Three ways to identify a colleague in distress (and how to help)

Have you checked in with your colleagues lately? Have you noticed anything that might be a flag that something might not be right? If you haven’t looked, maybe now is a great time. While there are many flags that a colleague may be struggling with something, three you may see are:

  1. They have retracted from the group
  2. Their performance has slumped or is at least below their usual capacity
  3. Their attitude towards others has changed.

If you have noticed this, what will you do? Here is a suggestion of how to help.

Ask them for a chat in private.

Once in private, acknowledge that you have noticed that they weren’t themselves lately and ask them whether there was anything on their mind that they were worried about that they wish to share. It’s important to ask this from a place of compassion and concern. If your colleague offers up the problem straight away, it’s then also important to show empathy and use your active listening skills to acknowledge you have heard the problem they are having. Active listening skills, involve not interrupting, eye contact, nodding, and when appropriate, offering a summary of what you have heard to ensure you have heard correctly.

If your colleague doesn’t offer up their problem straight away, that’s okay.

They may not feel comfortable doing so. In this instance, I would suggest asking them permission to allow you to explain how you came to your conclusion that they ‘weren’t themselves’ and why you thought it important to check in on them. If they still did not wish to expand on this further, that is their prerogative. Let them know that the offer remains on the table if they want to chat at a later date.

If, however, you were successful in having your colleague open up to you…

Help them explore what was on their mind and what they think could be done to rectify the situation. Powerful questions are often simple. Questions like ‘what else could you do?’ or, ‘what’s the real challenge here?’ help to identify the core of the problem and work through a range of possible solutions. Offering your colleague the opportunity to workshop the desired outcomes of the situation (for example, planning or role-playing a conversation they have been avoiding) can also help them to sense the emotion that may come along with the solution that they have decided to execute. Providing proof to your colleague that you are there for support without being wound up in their emotion surrounding the problem at hand is not only valuable, it helps them to move forward. Simply agreeing or fuelling the negativity (aka the bitching/anger/sadness/resentment) may feel great for them or validate their feelings however it’s important to hold your colleague accountable for creating a plan to move forward. Wallowing doesn’t help anyone. Finally, offer for them to let you know when it’s resolved or if they need more support to work through the problem again. If you feel the problem is bigger than you, encourage them to talk to someone else. Wherever possible, it’s important to respect people’s privacy and what they have told you in confidence. However, if you feel that you must tell someone else about the situation for either legal reasons or because you are concerned about the welfare of your colleague, it is good to let your colleague know that you are going to do so and explain why you have made this decision. Where possible, it is also nice to offer to be there if they are approached by the person you told.

These conversations can sometimes be uncomfortable but, the more staff we have in our workplaces that are capable of having these conversations, the better our workplaces will be.

Lead the change.

*If you are in need of support yourself or you require further assistance supporting others remember Pharmacists Support Services who are available 8am til 11pm AEST 365 days of the year.
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