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I am having a personal crisis that is making it difficult for me to focus and be effective. My productivity is down a bit, and I am not performing up to my managers expectations.

Should I talk to my manager and explain the situation? If yes, how deep should I explain it? Should I specifically describe the situation, or just disclose that I have a personal issue? In general, how should I approach this problem?

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    Why the close? How one should handle personal issues that impact workplace performance seems like an excellent topic for this site. – tomjedrz Sep 11 '14 at 15:30
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    This seems pretty general to me (not overly personalized, I mean). The end of a relationship is, sadly, not uncommon, and it takes an emotional toll that can easily affect one's work. Whether to share with one's boss or hide it and soldier on strikes me as a real problem that others will face. – Monica Cellio Sep 12 '14 at 3:26
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    Voting to reopen. I don't think that this is seeking excessively personalized advice at all, and I believe the question of how much to share with your manager when personal problems are affecting your job performance is a very practical question about an issue which other people will certainly face. – Carson63000 Sep 12 '14 at 3:52
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    @Bobson - Having a personal crisis that impacts performance or effectiveness is exceptionally common. That the specific crisis is named by the OP matters little to the nature of the answers. – tomjedrz Sep 27 '14 at 17:53
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    @tomjedrz - With the current form of the question, I think it's very worth reopening. It's gone from "I have issues with my long-term relationship" to the more generally useful "I have personal issues". I can't vote to reopen, but I flagged it for such. – Bobson Sep 28 '14 at 23:34
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So I have a slightly different perspective as a software development manager. I have regular one-on-one's with my employees, and I try to make it clear to them that part of that time is to talk about anything they want to. If their personal life is affecting or potentially affecting their performance, I want to know. If needed, I'll suggest resources such as the Employee Assistance Program, getting them flexibility in PTO, etc. to help them as appropriate.

On the other hand if I notice a performance issue, it my responsibility to give the employee feedback and address the issue. Ultimately if they're not able to get to an acceptable level of performance, I need to fire them.

I balance the two of these with the understanding that there needs to be an expectation of performance being at a certain level, but sometimes people go through rough stuff in their personal lives and just need the company to be there to help support them for a period of time. The pain of life doesn't always respect the perceived level of the trauma, but there is a pretty clear pecking order to the amount of leeway that different events typically get. I'm sorry, but breaking up with a girlfriend/boyfriend is not terribly high on that list. Things like terminal illness or death of immediate family member, some legal issues, new child or adoption, divorce, etc. all fall above it.

You'll get more or less time depending on how strong of a contributor you were before the event and how much the performance has degraded. As a boss of a typical performer who was virtually useless now, I'd probably set the expectation that in a couple weeks you need to be performing reasonably well again, and if a month or more goes by without that happening I'd be thinking about a performance improvement plan with termination in a couple months of no improvement. This is all very subjective, which is why I gave my reasoning above.

Edit: To be clear, we've all had managers who are jerks. I think I'm pretty responsive to my employees, but you may not have a manager who is. Be sure to apply your judgement about their disposition and your relationship. If I had a boss who was overtly trying to throw me under the bus, I might not share anything with them or might share with HR or some other more open party to try to get protection.

  • I agree with you about the perceived level of trauma and you made the point much better than I did. – HLGEM Sep 11 '14 at 18:38
  • As the manager, your primary interest is the company. Of course you want the employees to tell you everything that might matter. Whether this is the best thing for the employee is far from obvious. – tomjedrz Sep 27 '14 at 17:58
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    @tomjedrz a good employer values his employees and doesn't treat them like disposable napkins. Ergo, if a good employer knows why someone is temporarilly performing under his normal level, he'll take that into consideration. Of course there are a lot of bad employers who will take you having personal problems as an indication they'd best start looking for someone to replace you. – jwenting Oct 2 '14 at 9:41
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If you feel your work performance is being affected or has the strong potential to be affected by a personal issue, tell your manager. Give him enough detail that he knows in general what is going on and about how it may affect you and for how long(A bad breakup is likely going to affect you for a shorter time than a child dying for instance).

It is generally better to bring up the issue before he notices that your performance is off. Once a manager brings up bad performance it sounds more like an excuse. Once you have a reputation of being a bad performer, people tend to cut you less slack.

This could also be a good time to take some time off to get yourself back together. I would rather have an employee take some sick days and come back ready to work than have him mope around and not get anything done.

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    @Petter, yes actually I do. I have dealt with lots of personal problems of my own and of other employees in more than 30 years in the workforce. I have been the one with the dead spouse. I have been teh one who had to deal with a co-workers who was having rtouble doing her job due to a cancer diagnosis. I have seen people get fired for bad performance who only then spoke up about some problem they shoudl have informed their boss about earlier. I have generalized the answer to help more than the OP. – HLGEM Sep 11 '14 at 15:11
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You can certainly tell him that your personal life has gotten messy right now (or whatever description you'd prefer; I tend to understate) and that this is distracting you from work; you're aware of it and hope to have things straightened out soon, but meanwhile you'd appreciate it if he could allow for that.

How much more you tell him depends on how close a friend you consider him, how interested you think he'd be, how he reacts to that much... personally I wouldn't risk coming across as dumping a sob story on him unless you know him very well or he actively invites you to do so.

Quick reminder: Many companies offer mental health benefits. If you can't pull yourself out of this fairly quickly, there's no shame in using them. Talk therapy can be useful when you need help finding coping skills. I'm not sure I believe in chemical assistance for situational depression unless it's extremely severe or persists for an unusually long time.

  • Great point about many places now recognizing the link between mental health well-being and employee productivity/turnover. – Clair Sep 11 '14 at 14:26
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Generally speaking, I would not tell the boss the specifics of the issue, unless you are requesting leave or accommodation under some legal framework like the US ADA or the US FMLA and the specifics are required. No good can come of it otherwise.

What you really need to do is FIX THE PROBLEM. Figure out what you need to do to get your performance back to standard, and do it. Perhaps it is counseling, or time off, or a rebound fling, or talking to clergy, or moving to a new place, or something else. Perhaps you need to work some extra hours or a few weekends to catch up. Whatever it is .. you need to focus on getting your performance back to standard. That needs to be your highest priority.

If your performance reduction is visible/obvious or will be shortly, then I would bring the performance issue up with the boss proactively. Very generally, say that a personal challenge resulted in reduced productivity and that you are taking steps to fix it and catch up. If he asks what the challenge is, note that you would rather not say and doesn't really matter. If he asks what is being done, tell him as much as you can without revealing the specifics of the problem.

Two notes:

  • Your boss is not your friend. Even if the person is your friend, when filling the boss role your friendship must be secondary. Asking for your friendship to matter puts your boss in a very bad position and is unfair and unprofessional. A professional boss will choose the company anyway.
  • Don't make excuses, to yourself or to the boss. In my experience, making excuses to yourself and letting yourself off the hook for poor performance is a far bigger problem than the poor performance itself.
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Well, tell your manager that you just got out of a 4-year relationship and if at times, you seem distracted, that's the reason. Don't volunteer anything else. Then bury yourself in work if the alternative is replaying the end of the relationship in your mind.

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