How to Help a Colleague Who Seems Off Their Game

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When we think about productivity at work, we need to think beyond ourselves. As they say, as a team we are as strong or as productive as the weakest link on our team. This translates to the fact that if someone on our team is not doing their best work, we have a role to play in helping them back to being their productive best. This might not be an official part of our job but working with peers who are productive and doing good work has an impact on our work as well.

Most of the times, it could be temporary loss of productivity due to a temporary situation in their lives – personal or professional. If they seem to be not on top of their game consistently (missing deadlines, quality of deliverables low from their regular standard, low enthusiasm, etc), then we can step in and be of assistance.  

So, the question then is how do we help this colleague without being too intrusive?

Acknowledge:

As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. When have a problem, the first step is for us to acknowledge that there is a problem and bring it in the open. In this case, we need to acknowledge first that there is something that is not right with the situation.

We walk up to them at the pantry or the cafeteria or near a water-cooler and start a conversations. Ask them how are they doing? Ask them if everything is ok. You can’t force them to open up to you but if we have invested in the relationship in the past, the chances are that they might open up and share what is going on in their mind.

Listen:

When they do open up, listen. Don’t offer any solutions. Just listen. Try to be there for them. The productivity loss could be due to one of many reasons, some of them personal and some professional.

Personal reasons could be that there is a life event (going through a separation, loss of someone special, arrival of a child, prolonged sickness in their immediate family, etc) in their lives that is taking up more cognitive/emotional/physical toll on them that causes them to not be able to focus. If this is the case, then be supportive and compassionate. Ask them if there is any way that you can be of assistance. Is there something that can be taken off their plates temporarily, so that they can deal with their situation in their personal lives better? If they ask for your help on something specific, find a way to help them on that specific thing.

Professional reasons could be that they their work is either too easy (boring) or too difficult (challenging). It could also be that they are experiencing “Imposter Syndrome”. It could also be that they are feeling threatened by someone or something. Whatever the reasons, it is easy if they talk it out. Be patient and listen in. Validate where it makes sense. Most of all be compassionate.

If you have experienced this yourself, share with them how you felt during that time and how you were able to overcome the situation. Ask them if there is any way that you or the team can help them deal with the situation.

Act:

This doesn’t end there. If the colleague asked for some specific help, find a way to provide that help. Sometime, just having this conversation and expressing our feelings is by itself enough for the colleague to get back to being their regular productive self.

However, if the colleague did not ask for any help do check in with her again sometime later, just so that she knows that there is someone who cares of them and is willing to help.

In conclusion:

This is an everyday occurrence in almost every office around the world. There is always someone who needs some care and compassion. Being that person who not only recognises this and is able to show the care and compassion not only helps them but helps us as well.

Multiple researchers have found that when we help others around us, our body releases good chemicals which not only elevate our moods but also help us remain healthy. Helping our colleagues in their hour of need also ensures that we are in the company of people who are at the peak of their productivity and thereby enabling us remain productive.

And most important of all, this turns colleagues into friends. And who doesn’t like working with friends (isn’t that what having fun is all about?)…

PS: This post was inspired by an HBR blog post with the same title. You can read the HBR post here

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