We all go through dynamic personal events, and they often seem to happen at the least opportune times. Whether it is divorce, death or a family crisis, two tips for staying professional through a personal crisis are to assess the situation and to plan, inside and out.


It can be very helpful to get a handle on the crisis and its potential impact before having any conversations with anyone at work. Specifically, the time and emotional energy spent on a divorce may not be the same as that spent on handling a death.

While it may be impossible to predict the effect the crisis may have, it can be helpful in determining the type of support we may need which can then inform when, how much and with whom we share information at work.

For example, if we are faced with a death, we can look at the resources the organization might provide, such as time off or counseling sessions through an Employee Support Program benefit.

In such a situation, we may only need to talk briefly to our boss and HR to understand and take advantage of resources. Conversely, if we are facing a long, difficult divorce and may need time off, counseling and a little understanding, we may have to have a more detailed conversation about support and workload with our boss and team members.

Plan, Inside and Out

The benefits of having someone to talk with about a crisis are well-documented. Getting outside assistance from friends, family and professional counselors is an important and necessary part of facing and handling personal crisis.

The problem is we spend most of our time at work, and it can be difficult to carve out time to see an expert. It can also be very tempting to discuss our issues with colleagues — particularly when it may affect our work. Yet, appropriately informing work colleagues and scheduling time outside of work to talk through the issues are critical to successfully handling the crisis professionally.

This balance can be difficult to achieve because it depends on the extent and type of crisis, the temperament of our boss, workplace culture and our own willingness and ability to share.

All these factors should be considered when engaging outside assistance and before discussing any details at work.

Further, before sitting down with the boss, plan the conversation first and be as realistic as possible about the impact of the crisis. If the crisis has anything to do with a serious illness, death or requires a court appearance, read the handbook first.

We often forget about all the leave policies we read back when we started, yet many of them are in place to support short- and long-term personal crises. Incorporate that information in the conversation with the boss.

While it may seem necessary to keep work and personal issues separate, it can be extremely difficult. To avoid appearing toxic, negatively impacting co-workers or our own careers, it can be helpful to understand the potential impact of the crisis on our work and have a candid and focused conversation with our boss. In addition, it is critical to ensure we have a network outside of work to support us as we progress through the crisis.

Take advantage of workplace resources, but also get clear on the type and amount of support friends, family and professionals can provide. Doing provides us with the best chance to maintaining professionalism through a crisis.