How to Help a Colleague Who Is Struggling

How to Help a Colleague Who Is Struggling

It’s well known that problems with stress or mental and physical health concerns can affect job performance or employee engagement. And right now, you’re worried that very thing is happening in your workplace. 

Sure — everyone is dealing with a lot currently. So many of your coworkers — maybe even you! — feel as if they’re languishing. It’s a tough time! Yet, you’ve noticed that one colleague in particular seems to be struggling, and you don’t know what to do. Their work is falling behind, and they don’t quite seem like themselves. 

You notice this all, but you’re in a tricky situation. You don’t want to embarrass your colleague by alerting them that you’re aware that they seem to be struggling, And you also don’t want to ignore the situation, either. What you do want is a way to help. You want to find a way to let your colleague know you’re there for them. Here are a few ways to do just that.

4 ways to help a colleague who may be struggling

1. Talk privately.

If you decide to offer your support, make sure to do it in a private environment and without other people around. If others are around, you may unnecessarily call attention to a temporary situation, bring embarrassment to your colleague, or potentially cause them to clam up.

“Starting at a place of empathy is the first step. That is, not just words, but with space,” says Kelley Kujan, a writer and therapist. “Make sure you can speak to that coworker privately, not question them around others.”

2. Ask directly without coming on too strong.

There’s no need to beat around the bush when it comes to your concern. When you have the opportunity to talk privately with your colleague, let them know you’re concerned.

Kujan says, “I think it’s ok to be honest and say things like ‘I noticed you haven’t seemed like yourself’ or ‘You mentioned your partner lost their job. How have things been?’ Coming from a place of kind, makes the question softer. The coworker could still not wish to connect, and it’s OK to just simply say “No problem, but I’m here if you need to talk”.

3. Call in reinforcements to help a colleague.

If you’re extremely worried about a peer’s mental health, consider calling in someone with appropriate training to lead or initiate the conversation.

“As a therapist, I often encourage those who are worried about someone but afraid to reach out on their own to seek support from someone with those skills,” says Kujan. “In this case, Human Resources, but it could be crisis hotlines, nurses, doctors, or law enforcement if they are trained in crisis intervention.”

4. Offer assistance.

Your colleague may not feel comfortable talking about what is bothering them, but they may be willing to accept your assistance to get them back on track at work. So — how can you help? Are there any tasks they can outsource to you, even for a very temporary period of time? Do they need an extra set of eyes on their work before completing it? If so, maybe you can schedule a time in your calendar to review things once a week? Do they need time off? If your office allows sharing of paid time off, consider donating a few hours to them.

It’s smart to come to your colleague with ideas about how you can offer your assistance, so you’re not putting the mental load on them when you volunteer to help. However, if none of the ways you suggest seem to work for your colleague, don’t be shy in asking what they need the most. 

Being supportive is an excellent quality in any professional. Show up for your colleagues and continue to check in on them. Being part of a team means that no one is completely alone.

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