5 Ways To Support Coworkers Through Life’s Challenges


Many adults meet their coworkers more than their friends. It may sound odd, but it’s true. You often have to coordinate weeks in advance to meet up with friends given everyone’s schedule.

However, you meet your coworkers nearly every day. Add some after-work drinks or a conference, and it could be even more than the regular 9-5.

Often, coworker friendships are not limited to deadlines and projects. They can extend to discuss personal challenges too.

When life throws curveballs, it can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable. During such times, the support of trusted coworkers can help since we often see them for longer periods of time.

You may be able to take a few days off after losing a loved one. However, most people eventually do have to return to work.

Caring coworkers can help provide some solace. Here are five ways they can extend support to colleagues that are struggling.

1. Acknowledge and Empathize

Don’t rush to compete with their problems. Avoid saying things like, “Sorry to hear your dad passed away. My father died when I was 10.” Grief is not a competition.

Acknowledge and Empathize

Instead, handle the situation with empathy. Try to put yourself in their shoes and don’t rush to provide solutions.

Some people just want to vent. Others prefer not to talk about it at all. Spend some time acknowledging their emotions and validating their experiences.

Genuinely listening — without rushing to answer — can make a world of a difference. 

Consider sending someone struggling with a medical diagnosis a little care package. If you don’t have time to make something at home, you can order get well soon gifts.

Many companies now offer everything from soup and cookies to flowers and balloons. It can really make someone smile if they receive a thoughtful gift at their doorstep.

2. Offer Practical Help

Sometimes, during a crisis, even the simplest tasks like ordering groceries can feel insurmountable. Don’t just say, “Lemme know if you need anything.” Most people are hesitant to ask for help.

Instead, extend a helping hand by offering practical assistance. Whether it’s walking their dog or running errands on their behalf, offer concrete ways to help. Small acts of kindness can help alleviate some of the stress they may be carrying.

You could bake your coworker a lasagna to take home after work or offer to watch their kids so they can go to therapy. Offer to pick them up on the way to the office so they don’t have to drive alone each day.

Do something instead of just paying lip service. If you give them some options to choose from, they may be more likely to take you up on the offer.

3. Communicate With Boundaries

Encourage open communication by creating a non-judgmental environment. Let your colleague know that they can talk to you with confidentiality. Listen without interrupting or offering advice unless asked.

Avoid prying or nudging them to share more than they want to. Everyone copes differently. It’s crucial to honor their wishes and need for space even if you think you have the perfect “fix.”

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Don’t tell your coworker that they should — or shouldn’t — attend the holiday party if they just lost their house in a fire.

Some people might like the distraction. However, others may want to avoid social gatherings altogether. It’s often because they don’t want sympathy or hate having to answer the same questions.

Understand that healing is a gradual process, and there may be ups and downs. Offer support, even when you cannot see much progress. You never know when they have a breakthrough in their healing journey. 

Support In The Workplace

4. Support In The Workplace

Try to encourage camaraderie and initiate opportunities for coworkers to bond outside of meetings. You could try some team-building activities or plan a social event.

Have a different person pick an activity each time, so there is a feeling of ownership. This can also help ensure there are different types of activities. Not everyone may enjoy bowling. Some may prefer a nature hike instead. 

If you come across some good books or Instagram accounts that can help with healing, recommend them to your struggling colleague. You never know what might click.

Your goal is to provide them with different methods of information. When, if, and how they use it depends on them. Be patient and don’t hound them asking them if they read the book you loaned them.  

Celebrate their victories as a team, if they prefer, or in a more intimate setting with just a few close coworkers. Someone might have made it to 100 days of being sober, and that should be applauded.

5. Encourage Self-Care

You can celebrate a milestone by gifting your coworker a massage or facial to help them unwind. Pool in with other colleagues and give them a spa getaway for the weekend.

Remind them not to have survivor’s guilt if they healed after a car accident, but a loved one didn’t make it. Try to explain that self-care is not selfish.

Keep an eye on their mental health when possible. Share how therapy may have helped you or your family members.

Refer them to a good therapist if their challenges extend beyond what you can provide. Assure them that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

Keep in mind supporting coworkers should not feel like an obligation. You should do whatever comes naturally. A few genuine words and acts of kindness can be more meaningful than grandiose gestures.

While empathy should not feel transactional, you never know when you might be on the receiving end. So build strong bonds so that you can give — and receive — care during a dark spell. 

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