You're stressing out trying to juggle five major projects at the office when -- all of a sudden -- a family crisis surfaces. How do you cope?
If an illness, death or other major concern is pushing you to the limit, you need to try to stay calm and lay out an action plan with workable stages. Here are some tips to help:
Don't Tell the Boss Too Much -- Yet
Why? You don't want to overload him too soon. If your crisis worsens, you may need to solicit cooperation from your boss.
If you verbalize too many details now, it will make it hard for your boss to listen later. Share the bare facts only; this will help the boss stay open to offering you flextime or resources if things go from bad to worse.
Alert Certain Clients
Contact only those who need to know. Email them, saying, "I have a family emergency. I can't get the information you requested until early next week." Or phone important customers to say, "I have a family crisis going on. I will be in my office from 9 a.m. until noon only this week."
Ask for Communication Support
Ask trusted people close to your family crisis to alert you if things get worse, or ask a coworker to serve as your communication liaison with the office.
For example, if a family member is in the hospital, ask a specific nurse on each shift to call you if anything changes. At the same time, arrange for a trusted coworker to forward work emails to your home.
Call in Favors
Ask lots of people for a little help. If your crisis is really stressful, it's better to risk straining a few people than overload yourself to the max. You could ask your next-door neighbor to pick up your son from school. For at least a few days, ask someone to drive needed papers to your home or office.
"I had to become a humble man," says one business owner. "I had to ask many favors of my secretary, her husband, my brother and my neighbor when my wife fell down a flight of stairs."
"Our three kids are under age 10," he continues. "By the fourth day after the accident, my life was coming apart. I'd advise anyone to ask for help early on. Don't wait too long."
Try to Work in Focused Time Slots
When a crisis first arises, you may have to leave work for three straight days -- or three straight weeks. But when things calm down, you'll probably want to deal with pressing work matters. Focused time slots can help.
"When a tornado hit the corner of my house, one of my children was injured badly," says one factory supervisor. "I worked from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., left to be with my child and returned in the afternoons for an hour and a half and then left again. This went on for two straight weeks. By focusing well, I managed my job just fine."
Find Out If Your Company Offers Any Resources
Ask someone in HR if your company can provide time off, dependent-care assistance or another resource that will help you deal with your situation.
"My company helped me arrange housing for out-of-town relatives when my wife died," says one supervisor. "They also paid for child-care assistance for two weeks. My boss arranged vacation time for me and appointed a company assistant to bring work to my house for more than two months."
To manage your crisis, you need to gain information, find support and stay focused. Ask questions and don't give up until you get acceptable answers. As soon as you can reasonably stabilize the crisis situation, create a plan for your family to cope. The crisis, your home life and work all need to be managed as individually as possible.