A few days ago, I had an interesting chat with a colleague and we really talked about the workplace and respecting privacy. No doubt, maybe because I’ve been blogging about the workplace for quite some time, such conversations seem to interest me.

Most workers are lucky to have found true friendships with co-workers. All the same, one must remember to treat the workplace as such and not get carried away with growing friendship, especially, so that you don’t feel somewhat disappointed when you notice the slightest hint of competition at a later date.

Generally speaking, it’s not uncommon for colleagues to grow great bond and fondness especially if they share similar views and opinion to certain areas of interest. And let’s not forget that most workers spend an average of thirty-five hours a week at their various workplaces. 

According to my colleague (that works at a different office), the friendship they maintain starts every Monday and ends on every Friday. She loves it that way and wouldn’t have it any other way. One of the reasons being that she wants her privacy on weekends.

There could be disparities and most workers have different opinions about the limit and extent of friendship between coworkers.

Growing up, I noticed that a number of my mum’s friends at work became family. They were so close enough that we became close to their kids as well and would often exchange visits. The part I loved the most was when I’d receive gifts from them.

What did I know?

I’ve seen some workers maintain such bond with certain people at work and I totally respect every person’s opinion on this.

But there could be a time in your colleagues’ life when you realize that they are going through turmoil and you want to be of help, but also respect his/ her privacy. As a matter of fact, you don’t have to be too close to someone to care for them.

Maybe this coworker who has turned into a good friend is going through a divorce, or loss of a family member, health crisis, or financial issues and it’s telling on his/ her performance or appearance at work.

The world needs more caring people these days. We need to show love and reduce the hatred and negativity anyway.

In such a situation, it’ll be okay for you to feel that you should show some concern and help alleviate the stress and worry. However, you’ll still have to maintain some level of professionalism.

It could just be that you’ve grown so used to this worker, you know their family, spouse, and everyone close to them.

So here are some ways to go about showing care without overburdening your colleague who already has enough on his/ her plate.

1. Don’t offer unsolicited advice

Everybody’s circumstance is unique to them and so will their approach be. There won’t be any need for you to become a therapist over night. All you should concern yourself with is show some sense of care and give comfort as best you can.

I knew this when I was the one at the receiving end. Once anyone had some opinion I never requested for, I would think to myself: “You are not in my shoes, how can you know any better what I’m going through?”

And it made complete sense to me eventually. As humans, we want to feel special and we feel that no other person has gone through a similar situation even when we know that they might.

When trying to comfort anyone, you want to make them feel that they hold the upper hand and in my opinion, I don’t think it will be wise to give ‘professional’ unsolicited advice at least at that time.

Most people already know the answers to their problems, or at best they’ll come to discover the solution. Give them the opportunity and time to heal through and find the answer themselves.

2. Don’t Assume/ Help out in a small way

Never assume that you know what someone is feeling. You want to discuss with any employee/ colleague going through challenges/ crisis, hear him/her out and believe him/her. After this, you can then know if you can be of help or not.

You want to ask him/her what can be done to help ease the situation and if you can help. This point is a sequel to the first.

To some extent, I also think it’s better to start small. You don’t want them to battle making suggestions on how you may be of help. Most times the burden is too much for them to want to put on your shoulders.

So make simple offers to help out, like offering to give your worker a ride, or getting him/ her lunch or breakfast. Running a short errand for him/ her like doing school runs, etc. Starting small goes a long way.

3. Don’t try to be funny

These days there is a lot of positive talks which is good but many times a person going through pain or crisis doesn’t have that at the top of his/ her list. Don’t try to be a comedian simply because this is not the best time to.

At this time, you want to do all you can to show that you care and don’t see the situation as a joke.

4. Avoid being nosy
While it may be that you share some close relationship with this coworker, it could very well be that the severity of the crisis requires some high level of privacy.

Show care, but don’t go as much as wanting to know every detail no matter how trivial. One thing to understand is that if a person wants to share with you, they will always do. It’s not worth forcing it at all.

5. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

If the situation is one you can’t necessarily help with, refer him/her to the EAP and try to follow up options or programs they offer. The EAP adheres to strict confidentiality so you necessarily don’t want to know what the issue may be. Rather, try to follow up to be sure that there is progress.

You should previously have contacted the EAP to know what services they offer and how it can help resolve the challenges /crises your colleague is going through. If you are uncertain, ask a human resources personnel in your organization.

5. Speak to Someone

I recommend talking to someone in the human resources team in your organization or referring your colleague to a member of the team. They will have adequate resources to guide your colleague and or refer you to someone that can help (maybe a counselor, if necessary).

It’s important that you realize that what goes around in the world or in our various locations one way or the other affects the workplace. This will inevitably affect the behaviors of coworkers and how we react towards them.

Many times, we maintain social interactions with coworkers, carry out business functions together and possibly have a drink or two and that’s about it. You may not be aware of what goes on in their private lives.

It’s of great value that we keep this in mind while dealing with coworkers to help reduce the worry of such coworker. Helping your colleagues shouldn’t be the job of your managers alone, it should be a collaborative effort.

Helping co-workers/ colleagues show leadership tendencies in you. It’s time for you to help make the workplace a better place to thrive in. I hope that these suggestions will help you make someone’s day. Feel free to share this article and to leave comments and suggestions behind.

What other ways have you helped support a colleague at work without invading his/ her privacy? Please share below.

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