Attention elsewhere? When work takes a back seat

A family emergency can put work on the back burner for a while. (Thinkstock)    family emergency can put work on the back burner for a while. (Thinkstock)
  

Q. I’ve had a family emergency and can’t put in as many work hours as I normally would. Sometimes, when I’m in the office, I know I’m not giving 100%. So far, my boss and colleagues have been understanding. But this could go on for another month or two, or even longer. I can’t afford to take unpaid leave. What’s the best approach going forward, both with my company and with the people picking up the slack?

A. First, acknowledge how lucky you are: nowhere in your question do you express the fear that this family crisis will end with you losing your job. That’s a luxury most workers can’t imagine. And your colleagues are supporting you.
“It seems to me that you work at an organization with a supervisor and coworkers that many people would envy,” said Joel Lefkowitz, an emeritus professor of psychology at the City University of New York’s Bernard M. Baruch College, who wrote a textbook on ethics.
To work through the ethics of the situation, let’s make some assumptions first, Lefkowitz said by email. Assume your family emergency is short term, that you’ve had a successful tenure at the company, and that your firm “is marked by a positive and supportive culture and ethical climate.” Furthermore, you haven’t missed too much work, and it’s not possible to change your work schedule.
There are two issues here: missing some work, which you can’t control, and how you behave while at the office, which you can, Lefkowitz said. The best solution is to sit down for a talk with your team. They’ve earned your candor with their helpfulness: “I’d say that you, your boss and your coworkers all are the sorts of folks who could successfully handle an open and frank discussion of the situation.”
Explain what’s happening, why and what you plan to do about it. Be open about what’s possible for you to do. “Clearly communicate your appreciation for what they are doing, make clear the temporary nature of the emergency (if you’ve not already done so), and share your concern that despite your best efforts you  may not be ‘giving 100%’—but that you are working on it,” he said.
 All you can do is work your hardest with whatever mental capacity is available to you at the moment. When the crisis is over, however, you’ll be ethically bound to go the extra mile at work, and to pitch in to help out others who may be going through issues of their own at home.

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