When a co-worker needs your shoulder

Friday, January 21, 2005

Whether it's a death or serious illness of a family member or friend, a family member in trouble with the law or military deployment of a close relative, a crisis that impact a work colleague can make you feel at a loss about how to help that person.

Dr. John Hipple, a senior staff counselor in the University of North Texas Office of Counseling and Testing Services, suggests reminding yourself that humans respond to a crisis differently, so there is no right or wrong way to recover from a crisis. However, compassion can help you to respond to a co-worker who is in crisis, he adds.

He shares his thoughts about helping a colleague through hard times:

  • Hipple points out that emotional pain is real to the sufferer. A co-worker's crisis might seem simple, but it could be the "straw that broke the camel's back," he says.
  • Hipple suggests considering both the co-worker's personality and your own emotional health in helping that person through a crisis. "Ask yourself if your co-worker is a private or public person. Ask yourself how much emotional energy you can offer," he says.
  • Don't enable, rescue, judge, take on another's burdens, or give unsolicited advice to your co-worker, he says. Instead, listen when your co-worker wants to talk, or respect his or her silence if he or she doesn't want to talk.  "In place of giving advice, say something like, ‘You look like you're having a tough time. Can I help with anything?'" Hipple says.
  • Flexibility and information could make the difference in recovery from trauma. Hipple says that if you are the supervisor of someone who is coping with a crisis, consider adjusting that employee's schedule and offering information about sick or vacation leave; health care and employee assistance program benefits.
  • Hipple points out that good nutrition, rest, relaxation and laughter are common- sense interventions for someone facing a crisis. "If your co-worker is open to the idea, go out to lunch with him or her. Focus on fun topics," he says.
  • Above all, be patient with your co-worker, he says. "Healing or getting back to normal after a dramatic event takes time. People need time to rebound from trauma and recovery rates are very individual," Hipple says.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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