Recognizing when a colleague or employee is struggling with mental health challenges can be vital to making sure they get the support they need in a timely manner. Helping them to work through anxiety in a caring way is also better for productivity. Employees who feel respected and supported are more likely to thrive in their roles.
Here are a few tips to recognize and support a colleague who may be struggling. If working remotely, all the more reason to be in touch and aware of what’s going on.
- Accept that anxiety can be a part of a good life. There’s nothing “wrong” with you if you are experiencing anxiety. It simply means that you have lost some perspective and are trying to control an uncontrollable situation in order to feel safe. People experiencing anxiety need our support, not our judgement. When we’re anxious, we don’t need to get anxious about being anxious.
- Notice changes in behavior. Unusual behaviors like irritability, impatience, withdrawal, emotional outbursts, and fatigue can be indicators that a colleague is facing a challenge and needs support. Be aware that challenges like depression, grief, and trauma can accompany or present as anxiety.
- Start a conversation. Mental health challenges create opportunities for connection. If you notice that your co-worker’s behavior has changed, start a conversation with phrases like “How are you feeling?” “Are you doing okay?” “You don’t seem yourself these days. Do you want to talk about what’s going on?” Or “How are things going today?” These questions open the door to support your colleague in the best way possible and offer resources when appropriate. Respect that timing is a factor and stay open for a response if/when they are ready. Of course, this is contingent on your relationship before the onset of their anxiety.
- Create a safe space for your colleague to share their feelings with you. Remember, anxiety, like all emotions, can’t be “fixed;” only supported. Create a safe, supportive, respectful space so they will open up to you at an appropriate time. Holding the space for them without rescuing or fixing is enough. You are their friend, not their therapist. After you have listened, you can explore whatever resources they may need and ways to help access them.
- Negotiate expectations and agreements. Letting people off the hook when they are anxious does not help them in the long run. Having expectations is generally helpful. Self-respect comes from being needed, not being rescued, and from showing up. However, expectations may need to be lowered and renegotiated. What is non-negotiable is lowering your standards of accountability and integrity. Follow through and keep the promises you make to each other. We all feel better when we do that.