On average, we spend 40 hours a week at work. You spend more time with your colleagues than you do with your loved ones. So it's important we look out for each other.
A working environment is high-pressured and fast moving. It's filled with many different personality types and ways of working. And while we're busy getting on with our jobs, what we do is dependent on other people, teams, clients, process, etc.
We keep our heads down, get shit done and move to the next thing forgetting that behind every email address is a human.
A human just like you. Someone who's probably going through a tough time - trouble at home, health worries, financial anxieties or just generally struggling with mental health.
Here's some things to look out for to see if someone is suffering:
- Erractic behaviour - angry and irritable one minute, lifeless the next
- Unexplainable weight changes are a big giveaway
- Losing concentration is meetings or conversation
- Not participating in work dos or hobbies they usually do
- Getting ill all the time
- Taking a lot of time off
- Detaching from other people
- Constantly tired
It's fine to pick people up on their work ethic or professionalism, especially if it's persistent. But sometimes we might need to consider what's causing this behaviour; is it personality or out of character?
Without knowing, you do need to make allowances. You might be a machine and can compartmentalise your issues; 9 to 5 is work and when you get home, you can cry into a pillow while listening to Adele.
Not everyone is like that. As someone who suffers from depression, there are days when I struggle to even get out of bed. Leaving the house looking half decent is an achievement.
I smile and joke with colleagues. I go out for drinks with them. I get my work done to a high standard. I challenge in meetings. With all this exterior bravado, it any wonder that none of my colleagues know of my internal struggle. That my mind will periodically remind me of my frailties.
I hate those inspirational quotes you get on social media, but the one that resonated was; "be nice to people, you don't know what they're going through."
That's the crux of it. No magic wand or top tips. Just see the human. You don't get anything done by being mean, shouting or undermining people anyway, so be patient.
And be brave. It's not British to talk, but just ask. Sometimes, a simple acknowledgment that you can see that something isn't right is enough.
A year ago, a colleague's father passed away. I was told by her manager in a whisper over tea so I'd be sensitive to it. The moment I saw her, I expressed my sympathy and asked her if she was ok.
After explaining what had happened, what her plan was and how she felt, we had a hug and she told me that I was the only person who even acknowledged what had happened. That even her boss awkwardly utter something and scuttled out.
It does push us out of our comfort zone and means we're asking difficult questions. And we need to be prepared for the answer or reaction. Generally, people are relieved to talk about it, feeling less like pariahs.
How to handle someone with mental health issues:
- Empathy, not sympathy - people with anxiety don't like to feel like charity cases, freaks or like they're putting anyone out.
- Get on with things - as above, sometimes it coaxes people out of the heavy cloud if you don't treat them any differently.
- It's good to talk - ask if they're ok, offer support and if you someone struggling in a meeting or with their work, politely (and without humiliating them) step in.
- Understanding - it's a struggle, working from home/time off because he/she can't face the office is a good enough excuse.
- Use a buddy system - one where people get to chose their buddies. Humans have a sixth sense of who they'll get on with and trust. Weekly sessions to talk about work worries or even to rant about colleagues will help release tension and alleviate feelings of isolation.
- Open 121s to talk about out of work stuff - if you have an idea of what's going on at home, you might be sensitive to the warning signs.