How to Recognize When a Coworker Needs Help

December 28, 2015 • Rehack Team


You’ve probably listened to an advice show on the radio or read message board posts that gave you some perspective into how much a coworker can struggle and go through their battles without anyone ever noticing their distress. You may have even wondered aloud, “How could everyone in that person’s life miss the signs?”

However, it’s more difficult than you may think to see a person is in trouble and have the courage to act as a steadfast source of support. Hopefully, the information below will help with both those intentions.

Be Open to Having Conversations

Many people are so proud they’d rather face their struggles alone than admit they’re really having a hard time. However, one of the easiest ways to not only notice a coworker’s difficulties but also show you’re willing to share the burden is to simply make yourself available for open, honest conversations. When a person is ready and comfortable, he or she will more than likely begin to confide. That could put you in the right place at the right time.

Get Educated About Warning Signs

It can be tricky to spot a coworker who is having a harder-than-average time coping at work. By nature, many workplaces are stressful, making it more difficult to determine whether a person is facing a normal level of stress or actually dealing with stress that won’t go away.

Take time to learn about some of the obvious symptoms of things such as depression, chronic stress and even domestic abuse. The more you learn, the easier it should become to figure out whether a colleague needs a helping hand.

Don’t Ignore Odd Behaviors

If someone you work with suddenly starts eating her lunch alone when she used to always sit with others, or you notice a coworker who frequently emerges from the bathroom looking like he’s been crying, don’t just pass it off as “one of those things” or “none of my business.” The person may be in desperate need of help but not sure how to ask for it.

It’s a good time for you to bring up the matter in a private place and see if there’s anything you can do to help. Always be respectful and never pry to get to the root cause of the strange behaviors you’ve noticed. Just make it clear you’re concerned and want to give support if possible.

Refrain From Passing Judgment

When trying to help someone, it can be very difficult to avoid making judgments. Without realizing it, people often try to give advice without taking time to listen. That’s an especially common reaction when the conversation turns to a topic you may not understand well yet, such as mental illness. Some people even make judgments silently because, rather than getting insight from the person who is struggling, they merely make assumptions

Instead of jumping to judge someone or just concocting possibilities in your head, take time to fully listen to his or her perspective on the situation, and then practice empathy by imagining what it would be like to handle such things. Also, stop periodically and verify you’ve understood things correctly during the conversation. Just reiterate some of the main points and begin by saying, “So, what I’ve heard you say is …” Taking that approach should assure the person you truly want to be understanding, not be judgmental.

Be Mindful of Your Own Well Being

Helping a coworker can make you feel worthwhile, but it can also be incredibly draining. That’s why it’s so important to stay in tune with your well being when helping someone else, and remove yourself from the colleague’s situation when necessary.

That doesn’t necessarily mean telling a coworker, “I’m sorry you’re going through this, I wish you the best of luck,” and walking away, but it may mean you have to recognize the person needs more help than you can safely give on your own.

At that point, it’s certainly okay to gently suggest talking to a doctor, counselor, pastor or other expert who makes your colleague feel comfortable. You may even be instrumental in helping a person get connected to a mental health professional.

Picking up on the signs given by someone who’s going through a hard time isn’t easy. However, you should find it becomes simpler when you become increasingly observant about the people in your life and make it clear they can find a supportive resource within you.