Coping When Your Home Life Follows You to Work

Usually when we talk about keeping boundaries between work and home, we're trying to stave off 24-hour workdays and constant availability. A clear divide between your professional and personal lives keeps you happier and healthier. (It's also good for your employer.)

This can be true in the reverse, though. We're only human, and it's no surprise that if you're having some kind of difficulty at home, it can manifest in out-of-character behavior at the office. Psychologists at San Diego State University have an idea about where some of this comes from — and how management can help.

It comes down to a phenomenon called hindrance stress, which co-author Gabi Eissa defines as when "job demands are viewed as obstacles to personal growth or goals." In turn, when employees are stressed out like this, they'll lash out in particular ways at other workers, thanks to a depleted ability to control their frustrations. When gossip like "The only reason she got the promotion is because she doesn't have children at home to deal with" (one of the team's example sentences) becomes commonplace, that's a direct line to a toxic work environment.

While venting has its time and place, it's in everyone's best interests to step in wherever this kind of social undermining pops up. The SDSU team found that ethical leadership — "supervisors who demonstrate appropriate work conduct through their personal actions and those who engage employees by discussing their work-related worries and emotions," as Eissa puts it — can help right the ship and get everyone back on track.