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Background:

I work as the only bookkeeper/office manager in a local small business. As such, most of my work is self-managed with little to no direct supervision, and I am considered the "right-hand lady" (a term he has used) to the owner, my boss. So long as I can produce certain reports when my boss requests them, and so long as the power is still running (meaning the bills are paid), most of my work goes unnoticed (but not unappreciated). I also have some flexibility in my shifts so long as I accurately track my hours, as my boss spends most of his days out of the office.

Over the course of the month of October, I have been struggling with work due to my father being in and out of the hospital after a serious heart attack. My boss is aware of the situation and I took off a day or two, or left early a day or two, with his knowledge in order to handle these issues. Even when I am at work I find myself on the phone to coordinate health care, or to communicate to people that need information. (Note: I'm located in the U.S. and am therefore also dealing with the financial repercussions of my father's illness, as well as essentially being his caretaker while he recovers, since he can't afford an in-home caretaker.)

I have begun to realize that due to these personal problems (that I have unwillingly been bringing with me to the office everyday), the quality of my work has suffered over the course of the past month. I am very behind in terms of projects that need to be completed, and a couple of items will likely not be finished by their deadlines.

The Question:

I want to "come clean" with my boss, I guess you could say, and tell him honestly that I have not been meeting expectations of my job over the course of the last few weeks, but that I intend to make it right. In the course of this "confession" I would also like to ask for some leeway at work, to get caught up on projects and to express that I cannot take on any extra projects until I am more stable.

My question might end up being too opinion-based, but I would really love some feedback from previous or current managers. I looked over a few questions, namely this one, this one, and this one. I feel that none of them had the answers I'm looking for, and most of them were closed for being opinion-based. I'm hoping that my question doesn't fall quite under this scope. I really just want the best and most professional method to deal with the issue, as this has never happened before in our working relationship. If the question does end up closed, I can definitely accept that.

How do I make my boss aware of a personal situation without having him lose trust in me as his employee?

In addition, I thought it would be easiest to write everything out in an email, and let him read it at his leisure, and then speak to him. Would this be considered unprofessional as opposed to approaching him face-to-face to speak to him? What method is best (especially in a boss that is hard to pin down for one-on-one meetings) to speak about something very personal and very likely negative?

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    You may find this question on an external site useful. While the circumstances are obviously different, the underlying concerns seem the same (worry over a drop in performance due to a personal situation) and the advice given may be useful to you or others dealing with such a difficult situation. Key advice: "The worst thing that you can do when you’re worried about something at work is to say nothing and just stay anxious about it. Nearly always, the best thing to do is to talk to your boss." – Lilienthal Oct 27 '15 at 12:05
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I have found in life that most people are very understanding if you are upfront with them. Just have a chat with him. People, including managers, are human. He may have had a previous experience in his life as well. Most, if not all, will at some point.

I never really understand this concept of being 'professional'. I just be honest and polite to people. That is my definition of "professional". Just use this yard stick for conversations and you will not go far wrong.

I would imagine that you manager will listen to you and will understand that this is a temporary bump in the road and give you a little slack. Why should he lose trust - just because you have got this other stuff going on? Just means you might not be as productive as usual. These things happen in life

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    That fact that you are upfront and honest with him as to the situation will demonstrate to him that you can be trusted. It's hard to know which medium to suggest, but a phone call might be the best way to begin. "Hey, <boss>, I just wanted to confess to you that I've been getting behind in my work lately because of my father's condition. I'm trying really hard to catch up. If you were concerned about it, I'd be glad to email you with my progress in catching up, how much detail would you like to have and how often?" – Francine DeGrood Taylor Oct 27 '15 at 18:35
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How do I make my boss aware of a personal situation without having him lose trust in me as his employee?

In your question you indicate that your boss is already aware. You said "My boss is aware of the situation and I took off a day or two, or left early a day or two, with his knowledge in order to handle these issues." I don't think that awareness would cause him to lose trust in you. On the contrary, being honest and open, particularly when you have decided that you will work hard to regain any trust lost to date could easily help the situation.

On the other hand, just performing poorly, without planning to change and without informing your boss about your how you will handle your situation could indeed erode trust further.

So choose to be open and honest. A good manager will understand your situation, and offer to help you do better in any way possible.

Your family comes first of course, but it's also really good that you consider work implications as well. That shows a commitment to work that many managers really appreciate and will respond to in a positive way.

I've had folks come to me (as their boss) when they have had personal or family situations. The best cases by far were when the employees had a clear picture of what they needed to do for their family, how it might impact their work, and what they intended to do in order to minimize the impact on their work. The worst cases were when the employee basically made it solely my problem.

I can often find a way to work with people on my team to help them and their families as best I can. Sometimes they some need time off to dedicate to their family situation. Sometimes they need a change to their work routine so they can deal with issues at home - perhaps they need to travel less, or change the hours they work. Sometimes they need a reduction in hours. Sometimes they need advice. Sometimes they just need someone to hear their struggle. I can do any/all of these if given a chance.

Give your manager a chance to help. Ask for what you need. And work with your manager so that it works for both of you.

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The fact that your boss is rarely in the office complicates this. Normally I would suggest in person discussion, but in this case, you might want to start with a call if he is reachable by phone and then a detailed email to followup (write it before teh call, so you can send it out after talking to him).

If you want to make this a easy for everyone to handle as possible, before you talk to him or email him, make a list of exactly what is behind and how far behind it is and try to prioritize the order in which you should do things. So when you contact him, you have a plan for how this backlog is going to be cleared.

He is already aware of your situation, so just tell him straight out that this was affecting you more than you realized and these are the things that are going to be late. Then apologize for not bringing it up sooner. Then show him your prioritized list and get his agreement as to the order in which you should do things and the new deadlines. If you can commit some extra time to get the backlog cleared, then tell him that you will do that, but in your current situation, you may not have that luxury. Also consider if now would be a good time to get set up to work from home some. Yes you probably need to be there during the work hours, but if you could do a little in the evenings while you are still able to check in with your dad, it would be easier to get caught up again.

I hope your dad gets better soon. It is hard to deal with a full-time job and a personal emergency. So don't beat yourself up about this. Life is not so good sometimes and it does affect us at work even if we wish it didn't. Just be up front about the effect and have a plan for how to work through the problems.

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