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YOUR CAREER: Emotional stress

I have always believed in keeping my work life and home life separate.

However, I am going through an extremely traumatic relationship problem - my partner has told me she is leaving me for someone else - and this is obviously having an effect on my performance at work. The situation is not helped by the fact that I work away from home during the week. I am also under a great deal of work pressure, and have no chance of taking any time off between now and the end of October. Should I share my problem with my supervisor, as he has already told me he is not impressed by my 'negative attitude', or do I continue trying to put on a brave face?

Name and address withheld


Putting on a brave face is not going to help you.

The most important thing is to seek as much support as you can. If your employer offers an employee assistance programme of the type that is provided by Independent Counselling and Advisory Service (ICAS) then you should use the service to help gain access to relevant support.

Talk to your human resources (HR) specialist to discuss any options that may be open to you in terms of company support - this may include taking a short period of compassionate leave.

You say there is no chance of taking any time off between now and October but what would happen if you had sustained a broken leg or worse? My guess is that you probably could reorganise your work schedule to allow you time to talk things through with your partner. If you do not, then how effective are you likely to be anyway?

The sooner you share the problem with your supervisor the better. His reaction may be more supportive than you think - especially if you can present him with a plan of how you are trying to deal with the situation.

As a supervisor it is his job to manage and support his team but he cannot help if you do not tell him.

Liz McCaw, director of consultancy and training services at ICAS.

It sounds as though you are under a considerable amount of stress and in these circumstances it is very difficult to keep work and home life separate. Putting on a brave face can be a useful short term tactic for some people to help them through a difficult period, but if that difficult period is extended or the situation becomes worse something is bound to give. The brave face will no longer mask the stress inside.

You do not say when your supervisor identified his problem with your attitude but it may be that he has recognised the effect your situation is having on your behaviour at work. If your supervisor has always had a problem with your attitude, your problems will certainly not help you to work towards a constructive solution.

If your supervisor is unaware of your current problems he will not be able to help. He may even add to the stress you feel by expecting to see changes in your behaviour which you are not able to make at the moment.

You should speak to someone about your situation, if not your supervisor then someone else within your firm, an HR person if you have one. A good company will do what it can to help you through this. But if it does not know it cannot help you or make allowances for perceived temporary shortfalls in your performance.

Debra Larkman, training and development manager, Arup.

It sounds as if your relationship with your supervisor is not one in which there is much trust or sympathy. If this is the case, asking him to understand your personal problems in relation to your work is unlikely to have much beneficial effect. It may leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable in your working relationship with him.

On a first aid basis, is there anyone you really trust who you could talk to about what is happening ? He or she may not know the answers, but talking often helps one see new ways of looking at familiar problems. Failing a friend, an organisation such as Relate will provide dispassionate help to unravel your own understanding of what is happening to you.

You may also be depressed.

This would be a quite natural consequence of the stresses you are experiencing but, because it makes one less and less efficient, it becomes an additional source of stress itself. The biochemistry of depression is much better understood than it used to be, and medication is now much better targeted. A visit to a GP would be appropriate if you are sleeping badly, eating poorly, feel your thoughts are slow, or are feeling that life is simply not worth it at all.

Unless there is really skilled help for personal issues available at work - and usually there is not - it is better to keep these two parts of your life separate.

However, both aspects of your life need managing properly. Do whatever you have to do to safeguard your job, if it is worth safeguarding, so that you get some pride and professional satisfactions re-established. Then you will be in a better position to take a serious look at yourself and what you want out of life and how you can go about getting what you want, and with the right person. If your job is not really what you want to be doing, then some professional career advice would help.

Dr Paul Brown, consulting clinical and occupational psychologist, and honorary senior lecturer in Organisational Psychiatry & Psychology, Guy's Hospital, King's College London.

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