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Optimum Talks Blog

Caring For Yourself and Employees During a Personal Crisis

by Sandra Boyd

In a previous blog post about my personal and business life colliding, I opened up about my mother and father’s dementia diagnoses, an injury that prevented me from typing for 18 months, my sister’s marriage ending, three cancelled vacations due to family emergencies, a trip to Jamaica that my husband and I were drugged and robbed on, and my father’s death. At work, I tried to keep it all together, but it got harder and harder.  My old belief system taught me that you should never mix personal and business, but that belief system came crashing down when these life-changing events forced me to seek out ways to maintain my performance at work and still mange my personal life.

There were times after my father’s death when my grief about the circumstances leading up to his passing, and his eventual death, left me inconsolable.  I couldn’t make sense of it. When I tried to reflect and process what I was feeling, my reptilian brain kicked in and my body went straight into fight or flight mode. I wanted to feel like myself again.  I wanted to find a solution to help me move on and put everything that had happened safely into the past and decided that to do so, I had to take control of my grief and make changes to my life.

Step one was to exercise. I started walking and did so at every chance I could. Within a few weeks I felt some of the benefits. After a good walk, I felt calmer and  more in control of my emotions.  I also noticed that while my energy level was increasing, walking alone wasn’t quite enough. I still needed more to help me deal with my sick mother and the loss and hurt I was feeling. So, I decided to start reading, writing and practicing mindfulness.

Journaling became a way to dump my anger and grief.  And I also looked for answers in my favorite place – books. The first book I read was 10 Percent Happier by Dan Harris and it inspired me to try meditation. Turns out I have the attention span of a gnat, but after several seminars and downloading the app Calm onto my phone, I realized this wasn’t about becoming Zen in 10 easy sessions.  It was about learning how to clear my mind when I was struggling to focus at work or at home. Now mediation has become a daily 15-minute ritual.  By combining walking, journaling, and meditation I have more energy and focus in my role, and I’m able to persevere through the day-to-day challenges of my personal life.

I spent a good part of my early career teaching change management and one of the first lessons taught is that you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first so that you have enough air to help others.   I never fully understood this lesson until I went through my own crisis.  You will never be a great leader or fulfill your own potential if you don’t take the time to care for yourself first.

Everyone experiences grief differently and will find their own strategies to help guide them through their journey. But despite these differences, we all have one thing in common – our journeys take time. As individuals balancing careers and personal lives everyone will take steps forward and back, but eventually we can move through it.

The simple fact is that most people in the workplace will have a crisis at some point in their career. Divorce, addiction, mental health, death, illness, and child care issues are realities that your employees and peers will find themselves in the middle of. How companies and managers respond during these events not only impacts your company brand and personal brand as a leader, it impacts employee engagement, retention, and attraction.

If you find yourself managing someone whose personal and business lives have collided, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Regularly check-in to ask the person how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to support them at work. This will help you maintain a good sense of their wellbeing and current capabilities.
  • Remind and encourage the employee to use their corporate benefit plan.
  • Review and adjust the employee’s performance expectations on a short-term basis.
  • Seek out short-term work arrangements; working from home, shortened work week, workload redistribution, alternative opportunities, etc.

If you find yourself in the middle of a personal and business life collision, try these tips:

  • Explore new ways of self-care such as exercise, meditation, therapy, and massage.
  • Use a journal to let out your feelings and thoughts. When your done, dispose of it if you’re afraid someone will find it.
  • Learn new techniques to help you stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand.
  • Practice recognizing “the good stuff” that happens each day. Taking 2 minutes to reflect and be grateful can change your perspective.
  • Let yourself have a pity party once in a while. It’s okay to acknowledge when something has gone wrong. You don’t have to have all the answers, nor can you control every situation.
  • Netflix or a book can be a great, short-term diversion when you need an instant break.

In my next blog I’ll share how to come to terms with the fact that your friends and closest colleagues may not be your tribe during a crisis.