves” rule. Your situation may make following a rule like this impossible. Let go of imposing that expectation on yourself. Be up front with your manager about your plan for getting your work done despite schedule modifications.


Give yourself a few minutes at the beginning of the day to organize how you will allot your time. Knowing that you may need to squeeze in a phone conversation with your relative’s medical professional or run an errand will help you be proactive.

Be Present

The companion theory to compartmentalization is: whichever side of your life you are dealing with at a particular time, be all in and present. If it is business time, do business. If it is “personal time”, do personal. I am not saying that you won’t face challenges of distraction, but knowing you are dedicating time to each piece of your life will help minimize that problem.


You are accustomed to assessing what resources are available to you and making the most out what you have, aren’t you? Apply the same resourcefulness you do at work to your non-work challenge. People want to help, but they may just need a specific assignment like preparing a meal or making a phone call.

Seek Out Resources

Find out what options your employer has. There may be benefits (flex time, for example) you were not aware of. Even when formal policies are not that flexible, be proactive in explaining to your manager what is going on and present a strategy to ensure you are still meeting your deliverables (even if your approach is less traditional than usual).

Fight the tendency toward tunnel vision. It is easy to forget (or not realize) what resources exist. Very rarely are you completely alone.

In Facing Grief: How and Why People Heal, the authors write “individuals who are able to … integrate their personal and work lives will emerge with greater commitment to their companies.“

The convergence of the professional and the personal rarely comes at a good time. If you are one of the “two out of every fifteen” wresting with a personal dilemma while juggling professional responsibilities, be kind to yourself. You’ll need the strength to help a coworker when it is their turn.

How To Hold Rock Star 1:1 Meetings

Effective 1-to-1 Meetings

I didn’t plan to have a 1:1 meeting with 80s rock icon Rick Springfield after a recent flight to Boston, but the chance encounter made my day. I left that brief interaction feeling enthusiastic, motivated by his perseverance, and connected to a creative world, I’m passionate about.

I mention that, because “feeling connected” should be one of the key objectives for our 1:1 encounters with others. We all know what it feels like to come out of a meeting and feel “blah”; connectedness is the juice that creates enthusiasm. Particularly when meeting with employees, the time may not result only in fun stories and creative discussion, but there is no reason these meetings can’t be motivating.

Why 1:1 Meetings Matter

You wouldn’t drive your car on an empty tank of gas. Likewise, you don’t want your direct report performing on an empty tank support-wise. It is tempting to see the 1:1 as a routine obligation with a checklist of status updates. Resist that temptation and build a meeting plan that edifies the employee as much (or more) than it informs you. Keep this proportion in mind:

• The meeting should be 80% employee driven
• The meeting should be 20% manager driven

Plan Your 1:1 Meeting Approach

Effective 1:1 meetings do not happen spontaneously (although they should have their spontaneous moments). Set aside a 30-minute block of time. Have your employee prepare the agenda and send it to you 24 hours in advance so each of you has time to prepare. You may need to empower your employee to take a role in setting up these meetings. Give them examples of the types of agenda items they could include: questions, celebrations, career discussions, etc.

Be Curious and Unconventional

Be genuinely inquisitive about what makes your employee tick. Consider non-traditional ways of conducting your 1:1’s. You can be like Steve Jobs and conduct walking meetings, grab coffee or play ping-pong.

If you are part of a virtual team, you can (and should) still do 1:1’s. Use video whenever possible. Also, keep your employees apprised of your whereabouts – you might be able to set up the occasional in-person meeting when you’re both traveling to the same location.

Ban “Everything’s Fine”

If you are stuck on ways to draw your employee out, consider one of these 101 Questions to ask in One on Ones. For example, the question “How could we improve the ways our team works together?” is highly likely to fend off an “everything’s fine” response.

When The Meeting Ends

Your employee may not feel as elated after your 1:1 meeting as I did after my chance encounter with Rick Springfield but they should leave feeling inspired and motivated to be part of your team, to give it their all on projects, and to pursue their career.

Human touch and creativity in 1:1 meetings pays off in ways that will make you both look and feel like rock stars.