Supporting colleagues during a stressful time

Workplace stress can be a serious issue—even without a pandemic.

Now, COVID-19 presents additional and unique mental health stressors, particularly for health-care and frontline workers.

But it’s also likely to affect you, either personally or indirectly, no matter your occupation. Disregarding your or a coworker’s stress is an option, but it’s probably not a good one.

So what can you do?

Counseling staff members with Diakon Family Life Services offer suggestions in response to typical questions:

What are warning signs that a coworker may be overly stressed?

1. A notable change in appearance, mood or personality

2. Negativity

3. Being overly sarcastic

4. Missing sessions or meetings

5. Not responding to emails, calls or texts after multiple attempts

6. Irritability

7. Being excessively fatigued

8. Becoming withdrawn and isolated

How can you be helpful and address your concern with a coworker without seeming critical?

Ideally, you may have a relationship with your co-workers or team member that allows a conversation to happen along these lines …

“I noticed that you’ve been a bit more withdrawn lately; is there anything going on that you would like to talk about?”
“I have noticed that you aren’t as bubbly as you usually are; what can I do to help?”
“How can I help relieve some of your load?”

“Are you comfortable talking to your supervisor about what you need right now in terms of work-life balance?”
“I know that sometimes I feel overwhelmed doing the work we do; do you ever feel that way, too?”

Don’t be afraid to speak up and offer to help!

When should you raise concerns to HR or a supervisor if you colleague’s behavior continues to decline?

If you attempt a conversation such as the one illustrated above and it is not received well by your co-worker, you should inform a supervisor immediately, especially if there is a possibility of some type of risk. In addition, consult a supervisor if you notice a decline in a co-worker’s health.

Are there practical ways you can offer to help?

There are things we can all do to help alleviate pressure on someone. We often pride ourselves on being a team, so when one member is struggling, we can all pitch in to help.

One easy way to help is to be a good listener. Sometimes people just want to be heard about how overwhelming, stressed or burned out they feel; it’s helpful when you understand someone can related to your feelings.

Another option is offering to get them lunch or to do something outside of work to give them time to decompress.

What if I feel stressed, but don’t know how to express it or ask for help?

Many people don’t ask for help, so if a supervisor sees these things becoming an issue, he or she needs to enforce some time off, offer EAP services or talk openly with that staff member. There should be regularly scheduled meetings at which these things are specifically addressed so that employees can have open dialog.

For some people, it can be easier to write down how you’re feeling before trying to express it orally. That way, you could simply show someone what you wrote.

Be aware of red flags before you get overwhelmed. Don’t set unrealistic goals for yourself, be sure to get enough sleep, establish healthy boundaries and don’t overcommit yourself.

We can’t control everything in our work environments, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless, even when we encounter challenging situations.

If job stress is interfering with your or your colleague’s work performance or overall health, it’s time to do something about it.

Even—perhaps especially—in the midst of a pandemic.