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Ask the Expert : My personal commitments are affecting my relationships at work

Karen Barr - Mindfulness Trainer



This article’s expert on work/life balance was Karen Barr




My mum had to go into a nursing home some months ago because she couldn’t live independently any more because of her dementia. I work full time and, at first, my supervisor was sympathetic as I had to take some time off for meetings with social work and to deal with my mum’s house. However, as time has passed, I haven’t been able to participate as I used to in work nights out and my relationships with my colleagues has become more distant. My supervisor has started to lose patience with me when I can’t work late to finish a deadline because I have to visit my mum regularly since she hasn’t settled very well at the nursing home. I couldn’t manage to go on an off-site week’s training course because of my personal commitments and now my supervisor isn’t putting my name on the list for any further training opportunities. I am worried about raising this as an issue with my supervisor as I get upset talking about my situation. Please can you give me some guidance as to how to approach this matter with my employer as I don’t want to be labelled a ‘troublemaker’?



Juggling our ‘work/life balance’ is often one of the most difficult things we have to do, and if we feel we are not coping it can lead us into a downward spiral of stress and worry. It is, however, imperative that we talk to those around us and make them aware of the situation, particularly when it has changed as significantly as yours.

As difficult as it is to talk about our personal situations, most workplace conflicts result from a lack of understanding which can only be resolved by having an open and honest conversation with your supervisor. By explaining the situation you may find that there are opportunities for more flexible working or better planning so that deadlines aren’t so tight.

We teach people how to respond to us by consistently responding to them in the way they expect. As an example, your supervisor has become used to you always being available to work late and you both now need to develop a new way of working together that still gets the work done. Similarly with your training opportunities. Your employer has a responsibility to ensure you are sufficiently skilled for the job you are doing and it may be that some of the extensive off-site training has to be postponed for now, but these decisions can only be made by having a conversation with everyone involved.

With regards to your colleagues, they have also become used to seeing you at work nights out and now need to be made aware that you are less available than you have been in the past. Perhaps you could arrange to have lunch with them instead, or arrange to attend the occasional night out.

Finally, it is important that we look after ourselves in times of stress, and I would recommend that you take time out for yourself too. Mindfulness has become a buzz word in today’s culture but there is strong empirical evidence to show that taking just 10 minutes every day to sit quietly can help us build our resilience to life’s challenges. While taking time for ourselves can seem particularly difficult when you are already juggling so much, the level of self-awareness we adopt through Mindfulness practice allows us to take a step back from stressful situations and respond more effectively to them.


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