I know this situation is probably all too familiar to you: you are expecting a calm week at work and then all of a sudden, problem after problem occurs that needs your immediate attention. Your co-workers are annoyed and your customers are mad. Things have become a full-blown crisis at work. Your initial plans to leave work early and spend some special time with your family is now out of the question and you know your family is going to be disappointed.
So how do you balance work commitments and family responsibilities successfully, especially during a work crisis? Most working parents' knee-jerk reaction to a work crisis is to take time away from their family and spend this time tending to the work crisis. They incorrectly believe that by putting in overtime to put out the fire of the current work crisis, they are actually helping their family in the long run. For example, showing the boss that you are willing to put in overtime to solve the crisis should translate into keeping your current job and possibly set you up to be considered for a future promotion, right? The error in this thinking is that when the working parent is tending to work crises on a regular basis, it is actually tearing away at the foundation of their family unit.
I struggle with this parenting issue all the time myself. In fact, I just survived a hectic two weeks at work where nothing went right and I had to solve multiple problems for angry students and patients (I work at a University mental health clinic training brand new psychology students). However, in spite of all of these problems at work during the past two weeks, my highest priority continued to be my family.
I want to share with you some of the steps that I took during my work crisis that served to minimize any unnecessary disruption to my family. I'll be very frank with you and tell you that my family was inconvenienced during my stressful work crisis, but by implementing the tips that I discuss below, this inconvenience turned out to be both temporary and minimal.
Communicate to your family about the crisis at work. Tell them what is happening and let them know that this is a temporary situation. Communicating these facts to your family is helpful for two reasons. First, your family will feel included in your life and this will encourage positive connections between you and your spouse and kids. When we don't tell our families what is going on in our lives (because we want to spare them any stress, we are just too exhausted to talk about it, etc.) our family members feel like they are not important enough to know about our lives. This leads to hurt feelings and a fractured family.
The second reason it is wise to keep your family informed about your work crisis is because your family members will be more understanding when you are not your normal self. For example, if you fail to laugh at one of your child's silly jokes, they are less likely to take it personally because they know you are temporarily stressed about your work crisis. In addition, families love to help out during a crisis and by letting them know you are experiencing a temporary work emergency allows them to snap into "help mode" for you at home. Let them help by making you your favorite dinner to cheer you up or by keeping the house quiet while you work on reports. Families love to come together and help during a crisis.
Back off and let your co-workers do their job
You may either be in charge during the work crisis, or you might be part of the team, but no matter what your role is, the situation should resolve itself much faster if you let your co-workers do the job they were hired to do. The reality is that it is more efficient and the crisis should end faster if you do your job and let your co-workers do theirs.
Don't get sucked into taking on all of the work that the crisis demands. Let your co-workers help out -- even if they won't do as good of a job as you could have done. Don't set the bar for perfection -- that goal is unrealistic; instead, make sure the crisis gets handled appropriately and then go home to your family. The main goal here is to resolve the crisis and return to your normal work-family routine.
Ask for help when needed
No matter what you do, do not neglect your family during a work crisis. Did you tell your kids you would be the carpool parent for a school activity? Did you promise your spouse that you would make your famous chili for the family's dinner that night? Do not use the work crisis as an excuse to neglect your family responsibilities -- make the effort to find appropriate alternative solutions.
Make sure your family functions as normally as possible even during a crisis. Ask a parent friend to trade carpooling duties with you. Offer to take your family out to dinner instead of cooking. When you make the extra effort to ask for help to meet your family obligations during this temporary crisis, your spouse and kids will know that you care for them.
Make sure you check in with your family when the crisis is over
After the work crisis is over, make an effort to make up for any hurt feelings, missed family events, or any other important family obligations that were missed or altered. Think of this as your opportunity to show your family that they are your top priority. Relationships are all about give and take -- and you "took" a lot from your family during this crisis. Now it's your turn to give your time and attention to your family.
Did you have to put in some overtime at work? Then plan a special weekend outing with your family and give them your full attention. If you were extra grumpy during your work crisis, then spend some time laughing with your kids. These little things really matter to your family. Make a concerted effort to spend quality time with your family to show them that they matter the most to you.
Plan for future crises
Finally, after the crisis is over, do a post mortem. Was there a way to avoid the work crisis? Did you do a good enough job communicating with your family? Were you able to find acceptable alternative plans for any family responsibilities? It is important that you look back on how your could have handled these types of things better so that next time a crisis happens at work, you are better prepared.
These suggestions will help you maintain your close and warm relationship with your spouse and kids during a work crisis. A work crisis is an inevitable part of any working parent's job, but we play a role in how much we allow the crisis to affect our relationship with our family members. If you are finding that work crises' happen more and more frequently, and you are spending less time with your family because of it, you might want to consider something more drastic. However, if your top priority is to prioritize your family commitments above work responsibilities, then I hope I have shown you how this can be achieved even during a work crisis.
To learn more about creating an effective work-life plan that brings you more satisfaction and fulfillment, download my free Work-Life Balance Tip Sheet For Modern Parents.