Talking about personal problems with your manager? A matter of company culture

Susanna Kahr

When you’re upset about something in your personal life, it can be difficult to focus on your job. Your performance may suffer, your mood might be off, and pretty soon your colleagues will start to wonder what’s going on. Should you fess up to what’s going on and tell your manager, even if your troubles are personal? Ask these questions to decide whether or not to tell.

1. How chill is your boss?

There are those bosses you talk about your personal life with all the time and those you would never, ever share anything personal with because you just don’t have that kind of relationship or because you know if you told, soon the whole office would know. If your boss is discreet and open about personal conversations (i.e. not the type to shut it down immediately when someone’s family life comes up in a team meeting), then you could share. If your boss is uptight about personal stuff, or a blabbermouth, keep your struggle to yourself.

“I can say that for a messed up crazy person (me) I could not ask for a better messed up crazy person (boss) to be my family, friend, and boss.” – anonymous employer review at Xoom Xoom Delivery

2. Is your performance affected?

If you’re reading this article, then we’re pretty confident the answer here is yes. Speaking generally, though, anytime your performance is affected at work, you might want to share, because otherwise your manager could draw the wrong conclusion–like that you’re slacking off, on your way out, or in over your head.

3. Is there something that could help?

You know you’ve got the right to ask for accommodation for physical issues (like the ability to work from home when recovering from a surgery, for instance), but what about mental wellbeing? Give some thought to whether there’s something that could help your performance during this difficult time.

You want to know why mental health days are that important? Check out this article.

Perhaps you’re caring for a sick relative and need to lighten the load for a couple of months. Maybe you’re feeling down after a bad breakup and can’t deal with your rowdy colleagues and open office plan right now. If you can come up with something specific and tangible that could help your performance at work, then it doesn’t hurt to ask for it. The worst that can happen is your manager says no.

4. Is your boss in the position to help?

Is your boss a decision-maker or not? It’s no use asking your boss if she doesn’t have the power to grant your request. Go to the person who can (or the HR department), or else keep quiet.

Sharing your personal stuff when your boss can’t actually do anything to make it better won’t help you. If that’s the case, your best bet is to think about what could help you outside of work. Maybe you should bone up on meal kits so you don’t have to cook while caring for your relative, or try a talk therapy app where you can text under your desk if things get stressful.

“The Teamleads and Supervisors really do care about the employees.” – anonymous employer review at kelly connect apple@home

One more tip: Things that straddle the personal-professional line always come down to a matter of company culture, which is highly mutable and company dependent. If you’ve been at your job for a bit, odds are you know whether or not your company culture is a good fit with your personal values.

In a good company culture, there’s community, cohesion, support, and opportunities for growth and development. In a bad company culture, there’s a lack of support and communication may be passive-aggressive (or outright toxic).  If your company culture is open-minded and supportive, ready to go with the flow when challenges arise rather than freak out like the world is ending, then you may find support from your manager.

 

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If you’re job seeking, check out the company culture before you accept a position. Employer rating platforms like kununu allow you to learn more about different company cultures and values, while helping you figure out what characteristics are most important to you.