How Can Personal Issues Impact Your Job Performance?

May 7, 2024
A frustrated man looking at his computer.

According to research by Bensinger, Dupont & Associates, nearly half of employees surveyed reported that problems in their personal lives sometimes impact their work performance – whether it’s a family emergency, a health scare, or relationship troubles.1 While these issues are understandably difficult to manage, they can have a significant impact on our professional performance, if not appropriately addressed. As employees, we may struggle to stay focused, meet deadlines, and engage effectively with our colleagues when personal problems weigh heavily on our minds.

You’re not alone in this experience. Most people across diverse industries and roles grapple with balancing their personal and professional commitments and goals. While the challenges we all face are similar, the impact on our lives is not. Develop strategies that help you navigate these challenges while minimizing work disruption. Doing so can help you safeguard your career growth, maintain your productivity, and enhance your work relationships, even during turbulent personal times.

Time Management Issues

When life gets busy and stressful, sometimes our time management skills can fall apart. Increased demands, poor communication, and a lack of clear task prioritization can cause missed deadlines, increased stress, and the appearance of unprofessional work performance.

Researchers have found that effective time management is moderately related to job performance, academic achievement, and well-being. Poor time management skills can cause stress. A lack of time to manage personal and work commitments compounds stress. Workers speed-watch videos, speed-listen to audio, and skip workplace breaks as they attempt to become more efficient.2 Between 1960 and 2008, the frequency of books mentioning time management increased by more than 2700%.3

Time management is defined as “a form of decision making used by individuals to structure, protect, and adapt their time to changing conditions.” 4

While time management is a skill that takes energy and focus to achieve, some strategies often offered  to improve time management include:

  • Prioritize and time box tasks. Work on one task at a time, completing the highest priority tasks first while attempting to stay within the allotted time for that task. The Eisenhower matrix is one strategy used to prioritize tasks. Categorize tasks as important/urgent, important/not urgent, not important/urgent, and not important/not urgent. 
  • Try the Pomodoro technique. Using this method, work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break.
  • Break larger tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  • Plan your schedule for the following day before leaving work. This can reduce procrastination in the morning.
  • Focus on one task at a time. Multitasking does not improve efficiency.
  • Delegate tasks if possible.
  • Use timers and productivity apps to reduce distractions and learn how long each task takes to complete. Auditing your time can help you plan future schedules and reduce stress.

Time management involves being aware of the demands on your time, prioritizing tasks, organizing your goals and schedules, and adapting to the inevitable disruptions that are sure to occur.

Burnout and Reduced Mental Bandwidth

A Deloitte external marketplace survey of 1,000 full-time U.S. professionals found that 77% of employees have experienced burnout at their current job, and more than half report that it has occurred more than once. A Gallop poll found similar results after surveying 7,500 employees.

Nine out of ten Deloitte survey respondents say that having an unmanageable amount of stress or frustration affects their work, and 83% of respondents report that it also impacts their personal relationships. Common symptoms of burnout include physical or mental exhaustion, sleep deprivation, feelings of loneliness or detachment from coworkers, moodiness, emotional detachment, hopelessness, and loss of motivation.

Potential causes of employee burnout include:5

  • Heavy workload and long hours
  • Lack of work-life balance
  • Unclear job requirements and expectations
  • Lack of recognition and appreciation
  • Unfair or poor management practices
  • Unfair treatment and lack of equity in the workplace
  • Lack of opportunities for growth
  • An inflexible work environment

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized the impact of burnout on employees by including it in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon.

Burnout is defined in ICD-11:

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Developing a formal definition of burnout is a step towards better understanding the condition. It allows researchers to communicate their findings about the condition and develop evidence-based guidelines to support mental well-being in a workplace setting.

Strategies to reduce burnout include:6,7

  • Approach work issues using problem-focused coping strategies instead of emotion-focused strategies. Take steps to directly address the work problems causing stress. Create a to-do list. Prioritize tasks and address the most straightforward issues first.
  • Recognize your symptoms of burnout and acknowledge that you are experiencing this condition.
  • Learn how to detach from work at the end of the day. Take steps to separate work life from home life by turning off electronic alerts to emails and text messages.
  • Promote physical well-being. Focus on physical exercise, proper nutrition, and rest.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself and your coworkers at work.
A choice between sabbatical and burnout.

Stress and Anxiety

The WHO calls stress the “health epidemic of the 21st century.” According to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey results,  three in every five employees report that stress negatively impacts their performance and causes a lack of interest, motivation, energy, focus, and effort at work.

About half of employees report personal problems that affect their work performance by increasing stress and causing the following:1

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Absenteeism or tardiness
  • Poor work quality
  • Management or coworker conflict
  • Incomplete tasks
  • Disciplinary action

We all experience stress at some point, and in small doses, it can help improve workplace efficiency. However, chronic stress can affect your physical and mental health. Chronic stress is also linked to hormonal imbalances that can trigger a wide range of symptoms.

Strategies to manage stress include:

  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga.
  • Engage in regular exercise, consume a balanced diet, and prioritize sleep.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine use.
  • Avoid social media and other causes of online stress.
  • Seek social support.
  • Set boundaries and learn to say no when your workload increases.
  • Delegate tasks when possible.
  • Seek professional help if stress becomes unmanageable.

Lower Self-Confidence

Self-confidence relates to your belief in your abilities. Low confidence in your abilities typically leads to poor job performance. Poor communication skills and an inability to be assertive can increase self-doubt and anxiety. Low self-confidence can cause employees to avoid feedback, which can impede job performance and career progression. 

Imposter syndrome is an internalized belief in which a person doubts their skills, talents, and abilities to perform and fears that they will be exposed as incompetent or a fraud. Despite evidence to the contrary, people experiencing imposter syndrome continue to feel inadequate, which can lead to continued self-doubt, negative self-talk, and missed opportunities.

According to a Moneypenny survey, about one in every three U.S. adults suffers from imposter syndrome. About 70% of us have experienced this feeling at least once in our careers.8  

Self-confidence is personal. However, here are some strategies to improve self-confidence in the workplace:

  • Separate feelings from facts. Objectively evaluate evidence regarding your performance.
  • Learn new skills by investing in your professional development.
  • Step out of your comfort zone and seek feedback.
  • Practice positive self-talk.
  • Acknowledge your accomplishments and avoid minimizing them.
  • Stop comparing your workplace successes to those of your colleagues or social media influencers.
  • Talk to a therapist to learn how to challenge negative self-talk.

Lack of Motivation

Medical conditions and psychological stress are common causes of low motivation. When you lack motivation, even the simplest tasks can feel overwhelming. This can lead to decreased job productivity, poor work quality, job loss, and a hostile work environment.

Invigor Medical is an online telewellness company that focuses on sexual health, longevity, and weight management. It is not uncommon for sexual and other physical health issues to impact all aspects of a person’s life. For example, erectile dysfunction can lead to relationship stress, depression, and anxiety.

ED affects approximately 30 million men in the United States,9 with nearly a quarter of them under the age of 40.10  Despite the availability of very effective treatments such as Trimix (an injectable ED treatment for resistant ED) and PT-141 (treats ED in men and improves libido in men and women), in a study that enrolled over six million men with ED, only one-quarter of men actually received treatment.11

Aging is another common contributor to poor motivation. As muscle mass and strength decline, along with testosterone levels, many men experience increased mental and physical fatigue. Enclomiphene boosts testosterone levels in men with symptoms of low testosterone without affecting fertility.  

Before attributing poor motivation to stress or a psychological condition, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out a physical cause of your symptoms.

A stressed-out woman lying on the floor.

Distraction and Poor Focus

Feeling pulled between work and home commitments and being over-scheduled can cause distraction and poor focus. When you can’t concentrate at work, you are more likely to make mistakes, which can impact job performance and career advancement opportunities.

The average employee gets interrupted between 50 and 60 times each day at work. This is an interruption about every 8 minutes.

Distractions and poor focus can impact your job performance in many ways, including:

  • Causing decreased productivity
  • Impairing your ability to make decisions
  • Increasing the risk of making mistakes
  • Reducing motivation and energy levels
  • Making it more challenging to work with colleagues

If you feel distracted and have difficulty concentrating and the problem persists, ask your doctor whether there may be a physical cause for your symptoms. Vitamin B12 is essential for proper brain function. Low B12 levels are associated with impaired memory and difficulty concentrating.11

How Can Personal Issues Impact Your Job Performance?

Loss of Sleep

According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in every seven U.S. adults has trouble falling asleep most days or every day. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend adults sleep at least 7 hours of high-quality sleep each night.12

Sleep deprivation impacts cognitive function and can cause the following symptoms:

  • Decreased alertness
  • Problems learning new tasks
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Increased risk for irritability, anxiety, and depression

Lack of sleep increases absenteeism and the risk of work-related accidents and it decreases productivity, job satisfaction, and career progression. Unfortunately, work-related stressors also impact sleep, making it difficult to break the poor sleep-poor job performance cycle.13

If poor sleep is impacting your job performance, evaluate your current sleep habits to determine whether you can improve your sleep hygiene. Healthy sleep habits include:

  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol use before bedtime.
  • Avoid heavy meals later in the day, especially if you are prone to heartburn.
  • Establish a bedtime routine that does not involve screen exposure in the hour before sleep.
  • Hydrate earlier in the day to reduce nighttime awakenings.
  • If you are concerned that you have obstructive sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, discuss your concerns with your doctor.
  • Safely expose yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning to help regulate circadian rhythms.
  • Set a sleep schedule and follow it even on the weekends.
  • Sleep in a dark, cool room.
  • Use meditation, yoga, or deep-breathing exercises to manage stress.
Man with a sore throat

Interpersonal Tension at Work

Unresolved interpersonal tensions and toxic work behaviors contribute to job stress and organizational failure. When stress is high, team members may withdraw from the group. This negatively impacts team performance, collaboration, and productivity. Unresolved conflicts lower job satisfaction, increase frustration and can lead to poor decision-making.14

Potential contributors to interpersonal tension at work include:

  • Incompatible team member goals and desires
  • Differences in work behavioral preferences
  • Competition over resources
  • Performance problems
  • Poor communication
  • Not following unwritten team norms and rules

Chronic exposure to interpersonal stressors and tensions can impact your overall health and job satisfaction. Here are some steps to take to address interpersonal tension in the workplace:

  • Identify the root cause of the conflict
  • Focus on solutions and facts, not emotions
  • Involve leadership if they are supportive
  • Improve channels of communication

Interpersonal tensions at work do not usually go away on their own. Instead, they escalate and become more difficult to manage. Improve communication and use empathy and conflict resolution skills to address conflicts as soon as possible.

General Tips for Managing Personal Problems That May Impact Your Work

It is difficult, if not impossible, to fully separate your work and personal lives. However, here are some tips to help you manage the inevitable stresses and personal problems that may impact your work performance and career advancement.

  • Optimize your physical health by incorporating exercise into your daily routine, consuming a nutritious diet, and ensuring that you get 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night.
  • Take the time to look for the root cause of personal and work problems that may impact your work performance.
  • Map out a communication plan to discuss your needs with your colleagues, supervisor, friends, and family.
  • See if your workplace benefits include an Employee Assistance Program, counseling, or other mental health resources.
  • Don’t over share your personal information with your coworkers, as this may impact their perception of your work performance.
  • Set boundaries and priorities. Develop a to-do list and a schedule and stick to them.
  • Learn the best ways for you to manage stress.
  • Try to focus on actions and solutions instead of emotions when you are at work.
Author: Leann Poston, M.D.
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