In my last blog post, “Five Key Myths About Suicide,” I mentioned the importance of getting help for co-workers who may be in distress. In the May 9, 2010 New York Times staff writer Eilene Zimmerman wrote an article “Offering Help to a Troubled Colleague,” which offers important guidelines on how to successfully do this.
Let me summarize a few important points.
Don’t assume You Know What’s Wrong
For example, alcohol on someone’s breath could result from a diabetic’s problem with blood sugar level or from a problem with prescription medication. The safest intervention is to focus on the workplace behavior that you’ve observed and how it’s impacting the person’s performance.
Don’t Solve His/Her Problem
If the person is willing to confide in you, don’t assume you have answers. Listen with empathy and understanding and then make suggestions such as counseling or the Employee Assistance Program, if there is one. Be careful with advice, opinions, personal stories, etc. These may not be considered helpful.
Even if the person is a friend, use the same methods. Leave the answers to the professionals.
(Review my blog post: “Beyond Advice: The Four Steps to a Good Outcome.”)
When to go to Management
If there’s a potential serious threat, such as violence or suicidal thoughts, it’s important to alert those responsible such as Human Resources or a threat assessment team. For other issues, it may be more respectful of the person’s privacy to first check with Human Resources before you contact the person’s manager.