A good friend recently got in touch with me concerned about the wellbeing of a colleague. In this month’s blog I want to share an excellent article by Honey Lancaster-James a consultant psychologist, psychotherapist and coach as we look at what to do if we are concerned about a colleague’s wellbeing.
Mental health in the workplace has been discussed more and more openly in recent years. Employers, for their part, increasingly consider the impact of work on employees’ mental health – and rightly so.
But it’s important to remember that many people face difficulties in their personal lives that affect their wellbeing at work, beyond any difficulties arising from the work itself.
Problems at home, with money or with health, for example, can make it very hard to focus on work. The strain is often compounded by a sense that there is nobody at work to confide in or to talk openly with.
Perhaps you’ve had concerns about a colleague at work. Or maybe you’ve experienced difficulties that affected your work, but you didn’t feel able to tell anyone. The good news is that most of the time, as social beings, we have each other’s backs.
Research by Totaljobs found that many people try to intervene if they see a colleague in difficulty. Some may wait a while before raising their concerns, but others act immediately.
It can be hard to tell what’s going on, and many people may sympathise but not know what to do or say, or may fear getting involved. So what signs should you look out for? And what should you do if you notice something that concerns you about a colleague?
How to spot when a colleague is struggling
It’s not uncommon to worry about a work colleague. In fact, some say they do so almost daily. It often starts when we recognise tell-tale signs of problems that we ourselves struggled with in the past.
This use of empathy is a good way to spot the signs that someone is having difficulties, and you should trust your instincts about it. Many people have experienced difficulties at some point in their lives that affected their work. We’re all human, and we all go through tough times.
One of the most obvious signs is a change in someone’s working hours. For example, if they often arrive late or stay behind late, this could mean something is going on. They might be struggling to cope or be experiencing a problem that’s interrupting their work.
If you see a colleague regularly losing their temper or getting upset in the workplace, this too can be a sign that they’re struggling with personal issues. Or a colleague might mention something in conversation that strikes you as odd or concerning.
Perhaps a colleague has spoken with you about financial or relationship problems, or you’ve seen them coming to work hungover on a regular basis. These could be signs that all is not well.
Two of the main difficulties that people face are financial worries and depression. You might notice a colleague suddenly declining to take part in social events, or appearing to be moody, unkempt, or even overtly upset.
You might become concerned that a colleague is having relationship difficulties. In the more serious cases, you might even witness a colleague with bruising, which could be a sign of domestic violence.
Many people say their work has been affected by poor relationships or excessive alcohol at some point in their life. Look out for the after-effects of alcohol, including smell, and for behaviour that seems out of character or just a bit wrong.
How do personal problems affect us at work?
Difficulties in our personal lives can put a strain on us in several ways. We might make more mistakes at work or have to take sick days. As a result, we may miss out on promotions and can end up changing jobs before the issues have been addressed.
Some people share their issues with colleagues, but many try to fight things alone and end up suffering in silence. This can make the problem worse, because we all need social support, especially in challenging times.
You might remember a time when you were holding it all together, then someone asked if you were okay, and it all came tumbling out.
Often all it takes is an expression of concern from a colleague to get someone to open up. So if you notice that someone seems to be struggling, do make the effort to ask – and be ready to listen.
Most people would rather turn to a work peer or line manager than seek support from HR. But there may be ways that your organisation can help you, so consider looking into the options – flexible hours, for example, or extended leave.
There may be practical solutions that could be put in place that would really help.
It’s good to talk
Many people try to deal with personal issues alone, even very serious ones. But there can be real benefits from sharing the burden, and most of us will confide in someone at some point.
Speaking up is often the first step to finding a resolution, and there is great relief in finally having someone at work who knows what strain you’re under.
If you are concerned about a colleague, don’t be afraid to ask them if things are OK. Most people who have had difficulties say they were very relieved when someone brought it up with them.
Talking about your problems can help – on both an emotional and a practical level. UK employees are generally unaware of the support available to them from most employers.
Some people do face the challenge of working for an employer whose resources are limited. But many workers soldier on with big personal problems without opening up, and could be missing out on practical help or work adjustments that are available.
Many employees say they’ve left a job because of personal problems, and many believe that such problems have cost them a promotion.
It’s far better to open up to someone you trust at work, and try to work things through, than to try to cope on your own and have it affect your career.
How to raise an issue if you’re concerned about a colleague
It’s not easy to know where to start if you’re concerned about a colleague and have decided to say something. But try not to worry – most people will be relieved to chat about it, and even if they aren’t, they’ll likely appreciate the effort.
Mind you, some people say they denied their problems at first. So don’t be surprised if your colleague does this when you first approach them.
Approaching your colleague about possible problems can have a hugely positive impact on their wellbeing. Many people also say they became much closer friends as a result of confiding.
This is a good example of how difficulties can result in benefits. Noticing that someone is struggling, and then talking about it, can lead to a solid workplace friendship.
The key thing, if you suspect something is going on, is to come forward and just ask if your colleague would like to talk, or if you can help in any way. Then follow their lead and encourage them to reach out for whatever help may be available.
6 top tips for dealing with personal issues at work
Ask your employer what support they provide
If you’re struggling with issues that affect your work, see what support may be available from your employer.
Confide in a colleague you trust
You don’t have to deal with it on your own.
Be proactive in helping colleagues
If you see someone in distress at work, take them aside discreetly and ask if they’re OK or if you can help.
If you see a colleague behaving strangely or out of character, approach them directly first
If that doesn’t work, you may be helping them in the long run by going higher up.
Inform yourself of your rights
Whether the difficulties are yours or a colleague’s, knowledge is power – find out your rights and what supports are available to help balance life and work.
Don’t hesitate to seek professional help, if things are particularly tough
If things are really difficult, talk to a doctor or other professional. It’s important to reach out for help and advice, and not battle things on your own.
About P3 Business Care
P3 Business Care is a Community Interest Company and social enterprise operating across the UK. Supporting your business on a weekly basis we provide personal and proactive care to your employees working in partnership with the company. Our Business Partners visit your business developing trust & relationships so we can identify and address issues before they become crisis, absence, or staff turnover. Read more about our services here