4 Ways to Check on Your Coworkers’ Mental Health

Everyone is going through something right now. It’s important to ask your colleagues how they’re really doing.

Published: Oct 20, 2020

Chris noticed that his colleague Sasha, a single mother, had missed several recent video calls. He wanted to support her, but wasn’t sure how to ask if she was OK without being invasive.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 53% of adults in the United States have experienced a decline in mental health due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. Everyone is going through something right now, whether it’s related to health, work, family, finances, or a combination of the above.

During periods of increased stress, we often lean on people in our network for support. But many people hesitate to reach out when they know that others around them are facing just as many challenges, if not more. “In the past, we created this work persona where we may not share that we’re struggling,” says Sean Carney, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “Now, it’s different. There’s no transformation from your home persona to your work persona, and it invites us to be more real.”

Many people hesitate to reach out when they know that others around them are facing just as many challenges, if not more.

It can feel awkward or even like you’re crossing a line to ask a colleague about their mental health. Norms surrounding appropriate workplace conversation have changed so suddenly that you may feel uncomfortable wading into personal territory with colleagues. Here are our tips for checking in on your coworkers with genuine empathy.

Ask specific questions.

Video calls give us visual insight into people’s private worlds. It’s normal to see children, pets, and partners pop up in the background from time to time. Instead of just asking a colleague how they are, ask about what you observe or what they’ve shared with you. For example: “Sasha, how’s it going with the kids being home and distance learning multiple days a week?” Then, be prepared for them to give a real answer.

Share your own stuff first.

If you observe a colleague struggling, one way to make a connection is to share what’s challenging you. Preface it by saying you’re not trying to dump your worries on them but just sharing what you’re dealing with to let them know they’re not alone. One caveat: avoid saying “I know what you’re going through,” unless you actually do know from experience.

Don’t wait for them to ask for help.

People don’t want to burden each other right now. If you suspect that a colleague is barely treading water, volunteer to take something off their plate. If you’re also at capacity, suggest that several members of your team split the workload. Not only will you demonstrate to your coworker that you’re paying attention and you care, but you’ll bring the team together with a shared purpose.

Be a good human.

“Reaching out imperfectly is better than not saying what you want to say,” Carney says. Ask yourself how you’d check in on a friend, and apply that to your coworkers. Even if you can’t help solve the problem that’s weighing them down, small gestures like the occasional ‘Hang in there’ text, a funny GIF, or a handwritten note in the mail can go a long way.

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