Navigating the workplace can be tricky, and while there is no shortage of job advice floating around on the internet, finding advice that actually makes sense for *you* isn't always easy. That’s where Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient, comes in. Zalis has spent her career equipping women with the tools they need to achieve their career goals — no matter what industry they're in, or what type of job experience they have under their belt. In her first column for Bustle, she answers a question many of us have struggled with: how do you tell your boss about something personal that might be affecting your job performance? Here are her five tips.
Question: What's the best way to talk to your manager about something happening in your personal life that you think might affect your job performance, without making it sound like you're making excuses, or giving out TMI?
Shelley: We have one life, and work is one part of it. You can’t turn off something that’s happening in your personal life as soon as you walk through the office doors, and then turn it back on later. You can’t compartmentalize your work life and your personal life, because it all blends together. If something is happening at home, it will affect you in the office — and visa versa. If you’re going through something that is impacting your work, your manager will most likely want you to tell them, so you can work together to come up with a solution that works both for you and for your team.
When you speak to your manager, remember that they are human, too. We all experience challenges in life, so know that you’re not alone. However, how you communicate your personal issue matters in terms of keeping the conversation positive and productive. Before you sit down with your manager to talk about something happening in your private life, here are five things to keep in mind.
1. Come With A Solution
You have a problem — but that doesn’t mean your manager will have the solution. If you’re coming to them with an issue, be prepared to offer up a few ideas that will help you and your organization. Need to take a few days off? Ask for it — and map out how your workload can be covered while you’re out. If you need to pare down your tasks in the short term, list the priorities you will continue to handle, and which tasks might be taken off your plate in order for you to regroup and be the best employee you can be.
2. Think About What You Need
I’d rather my employees tell me what they need, rather than stay silent. Instead of saying what you think your manager wants to hear, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to come to a place that will work for you both in the long run. Your manager will respect you a whole lot more if you’re honest about what you need to be your best self, both as a person and as an employee.
3. Be Vulnerable
In my company, I create cultures of care where we treat each other like family, and that means sharing the good, bad, and the ugly. That’s how we grow. If you aren’t upfront about issues affecting you at home, your team might think they’re the problem. Let people in (and let them know that it’s not about them).
4. Remember That There Is A Line
How much you share depends on your workplace culture and your relationship with your manager and colleagues. We want to work with people we know and like, so we can be our authentic selves. On the flip side, sharing every detail of your personal life in real time can distract yourself and others from focusing on the work at hand. By making your manager aware of a personal issue, yet sparing them from every little detail, you will better enable them to focus on workable solutions rather than on coaching you through the issue itself.
5. Don’t Leave Your Team Hanging
This one is really important. Your team will have your back in your time of need, and you must be there to return the favor when they need it. Everyone, at some point in their career, will face personal challenges. We need to help each other out.
Our lives are messy. Family troubles, health issues, childcare challenges — there are a million and one things that can impact your performance at work, and it’s OK if you’re just not OK every now and then. Be honest with yourself, be honest with your team, and be honest about what you need to find a solution.