Want to Help a Stressed-Out Colleague? Here Are Some Suggestions

By Harvard Business Review
October 17, 2017

At a time when wellness is essential for physicians and other professionals, keep these seven ideas in mind when faced with an overwhelmed co-worker.

We all know people who seem to be constantly stressed out — who claim to be buried in work, overloaded with projects and without a minute to spare.

How do you deal with these kinds of co-workers? Here are some tips:

Don’t judge: Check that you’re not being too judgmental. Unless you’re a psychologist, judging someone’s way of handling stress as inappropriate is fraught.

Acknowledge the stress: Acknowledging your colleague’s feelings in a neutral way gives you both a chance to move beyond them.

Offer praise: Praising someone’s performance in the workplace gives the person an alternative self-image according to which he is a competent, positive professional. Appreciation can be a powerful intervention.

Offer your assistance: Say, “Is there anything that I, or anyone on my team, can do to help you? Your offer will give the other person a chance to think about solutions and feel that he is not on his own.

Break down your requests: Think about ways to reduce your colleague’s sense of being overwhelmed. You might shorten your emails to the person or split your larger requests into several smaller steps.

Ask for more detail: If your co-worker's anxieties seem to be having an impact on her ability to focus — and you’re genuinely worried about her health — ask her to provide more detail. Say, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how worried should I be about your level of stress?"

Get some distance: Stress can be contagious, so keep a close watch on the effect it’s having on you. In some cases, you might want to limit your interactions with that person.

Copyright 2017 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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