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Help Dealing With Stressed Co-workers

Updated on July 8, 2013

Managing your own stress levels can be taxing enough, but how can you help someone else with theirs, without it becoming your burden?

Dealing with stressed colleagues

It can be difficult to help someone who appears stressed and unhappy - how do you approach the subject, what should you say, and how do you know when to listen and when to offer advice?

How to recognize a colleague who may need help

People can experience stress whatever level their job is, but how we react to pressure is different for all of us. Some people seem to be coping well and then erupt in anger, or dissolve in tears, while others let you know how stressed they are all the time.

Some of the warning signs to look out for include weight loss or weight gain, teeth grinding, nail biting, hypersensitivity, aggressiveness, depression and anxiety1,2.

How can you help?

Talking to other people can be a great way of coping with stress; it can give a different perspective on the problem, provide ideas on how to deal with the stress, and provide reassurance and support.

How to approach someone you suspect needs help

Approaching someone who you think could be suffering from stress can be difficult. If you know them well, you could approach the subject head on and ask how they are doing. Or, perhaps mention that you have a lot of work and ask if they do also. Talking to people can help them realize they are not alone in feeling pressure. All they may be looking for is a little reassurance that they are coping and that it's quite normal to feel some degree of pressure.

If you don't know them very well, you could make an effort to be more approachable or speak to another colleague you know they are close to. When you are stressed little things that go badly can seem a lot worse than they really are, but little acts of kindness can go a long way. Why not offer to bring them a cup of coffee or make an effort to say hello in the mornings? Or, ask if they want anything when you go out for lunch? They may start to open up to you.

What can you suggest they do?

There are many things they could do to help them reduce the stress they encounter in their daily working lives. They may need a little help working out exactly what is causing their stress; is their workload too great? Do they have poor time management? Maybe they don't understand what is expected of them. Talking to you may help them put their problems into perspective and to take positive actions.

An easy first step is to make sure desks are clean and organized so the things that are needed are nearby. Next, make sure the day is structured and write a list of everything that needs to be done. Prioritize the work that needs most urgent attention.

If deadlines are not going to be met, make sure the relevant people are informed. Work that is not completed due to poor time management and organization is a reflection of the individual, but work not completed due to unrealistic deadlines or excessive demands has to be reassessed.

If personal issues are a problem, and not something you want to be involved in or that they want to talk about, perhaps you can suggest that they talk to friends or family, or maybe take a little time off. Be sensitive to their feelings and what you know of the situation.

How to prevent stress from being passed on to you

Coping with your own stress is difficult enough, but having to help someone else cope with their stress as well can turn into a burden. If you honestly don't have time to help a colleague or are worried that their stress will affect you negatively, seek help. Talk to your manager or to your Human Resources department in confidence.

If you do choose to help a colleague, it is important that you don't allow their stress to impact your daily working life. For example, make a point of talking to them at their desk rather than at your desk - this way you control the amount of time you spend with them.

Be firm. If you are really busy explain that you cannot discuss things at the moment and it would be better when you can give them your full attention at a later time. If you can't give them the time they need, suggest someone else that they could talk to who may be able to help.

Follow good time management and organizational practices to ensure that you have a coping strategy in place for yourself when faced with stress. This way you are prepared to deal with your own stress before helping someone else tackle theirs.

Offering practical advice such as the above and showing that you are happy to listen and talk things over when needed will make a lot of difference to someone.


  1. Greener M. The Which? Guide to Managing Stress. Which? Consumer Guides. 1996
  2. Eliot RS and Breo DL. Is It Worth Dying For? Bantam Books. 1989


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      sallythornton 5 years ago

      I am so stressed at the moment with loadload which has been addressed and an existing colleague who is a natural slacker has been appointed to help. However, she is noriously non-proactive and left 10 mins early tonight when she could helped me with my workload whose behaviour I mentioned to a director. She is a friend "within the office" so how do I deal with matters going forward without being the office bitch which is not my role.