Most of us know at least one person at this very moment facing cancer, loss of a loved one, illness, divorce or other personal struggle.
When it’s our family or close friends, we may feel more comfortable (if that’s possible) or at least have a small notion of what to do. But when it’s a co-worker, we want to show we care, but we often don’t know how to express our concern. We aren’t sure what boundaries we should have or how to help best.
One way to assess appropriate ways to be there for a co-worker is by determining your level of relationship.
Are you close to them outside of work? In that case your support should be more personal in nature. Are they a co-worker but you don’t have any interaction with them or don’t know them personally? Then a note or card left on their desk letting them know you are thinking of them is more appropriate.
If your relationship falls somewhere in the middle of these two, the help you offer shouldn’t be quite as personal as suggesting regular lunch dates, but NOT as impersonal as a mere written expression.
However, it’s not only okay to express your support in the workplace; it’s absolutely necessary. When someone is struggling, they can feel even more isolated by their situation when we don’t acknowledge the reality of their life outside of work.
Here’s how you can be there for a co-worker in his or her time of need.
5 Ways to Be There for a Co-Worker
1) Nourish the Normal
When someone’s personal life is filled with chaos, whether it is doctor appointments, legal paperwork, or incapacitation from illness, oftentimes, they crave normal. A dash of normalcy is welcomed, and possibly needed the most, when they are at work.
If you would normally go to lunch or do other social things, keep suggesting those things. Likewise, don’t assume that they can’t do things because of their situation – give them a chance to accept or decline. Sometimes, all they want is to be asked, even if they can’t take you up on it.
2) Follow Their Lead
If you’ve tried to inquire or show your support and your co-worker doesn’t seem to want to talk about his or her personal life, follow their lead. Don’t let your desire to be there interfere with his or her need to keep that part of life private.
One man’s wife died from cancer and didn’t tell anyone at the office about the funeral until months later. He later said, “I just needed work to be about work and not my wife’s cancer. It was the only place I could escape it.” Still, others would like to talk about it but don’t know who is interested enough in them to ask. You could be the one they are waiting to hear from.
3) Love with Food
One easy way to alleviate your co-worker’s stress is to help with meals or food. Food can be a gift in hard times. Some ways to do this are: give a gift card for a dinner out, make a double quantity of your own dinner so there’s enough to share with them, or create a lunch size portion from your leftovers to share.
Additionally, you can freeze a meal for them to use when they need and it will travel well to and from the office for both of you.
4) Find Their Favorites
Gifting someone’s favorites is a simple, yet meaningful way to express your support. Whether it’s a favorite treat, lunch item, book from their favorite author, or a common game or activity you have shared together, pick up their favorite and deliver it to them at the office or hospital. This personalizes your offering of support, and most anyone can show they care in this way.
(If you don’t know them well, ask someone who does what their favorites might be.) Your simple gesture might even be a means to get to know them better so you can offer additional help if you feel led.
5) Listen, Don’t Fix
Many of us have a tendency to hear about a problem and then assert a fix-it mentality—especially at work. However, when it comes to a personal challenge, often there are NO magic solutions. So the best thing we can do is offer a listening ear.
Asking open-ended questions is a great way to open the door if they want to “talk about it.” If they do choose to talk, be ready with an open, non-judgmental heart. If they close the door on conversation, don’t push but remain available.
Chances are, if you offered to listen once, they may come back to you if and when they are ready to talk.
In the end, it may seem easier to keep work about work, and keep our personal lives out of the equation. But the person dealing with a crisis likely needs people to support him or her even more at the office, because personal trials often spill over—by way of performance or availability. It can be extremely hard to balance personal crisis with constant work obligations.
Never underestimate the power you have as a co-worker to walk alongside someone facing a hard time. If you can “be there” in any of these ways, you will have lessened their burden and been not just a good workmate, but also a good friend.
For more practical ways to support those you care about in the rough patches of life, read Sarah Beckman’s, Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in their Time of Trial. www.alongsidebook.com.