How To Deal With Personal Issues at Work

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In many situations, a personal issue can negatively impact your work. Many personal issues, including money troubles and relationship problems can create difficulties at work. But these difficulties can be alleviated by sharing personal issues with your employer and taking time to take care of yourself.

Key Takeaways

  • Common personal issues in the workplace include financial troubles, substance abuse, and relationship problems.
  • You may be able to get assistance from your supervisor or HR department.
  • Laws may affect how employers handle certain personal issues.

Common Personal Issues in the Workplace

A number of personal issues make their way into the workplace and can disrupt workflow.

Financial Problems

If someone is coping with financial problems such as overdue credit card bills or past-due mortgage payments, it can be hard to leave those issues at home. In a December 2021 survey of 800 HR leaders and 800 full-time employees that was commissioned by SoFi, 75% of employees reported at least one source of financial stress. According to SoFi research, an employee typically spends more than nine hours a week at work handling personal financial issues.

Substance Abuse

Nearly 9% of working adults in the U.S. deal with a substance abuse disorder such as alcoholism or drug addiction, according to the National Safety Council.

Substance abuse can lead to fewer hours spent at work. The typical American worker misses 15 days of work each year due to reasons aside from vacations and holidays, such as illness or injury, the council reported. But for workers battling substance abuse, the average time missed is 24.6 days per year.


Workers in all sorts of settings grapple with grief after the death of a relative, friend, or colleague. And even though an employee might return to work a few days or weeks after a death, their grief can linger for months.

Health Issues

Six in 10 U.S. adults have a chronic disease, and 4 in 10 have at least two chronic diseases. As a result, there’s likely someone in your workplace who’s fighting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or another chronic condition.

Relationship Problems

Trying to sort through relationship problems like a separation or divorce can make it tough to do your best at work. And it’s a fairly common occurrence. An estimated 4.6 Americans out of every 1,000 went through a divorce or annulment in 2020.

Child Care Struggles

In 2021, nearly 9 in 10 U.S. families with children had at least one parent working, and more than 60% of married couples with children were dual-income households. As a result, child care struggles affect millions of American workers.

In a study released in 2019 by ReadyNation, 86% of primary caregivers reported that trying to secure child care harmed their workplace commitments. Among those caregivers, 8% said they’d been fired over their child care troubles.


While office gossip doesn’t necessarily involve matters in your personal life, it still can get pretty personal if you’re the target of it. A 2019 survey of white-collar workers by Office Pulse found the typical American worker spent 40 minutes a week gossiping about co-workers or workplace matters. Among the hot topics were love triangles and love affairs.


Workplace bullying might trigger painful flashbacks to childhood bullying. A victim of workplace bullying may experience poor mental health, sleep deprivation, stress-related illnesses, and other health issues. According to a 2021 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 30% of working adults either were experiencing on-the-job bullying or had experienced it in the past.


On-the-job burnout can, among other things, drain your energy and cause exhaustion. A 2021 survey by Indeed of 1,500 workers indicated 52% were suffering from burnout, with a majority of them saying the COVID-19 pandemic had made their burnout worse.

How To Deal With Personal Issues at Work

Juggling personal issues and your job can take a toll. However, you can take steps to reduce or erase the impact of personal issues on your work.

Stay Calm

You might be able to reduce anxiety about your personal situation by exercising, meditating, or journaling. In addition, you might benefit from talking with a therapist about your situation.

Realizing that you’re not alone in dealing with personal issues also can offer a sense of calm. “We are all juggling our personal and professional lives these days with fewer boundaries between work and home. Being straightforward about personal issues will likely earn you respect from your colleagues and may encourage others to communicate more openly about their needs,” said Nicole Francois, a communications executive with experience in organizational leadership and development.

Change Your Work Arrangement

Adjusting your work hours may free up time to work out your personal issues. For instance, taking a different shift or working from home more often could make it easier for you to visit with a therapist about your marital problems.

A different work schedule also could help you avoid a coworker who loves to gossip or the office bully.

Lean on Workplace Resources

Your employer may offer services that can help you cope with personal issues. For instance, you may be able to get low-cost counseling if your workplace has an employee assistance program. Some employers may sponsor free sessions about topics such as relationships, health, and personal finances.

Talk to Your Supervisor or HR Department

Francois said that opening up at work about your personal issues was once taboo. These days, though, sharing this information may end up helping both you and your colleagues. Of course, your first conversation probably should be with your supervisor or HR department.

“This doesn't mean they need to know every detail of what you're going through, but being open when you are facing some adversity or an exceptional personal challenge can be helpful not just for you, but for your entire working team,” Francois said.

According to Francois, this sort of sharing can empower your boss and coworkers to demonstrate compassion, lead to solutions that you might not have considered, and eliminate the element of surprise if a personal issue causes you to miss work.

Of course, if your personal issue is related to illegal or unethical conduct such as harassment, discrimination, gossip, or bullying, it’s especially important to tell your supervisor or HR department about it.

Sharing Your Personal Issues

There could be several ways to start a workplace conversation about personal issues that might interfere with your job. If your personal challenge may result in you taking time off to care for an ill relative, for example, Francois recommended providing an explanation like this:

There is a need to care for a member of my family. I do not know yet what all this will entail, but I do know that I am feeling sad about it and need to prioritize my family right now.

As a result, I may need to take some time off to provide care in the near future or make some plans to take leave, or maybe I cannot finish [project]. I want to be straightforward with you about my situation because it could affect my work, and I know with some planning in place, we can navigate this together.

Responsibilities for Employers and Employees

In a number of cases, laws govern how personal issues are handled at work.

Bullying and Harassment

U.S. laws typically don’t protect you from bullying or harassment unless you are a member of a protected class. If you are being bullied or harassed because of your race, gender, age, religion, or other protected identity, you may be able to file a formal complaint.

Medical Leave

When it comes to medical issues, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act governs specific circumstances when you might need to take time off. Most employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off per year if they have a serious health condition that makes it impossible for them to meet their work obligations, or if they need to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition.

Substance Abuse

An employer might be required to develop written policies that will dictate how a personal issue should be approached. For instance, the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act requires certain employers to develop guidelines surrounding substance abuse by employees.


You can report illegal or unsafe workplace conditions to federal agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The Bottom Line

Common personal issues that might affect someone’s work include financial troubles, substance abuse, and relationship problems. Depending on your workplace, you might be able to address these issues by speaking with your supervisor or reaching out to your workplace’s employee assistance program.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How should I document workplace issues?

It’s vital to keep a detailed written record of workplace issues you’re encountering. Make sure to mark the date of the occurrence as well as what happened. If you’re a supervisor, you may want to make sure that Human Resources receives copies of these records or contemporaneous notes as soon as you create them.

How should I deal with legal or ethical issues in the workplace?

If you come across a legal or ethical issue at work, alert your supervisor or HR department. If you’re afraid of some form of retaliation, find out if your employer has a confidential system for reporting legal or ethical wrongdoing.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. SoFi. “The Future of Workplace Financial Well-Being.” Page 4.

  2. SoFi. “The Future of Workplace Financial Well-Being.” Page 5.

  3. National Safety Council. “Implications of Drug Use for Employers.”

  4. CDC. “Chronic Diseases in America.”

  5. CDC. “Provisional Number of Divorces and Annulments and Rate: United States, 2000-2020.”

  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment Characteristics of Families - 2021.”

  7. Council for a Strong America. “Want To Grow the Economy? Fix the Child Care Crisis.”

  8. Office Pulse. “Office Gossip Runs Rampant.”

  9. Workplace Bullying Institute. “2021 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey.”

  10. Indeed. “Employee Burnout Report: COVID-19’s Impact and 3 Strategies To Curb It.”

  11. Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. “Workplace Bullying.”

  12. U.S. Department of Labor. “FMLA Frequently Asked Questions.”

  13. SAMHSA. “Federal Laws and Regulations.”

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