Using the workplace as a therapist’s office? Private problems at work

March 6, 2017 Sascha Grosskopf


What do you look for when searching for a job? Exciting activities, nice team, a good salary? These things are all taken into consideration when searching for jobs, but the most important benefit we consider, particularly in the case of younger workers, is a healthy work-life balance.


A work-life balance sounds good, but in practice it is not always easy to achieve, and the result can be dissatisfied, ill-treated employees. In recent years, companies have been working to minimize the psychological stress caused by employers and offer help to those affected by it. Training in stress management, community sports in the office, or flexible working are three examples of measures to prevent stress and keep a healthy mind, even with a high workload. But what if, instead of the "work" part causing the stress, the "life” part suddenly tips the balance.


Talking about private problems in the workplace is a phenomenon that has so far received little attention. Most employers assume that their employees can separate their private and the professional lives. However, private problems can be critical, especially if the affected employees can no longer bring their expected performance.


Of course, such extreme cases are rare, but dealing with mentally stressed colleagues is difficult – especially since everyone has to deal with private issues. Some employees turn to their colleagues in tears, complain about their problems to different departments and describe personal details that could make their colleagues feel uncomfortable. Others do not actively approach their colleagues at all. They signal through their body language that something is wrong and expect their colleagues to ask if they’re ok. Finally, some employees are completely withdrawn and do not want to communicate anymore to anyone. This can be a burden in the office too. But what can you do?


Many struggle with private problems – relationships, having low self-confidence and experiencing doubts about one’s own capabilities can significantly impact how people behave at work. However, the office can help them get back on their feet. Colleagues praising their work and recognition from supervisors can bring about miracles and help support the colleague.


However, it is more problematic if the psychological stress is so great that coping with everyday work no longer seems realistic. Then the intervention of senior team members becomes indispensable. And since bosses are only human, one can certainly hope for a level of understanding.


If the issue cannot be resolved and the employee cannot cope with work, then the sensitivity of management is required. If their emotional state is having a serious effect on the business, then it should be addressed. For many bosses this is still a taboo subject, as the private life of employees is private. However, it is not about solving their problems. On the contrary, they should be guided to ensure an improvement in the situation. In their duty of care framework, executives should have an interest in helping employees in crisis situations and maintain a positive attitude in the company.


Dealing with private problems in the workplace presents a complicated range of issues for all parties involved. Of course, companies are not responsible for solving private problems of employees, but  they are responsible for preventing the potential impact of these problems on colleagues, customers or the brand image. This is why it is important to address the concerns of psychologically stressed employees in order to prevent too much of their "life" getting involved in their “work”.


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