Career coach: When the bell tolls, it tolls for thee...

Work can be a pleasure, but when it does collide with home life you need a support system.

Articles about executive stress are often given titles such as 'getting a work-life balance'. How I hate that phrase. It implies that work is something separate from our lives, an extraneous activity that we can neatly tuck away at 5pm when, in the manner of The Stepford Wives, we tip our hats at a jaunty angle and skip out of the office back to our real lives.

What rot. Unless you are rushing off to become your Second Life avatar or something even more obscure, work is part of your life, perhaps even a gratifying part of it.

A collision course

Work and home life do collide, though, and sometimes catastrophically.

In modern England, where one in two marriages ends in divorce, one in eight of us is a carer, everyone will get sick and everyone will become bereaved, we will all experience those collisions. I am currently working with chief executives who are carers for their ailing parents, have been bereaved by suicide and have best friends with life-threatening illnesses.

So how are you supposed to leave distress behind when you arrive at work?

Conversely, how do you leave work behind when you have to leave to deal with the personal issues? This implies you would have to leave yourself behind somewhere, and that is impossible. Early in the year seems like a good time to ask you to review your support structures. Who do you talk to? Your chair, perhaps? Is he or she the first or the last person with whom you would discuss personal matters? Are colleagues available to listen to you? Is it appropriate to call upon them? If the answer to these questions is that there is nobody to talk to - and I am constantly told that this is very common - how do you verbally discharge your worries? Do you have a peer group, a counsellor, an outside supervisor?

For those of you who have a system in place, well done. I say this because it seems to me, from having contact with large numbers of voluntary sector chief executives, that many of you work with absolutely no support at all. A supported chief executive is without doubt more effective and a happier person, more able to give longevity to his or her career.

Nudging with Donne

The metaphysical poet John Donne wrote "No man is an island, entire of itself ... because I am involved in mankind". I am using his words as a nudge in case you are someone working in isolation.

If you are unable to bounce ideas off another person, tell them your woes, share concerns and fears and celebrate successes, I'm afraid that you are in a less healthy place than you could be.

• Amanda Falkson is a psychotherapist who runs monthly Tough at the Top groups for voluntary sector chief executives.

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