When a personal or family crisis strikes, it can wreak havoc on the workplace and open up career risk for you. 

Here’s a roadmap to follow when facing a personal crisis at your company with dignity. 

  • Breathe. Create a little space if needed. If the crisis is highly emotional and/or inhibits your ability to perform in your role, take a step back first to compose, think, and make a plan. 
  1. Make a plan and become your own spokesperson or ask a trusted colleague to help you communicate what is happening to your boss or team. If you are unsure what options and support are available to you, there are two great resources to start with before talking with your manager. Create your own informal “crisis team” to help you navigate the crisis.
  2. If your company or health insurance provider offers an Employee Assistance Program, you may want to reach out to discuss what kind of support exists at no cost or for a subsidized cost through your health plan or corporate benefits. If the crisis is related to illness, death, substance abuse, or injury, your EAP is a confidential resource and should be able to tell you what options you have and what resources may be available based on your specific circumstances. 
  3. If you have a human resources partner, you may also want to speak with them about what kind of options or flexible arrangements might be available to support you.
  4. Communicate the details you feel comfortable sharing with your boss, team, and departments you work in. Be open and honest about the circumstances and what’s happening. Leaders, teammates, and direct reports tend to rally around their own people when a crisis emerges. Have faith in this and lean into the feelings of vulnerability. Your colleagues are like “first responders”. 
  5. Let customers and channel partners know what’s going on. They are human and will understand. Your work will be picked up by a backup. Business won’t shut down. Trying to insulate your clients or colleagues from your crisis in order to maintain a strong front can backfire. Clients that don’t know about your crisis may feel that you’re not responsive or not “showing enough love”. This can lead to service failures and lost clients.  Sure, telling customers about a difficult personal matter can feel risky and vulnerable, but will usually work out best and help you build trust with your clients in the process. 
  6. Keep your boss, team, and clients appropriately informed along the way. If you’ve shared the specific details of your crisis, it’s only fair to provide updates and closure when things are resolved. After all, people are naturally going to worry or be concerned about your well-being.  Providing updates or check-ins can keep your support network engaged and there to support you if necessary. 
  7. Don’t overshare. There is a line and unfortunately, it’s different for each individual and interaction. Share enough but you don’t need to expose a full closet of skeletons. Be relevant and vulnerable with what you share but don’t share information that will you feel could be used against you when the crisis has passed.  
  8. Take the right amount of time that’s available to you but don’t milk it. People are coming to your aid and backing you up which means that your work burdens are being shouldered by others who also have their job to do. Never take advantage of people’s empathy and support. 
  9. Close the loop and express gratitude. When you are ready and when the time is right, acknowledge the company for the support it provided. Acknowledge and thank your team or manager that gave you space to manage and deal with your crisis. If things have been resolved, you can put a bookend on the crisis by letting folks know that things have been dealt with and that the crisis is resolved. This small gesture helps your network and colleagues know that you’re ok and signals that things are returning back to normal.