How to Support a Co-worker Through a Personal Crisis Without Crossing the Line

Research shows many of us spend more time with our work colleagues than we do with our own families.

When you add work hours to sleeping and socialising with friends, it’s easy to see where all that time goes.

Given that we do spend so much time with our co-workers, it’s no wonder we form bonds and friendships with them.

But what happens when a co-worker is going through a personal crisis or a bad situation? How do you step in and offer comfort and support without crossing the line?

Whether it’s a divorce, a death in the family or an illness, it can be tough to know what to do and how to react.

Workplace experts believe that are some simple ways to help, without breaching your co-workers boundaries or privacy.

The first step is to acknowledge your co-workers issue. Be upfront but respectful. A few small words such as “I’m really sorry to hear about the loss of your father” can be just enough to help your co-worker and provides an opportunity for them to seek your support if they choose to.

The flipside to this approach is offering unsolicited advice. This is a definite “no-no” in the workplace. Preaching or playing the amateur psychologist can be very counter-productive and potentially cause damage to a previously harmonious work environment. Keep it simple, short and respectful.

The other advice workplace experts give is to provide specific ways you can help. Instead of saying “let me know if there’s anything I can” offer practical, concrete ways to help. It might be an offer to pick them up lunch or taking over a couple of tasks at work to ease their burden during a tough period.

Finally, one of the worst things you can do for a colleague going through a personal crisis is to pretend their issue or problem doesn’t exist. They’ll feel shut out, ignored or under-appreciated. If they’re spending a lot of time at work during their crisis, it can be a very lonely place if everyone avoids them or their issue.

These guidelines can help you navigate the tricky waters of helping a colleague going through a rough patch. If you have any questions or doubts, you should also talk to your boss or your human resources manager for further advice.


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