While mental health in the workplace has become more openly talked about in recent years, it can still be difficult to know what to do if you suspect a colleague is struggling. 

Issues such as mental health problems, financial difficulties or relationship problems affect everyone differently. This can make it difficult to pinpoint if a colleague is upset about something as there is no set list of symptoms. 

One of the most obvious signs is a change in behaviour at work. If your normally punctual personal assistant is late every morning for a week, or you notice that member of staff who is normally straight out the door at 5pm staying late more often than usual, it can be a sign that something is wrong. Personal problems can interrupt sleep patterns or make it difficult to concentrate on work, leading to productivity taking an uncharacteristic nosedive. 

Another red flag is a sudden change in personality – getting disproportionately angry about small things or tearful for no apparent reason. Maybe they’ve said something in passing that seems out of character or alarming? 

Lastly, there can be physical signs that something is amiss. If your colleague seems unkempt, has unexplained bruising or smells of alcohol they may be struggling with issues outside of the workplace. 

So, what should you do if you’ve noticed some of the above changes in a colleague that your concerned about? 

Even if you’re not particularly close to person you’re concerned about, it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’re alright. Take them aside discreetly and ask if they’re ok. They may have been waiting for an opportunity to talk to someone about their problems but been afraid to approach someone or uncertain of how to start the conversation. 

You might even find that by helping them through a difficult time, you gain a solid workplace friendship. 

Some people may deny their problems or try to put on a brave face the first few times they’re asked if they’re OK. Respect their wishes and don’t pry, but don’t be afraid to ask again, especially if their behaviour becomes more erratic or they seem increasingly upset. 

It should go without saying, but don’t give in to the temptation to gossip or speculate about your colleague’s situation, especially if they’ve been brave enough to confide in you. If someone is struggling with personal problems, the last thing they need is everyone at work talking about them. 

If you really don’t feel comfortable approaching your colleague, then flag your concerns to someone who can. This can be another colleague who they are friendlier with, their line manager or HR. 

A manager or HR might already be aware of the issue, but if they’re not you could be doing them a favour. A manager might only be aware that an employee has been absent a lot recently, but not that they’ve been getting tearful at their desk or struggling with their workload. 

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