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Feeling Mentally Capsized? The Flip Side of Work/Life Balance

Businessman in crisis

Spoiler Alert: this is NOT one of those work/life balance articles about being consumed by our work and allowing it to invade our personal lives. Instead, I want to address the opposite side of the problem: when “personal” invades “professional.”

What happens to our work performance when we are being mentally capsized by life’s inevitable storms? Struggling to care for young children or aging parents. Facing financial difficulties. Grieving the death of a family member. Or feeling stranded by the emotional distress of a failing marriage or substance abuse.

Even if we think we’re experts at compartmentalizing our “personal issues” at the office, there are times when we simply can’t block out the rough waters that occasionally come with being human. Life can be messy. And we’re not likely to develop a breakthrough product idea or a brilliant strategy when our brains are paralyzed by processing a spouse’s job loss or our teenager’s recent pattern of poor judgment.

I sometimes hear my coaching clients describe stressful situations at home, and I recognize their need for a licensed counselor, psychologist, or social service agency. I’m sometimes surprised that these professionals don’t reach out for the help they need. Especially if that support is easily accessible, confidential, and just a phone call away.

Employee Assistance Programs

Many companies include an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as part of their benefits packages. EAPs have been growing and evolving for more than five decades, and they serve millions of professionals every year. Employers know that happy, calm, stress-free workers are more productive, so it’s a smart business strategy to offer resources that aid in achieving that goal. Investing in the mental and emotional well-being of their employees can have a huge pay-off. Unfortunately, misconceptions about these valuable services often keep many professionals from taking full advantage of them.

So what exactly is an EAP? Here’s what you need to know:

  1. EAPs are designed to help employees with issues at work and at home, providing information, referrals, short-term counseling, and follow-up services.

  2. The company typically pays for these services, so they are free for employees.

  3. The programs often extend to the employee’s dependents or household members.

  4. The services are completely confidential, so employees can feel comfortable using them.

  5. Every program is slightly different (check with your HR partner for specifics), but most of them provide assistance in these general areas:

  6. Stress & Job Burnout

  7. Child Care/Senior Care Resources

  8. Financial Difficulties (debt, bankruptcy, foreclosures)

  9. Family Crisis (divorce, parenting challenges, chronic illness)

  10. Grief & Depression

  11. Mental Illness

  12. Substance Abuse & Smoking Cessation

  13. Legal Concerns

The scope is much broader than you might have imagined. As you can see, EAPs provide support for employees in all areas of their lives, extending far beyond the office walls. Plus, they are much more than a “crisis hotline.” EAPs assist those who feel adrift and need guidance, as well as those scrambling to stay afloat.

Years ago when I worked for Hewlett-Packard, I had my first experience with an EAP. I contacted the representative during maternity leave for help in finding reputable, reliable daycare for my infant son so that I could return to work. I was very impressed with the representative’s professionalism and the range of quality options he suggested.

A colleague of mine accessed his company’s EAP for advice on dealing with a direct report who appeared to have a drinking problem. The representative not only provided him with immediate guidance on how to handle the situation, but also recommended a facility that specialized in that issue—and even assisted in setting up the appointment. For the supervisor or manager, EAP services can be extremely useful.

Whether we recognize it or not, we bring our life challenges with us to the office. Failing to deal with those issues often translates into problems with our productivity and performance. That’s a critical concept for employees and managers alike. If your company offers an EAP, don’t hesitate to access those services whenever you’re getting tossed around by life’s storms. Take responsibility to get the help you need. It’s there.

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