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When Work and Life Collide - My Five Step Formula for a Successful Resolution

How many times has your stress level soared when you are at work and get a call from home with an emergency? Emergencies are not planned events. However, there are steps you can and should take to minimize the impact at work and at home.

Step 1: Quickly begin analyzing the issue.

Is it critical, urgent, or important? Is this something that can be handled over the phone? Does it need to be taken care of in person?

The response to a spouse reporting a broken pipe flooding the house could be different than a teenager calling to say they have a project due tomorrow and they need you take them to the store tonight to get supplies.

The response to a call telling you a family member has been injured in a car accident and in the hospital will typically call for getting additional information before taking action.

The response to a call from a doctor telling you your test results indicate you need immediate surgery will require yet again another type of response. This can bring up questions about whether a second opinion is appropriate and whether there is time to get one.

Step 2: Begin looking at options.

Do you have a copy of the family calendar at work and at home? What and/or who are your best resources? You do have a quick way to get information for people at work, as well as family and friends, don't you?

The broken pipe - do you have your plumber on speed dial? Does anyone at home know how to turn the water off? If not, is your water utility emergency information available at work and at home?

Hopefully the person calling about the family member who is in the hospital can at least give some general information. Is there any word on the general condition? How far away is the hospital and what kind of travel time is involved to get there? Who might be available to take care of things at home, at least on a temporary basis?

What about options for the recommendation for immediate surgery? What are the possible impacts at work and at home? Taking the time to prioritize critical work and home issues now can make a huge difference to all concerned.

Step 3: Assess your role at work.

Is someone at work prepared to take over for you if necessary? What is the right time to let your boss know about the issue?

In the case of the broken pipe, if no one at home can resolve the issue and the plumber is two hours away, you are probably going to be the one to take care of the issue. Depending on your travel time and the time of day, you may be able to take care of getting the water turned off, meeting the plumber to assess the next steps and possibly return to work. Keeping your boss in the loop is appropriate in most cases.

Based on the information you obtain about the family member in the hospital, you may need to leave work immediately or another family member may be able to be at the hospital and keep you updated. If the hospitalization is out of your area, then a series of additional decisions may need to be made. Once again, keeping the boss apprised is usually the best option.

With possible surgery looming, you may have someone working for you who could take over at least routine responsibilities. When you notify your boss, you may be able to make that suggestion as a possibility depending on your final decision. What and when to tell your boss can vary greatly with the organization and the individual. Just remember that most bosses do not like surprises. The more information you have on hand when you talk with them, the better equipped they will be to make organizational decisions.

Step 4: Do you have a backup plan?

What do you do if the issue takes more time and other resources than you originally anticipated?

The broken pipe may be a two-part issue. Do all family members know where the water meter is located? Do you have a water meter key available? Do the teenager and adult members of the family know how to turn off the water? Depending on the level of damage, either sheet rock or flooring may have to be removed and replaced. Once you have enough information, you can make decisions about future resource needs that minimize issues for all concerned.

If the hospitalized family member will need home care once out of the hospital, there are additional decisions which need to be made. This typically means some compromise on the part of all of the caregivers to ensure smooth recovery for the patient.

If surgery looks like the course of action you need to take, getting as much information in advance as possible will improve your decision-making. It may be possible for you to do some work at home while recovering. There may be neighbors willing to barter their time now in exchange for a need they may have in the future. What part of your work responsibilities could be shifted temporarily to someone else?

Step 5: Evaluate the situation when concluded.

Take the time to look at the situation - at work and at home.

What went right? What went wrong? Have you talked with the people involved to see how they feel about the solutions?

Look for ways to reduce stress in the future (plumbing, family member in the hospital, your surgery) at work and at home. If you have not developed a personal network of people who can help you when the need arises, you may want to put this close to the top of your personal priority list. Improve your preparedness for a successful outcome the next time an emergency occurs. You will be glad you did!