We spend a lot of time at work, and sometimes our colleagues are the first ones to notice if we're not our usual selves. Let's imagine a scenario: You're at work and having a good olde morning chat with your workmates when 'Steven' walks in late. It's the fourth day in a row he's been late, the bags under his eyes could be used for groceries, and he's got actual bed hair rather the usual "I purposely styled it like bed hair" look.

Steven could do with a check in to see what's going on for him. Maybe his new puppy has been keeping him up all night.. or maybe it's something more. Whatever it is, a caring conversation can make a big difference. Sometimes it's hard knowing where to begin with these types of chats, so here's some tips to help you strike up a convo with colleagues who may be going through tough times.

Keep an eye on the signs

Some people are good at giving off the impression they're okay and the signs might be subtle. Sometimes the signs are more obvious (like Steven). Common signs that someone might be struggling include:

  • Regularly turning up to work late

  • Losing interest in their personal appearance or hygiene

  • Seeming tired and stressed

  • Trouble getting work done or getting easily overwhelmed

  • Seeming withdrawn or avoiding socialising with others

  • Expressing negative thoughts

  • Looking or behaving in ways that are out of character

That's not to say that your colleagues have to show these signs in order for you to check in with them. And even if someone is doing ok there's no harm in striking up a convo!

Get yourself ready

Before you get carried away asking your colleague if they're okay, the first thing to ask is whether you are okay and ready to do this. Make sure you're in a good headspace, have the time to properly listen and empathise, and recognise that you can't "fix" your colleague's problems. If you don't feel like the best person to check in with a colleague, then perhaps think of someone else in their support network who can talk to them. This might be their line manager or someone in HR. The most important thing is that someone checks in to help them feel supported.

Ask away - but in a respectful manner

Okay, this step isn't as simple as rocking up to their desk and straight up asking "Is something wrong?". Try to be friendly, relaxed and caring in your approach. Choose a time and place that's fairly private and comfortable for your colleague, and make sure there's enough time for them to open up (if they want to).

When you're at the talking stage, don't just open the convo with blunt questions. Gather your thoughts and focus on what you've observed rather than what you think they're feeling. "I noticed that you got angry at Mika the other day and it seemed out of character, how are things going for you?". It's also important to accept that they might not want to talk to you. So if they brush you off, ask if there's someone else they would feel more comfortable talking with, or offer to talk another time.

Listen. Like, properly listen

Really be present, pay attention and let your colleague speak without interrupting or passing judgement on what they say. Try to show empathy and compassion for whatever challenges they may be facing. Encourage them to take helpful action, including talking to a mental health professional if it seems like they're really struggling. It can be a good idea to check back in with them in a couple of weeks (or sooner if they're doing it tough). And if you're really worried about someone don't keep it to yourself.. talk with a trusted person (like your manager) to help work out the best way to support your workmate.

Remember that you don't need to be an expert on human feelings or know all the answers. Sometimes people just need to vent and all you need to do is properly listen and show that you care. And if they don't want to talk, let them know it's okay and that you're there for them if they need it, and offer some suggestions about support services (like Sonder).


If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: SuperFriend, BetterHealth, and R U OK?

Image credit: The Office

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

Did this answer your question?