By Admin | 10 Jul 2023

How to talk to your employer about personal problems

Discussing personal problems with your employer doesn't have to be difficult and can significantly affect your well-being.


In today's fast-paced and demanding work environment – not to mention that our personal lives feel busier than ever – it isn't uncommon to face challenges that might impact our work performance and, most importantly, our emotional well-being.

While the stigmas and barriers around mental health are reducing, it's understandable that many people still struggle to open up about their problems at work. However, engaging in an open and honest conversation with your line manager or company human resources (HR) department can help you find understanding, support, and solutions to whatever issues you're facing.

Let’s explore how you can do this,

1.      Reflect on what’s happening

Before you have a conversation, dedicate some time to reflecting on your circumstances and understanding how they affect your well-being and workplace performance.

This can help you think about what you will say and what solutions or accommodations you may request your employer to provide.

2.      Arrange an appropriate time and place to talk

Speak to your employer about arranging a meeting so you can discuss your problems.

How you do this is up to you and may depend on how you feel about your situation. For example, if you feel uncomfortable discussing personal problems in person, you may choose to outline everything in an email. In contrast, you may use an email to outline the issues you want to discuss but clarify that you'd like a meeting to go through them in more detail.

If you arrange a meeting, work with your employer to ensure you agree on a mutually beneficial time to talk without distractions.

3.      Plan what you want to discuss

If you didn't outline what you wanted to discuss when requesting a meeting, make sure you do so before sitting down for a chat.

Aim to focus on specific issues and their impact on you.

While you may not want to set up your discussion as a formal agenda, having a list of bullet points you can provide to your employer beforehand helps structure the meeting and ensure you get what you want out of it.

4.      Be honest and open

You don't need to go into granular detail about your problems, but you do need to acknowledge that they exist.

Even saying, "I've got some problems at home", can help build a bridge and serve as a basis for a conversation. Although it can be a difficult conversation to have, it's best to be as proactive as you can and take the lead. If you don't do this, things may spiral, and the first time you'll find yourself discussing it is when your employer comes to you and wants to explain your performance issues.

5.      Focus on ideas for solutions

Unless you feel like things are hopeless in your life right now, you'll likely have some ideas for solutions that could improve your situation.

Plus, coming up with potential solutions will show your employer that you're committed to dealing with your issues and remain committed to your role. And if you already have solutions in mind, your employer might be able to agree to them immediately.

In contrast, if you don’t have any ideas for solutions, you might have to wait weeks for your line manager or HR department to present some options. Depending on your problems, this could be precious time in which your issues could get worse, at which point the proposed solutions may be unsuitable.

6.      Be upfront with your expectations

If you have ideas for solutions, be upfront about it!

The support you require from your employer could be anything, but some examples of what you ask for might include the following:

  • Flexible working
  • Working from home
  • A period of unpaid leave
  • Temporary adjustments to your workload or responsibilities
  • Support undertaking specific duties

And if you can also outline the positive impact those things will have and why they'd help you, even better.

7.      Maintain professionalism

Try to see your conversation as a chance to find common ground and work together.

It's easy to become argumentative and defensive in situations like this, which is why it's worth outlining what you want to discuss and what you want to get out of it. That way, your discussion will stay on topic and focused rather than going down an unproductive path.

8.      Use any available resources

If your workplace benefits package includes access to an Employee Assistance Programme, take advantage of it!

One of the most significant benefits of such resources is that you'll often have access to external helplines and stakeholders, meaning you can seek help with your issues without speaking to your employer directly. If you find it difficult to talk to your employer or feel that your employer lacks the specific skills or resources to meet your needs, having access to someone outside of the workplace may remove both obstacles.

Likewise, if your employer doesn't have an "official" assistance programme but has a confidential helpdesk or something similar, you may find these useful.

All Now Health International members get access to our Employee Assistance Programme or Member Assistance Programme with their international health insurance plan.

9.      Plan time to follow up

After your initial conversation with your employer, mutually agree on a time to follow up and examine the impact of the changes you requested.

This will ensure that you get any additional support you require, but you can also tell your employer when things are better for you, and you can return to business as usual. This doesn't need to be a formal conversation; a brief "check-in" every week or so can be enough. The key is to keep communication lines open so you and your employer are on the same page.

10. Show appreciation for the support you receive

Thank your employer for taking the time to listen to you and help you with your problems. Even if your employer cannot immediately provide all the accommodations and requests you have made, showing them that you appreciate their listening ensures you maintain a healthy rapport and can continue such conversations in the future.

Talking to your employer about personal problems

Discussing personal problems with your employer can feel challenging, but it could be a vital step in maintaining your emotional well-being while getting the support you need to continue performing at a high level at work while dealing with the issues you face.

By following these steps, you can prime yourself to have a productive conversation with your employer and find solutions to help you continue to thrive in your personal and professional life.