Mental Health//

Thrive Guide to Supporting Colleagues Through a Challenging Time

Being there for each other through difficult events helps teams grow and thrive together.

mediaphotos / Getty Images
mediaphotos / Getty Images

As colleagues, we have the opportunity and responsibility to support one another through challenges. Research shows that social support can have a significant impact on lowering levels of stress and heart disease. And prioritizing the mental well-being of your team members isn’t just a nice thing to do — it makes business sense, too. When your whole team is thriving, you are more productive, more creative, and better able to contribute to the success of your organization.

This guide offers science-backed mindset shifts and Microsteps that help you be there for others in their mental well-being journeys, especially when they’re going through a difficult time. By connecting authentically with your team members and having honest conversations about the challenges they face, you can build trust, strengthen your relationships, and set them up for sustainable success.

IDENTIFYING SIGNS OF STRESS

The best indicator of a possible problem is that somebody is “not themselves” for a period of time, showing changes in how they usually think, feel, and behave. For example, you might observe a colleague exhibiting one or some of the following behaviors:

  • Showing changes in physical demeanor
  • Being distracted or seeming “out of it”
  • Seeming withdrawn
  • Appearing fatigued
  • Expressing excessive negative self-talk

It’s important to remember that everyone displays signs of a mental well-being challenge differently. Knowing your colleagues better might help clue you in to these types of changes in their demeanor, body language, mannerisms, or language. 

MINDSET SHIFTS 

Supporting colleagues with stress and anxiety can initially be a challenge for many of us. We might have beliefs that hold us back from listening in the best possible way, or that limit us from offering what others need in the moment. 

The first step we can take is shifting our mindset. 

Let’s say you are working with a colleague who has not been acting like themselves for a while, exhibiting signs of being distracted. You might second-guess your observations or be hesitant to act because you don’t feel like you have time to work through someone else’s challenges. We call this a limiting belief.

In fact, research shows that when we spend time helping or even simply being present for others, our sense of our own time actually expands. A mindset shift allows you to view the situation through a different lens — and trade your limiting belief for a positive one. 

For example: “By supporting my colleagues in their mental well-being, I am deepening our personal connection and benefiting my team as a whole.”

Here is another valuable mindset shift that can support you in these situations:

I CAN’T HELP MY COLLEAGUE BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY→ 

I can support my colleague just by listening to them and showing that I care about them

In these moments, it’s critical to adopt a mindset that reminds us that we don’t have to be mental health experts to be there for each other through the potential stress associated with re-entry.

MICROSTEPS

Right now, the challenges we face are big. But we can help ourselves and our colleagues by starting small. 

Microsteps are small, science-backed actions you can take to support others more effectively. Each Microstep takes less than five minutes, so you can fit them into your schedule no matter how busy you are. 

Let’s explore ALPS, a four-part framework that will help you take immediate action through Microsteps to be the best colleague you can be.

Ask

Most people in distress want an empathic listener first before being offered advice and resources. The most important thing is to be genuinely caring rather than saying “all the right things.” With your words and actions, show them they can talk freely to you without being judged. Ensure that you approach them in a neutral and private space, and try simply saying, “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Do you want to talk about it?”

The next time you connect with a colleague, swap “how are you?” for a deeper question. Questions like “what’s on your mind?” or “what challenges are you facing now?” can give you the chance to learn about and honor their experiences. 

Listen

It’s critical that you listen non-judgmentally to whatever your colleagues say and assure them of the confidentiality of your conversation. Be an active listener: Be present, ask open questions, show empathy, and use kind language that expresses gratitude, doesn’t judge, and focuses on the positive. Try to restate what you are hearing to ensure you’re capturing it right.

Once a day, have a conversation where you mostly listen.

Don’t underestimate the power of silence. Instead of giving your opinion or changing the subject, invite the other person to go deeper. 

Partner

Once a person with a mental well-being challenge feels they have been heard, it becomes easier to offer encouragement and information. Start by offering your emotional support, including voicing hope and your support in helping them move forward. Recognize that it is not your role to solve the problem, but that you can partner with them to figure out the right solution. This may include encouraging appropriate professional help and offering your help in exploring resources available to them. 

Show your concern without offering advice. Research on “invisible support” shows that people benefit more from emotional support when they don’t realize they’re receiving it. Instead of asking “How can I solve this person’s problem,” focus on “How can I be there for them in this moment?”

Sustain

Stay connected: Continue to check in, offer support, and find ways to proactively help navigate their stress.

Ask someone what they’re doing to take care of themselves and stay connected to loved ones. Social distancing can make us feel further apart, not just physically but emotionally. Bridge the distance with a simple question — you might learn something, or find you have something in common.

And remember, while it’s important for you to protect the confidentiality of your conversation, you should seek outside help if you feel that your colleague is at risk of causing immediate harm to themselves or others. If you feel this is the case, promptly contact your HR team to ensure your colleague gets proper assistance.

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