Supporting a Struggling Colleague: Tips for Coworkers

Unsure how to support a struggling colleague at work? This article offers practical advice on how to approach the situation with empathy and sensitivity.

November 2023
min read
16-How to support a struggling colleague
Skrevet af
Written by
Christine Victoria Siegrist

Content Developer, Psykologistuderende ved Aarhus Universitet.

Samuel Kirk-Haugstrup

Psykolog, specialiseret i pædagogisk psykologi og formidling.

Christine Victoria Siegrist

Content Developer, Psychology student at Aarhus University.

Samuel Kirk-Haugstrup

Psychologist, specialized in educational psychology and communication.

When a colleague is struggling, they may not feel comfortable asking for help. That's where you can step in and offer your support. However, it's important to approach the situation with sensitivity and empathy. Here are some tips to help you offer support without overstepping boundaries

Why You Hesitate to Ask

Many of us hesitate to talk to a colleague we sense is under pressure, not because we don't care, but because we want to be considerate and not make things worse. However, it's worth examining our motives.

Are we refraining from asking because we're truly concerned about the other person, or are we avoiding the discomfort and uncertainty of the conversation? It's okay to admit that we don't know how to approach the situation, but it's important to recognize that <hl>our fear of saying or doing the wrong thing can be a form of self-protection<hl>.

If you recognize this insecurity in yourself, know that it's perfectly normal. Taking the first step and offering your support can make a big difference. So here are three steps on how to approach a colleague who is under pressure in a thoughtful and considerate way:

Step 1:

Observe Before Interpreting

When offering support to a colleague who is under pressure, it's essential to start from what you have observed. Saying things like "I've noticed you've been stressed lately" can be taken as criticism because it assumes that your interpretation is correct.

Instead, focus on something concrete you have observed and speak from there, such as "I've noticed that you haven't been eating lunch with us lately, and that you're eating it at your desk" or "I've noticed that you often say you're tired and that you haven't slept well."

Step 2:

Be Curious About Your Colleague's Experience

After you have expressed what you have noticed, it's important to remain open to the fact that your colleague may not agree. You can then ask a question to show that you're curious about their experience, such as "So I was wondering, how are you doing?"

Step 3:

Respect Your Colleague's Response and Offer Your Support:

After voicing your concern, your colleague may respond in different ways. If they say they're fine, it's essential to respect their response and offer your support if they ever need it. <hl>It's important to recognize that they may be experiencing something that they are not willing to share<hl> or that they may not be ready to talk about yet.

If your concerns persist, you can consider discussing the situation with a manager or HR representative while respecting your colleague's privacy. Remember that being supportive and showing empathy can make a significant difference for someone who is struggling.

The Nexts Steps

If you have a colleague who confirms they are under pressure, it's important to offer your support. Here are three steps to follow:

Step 1:

Be present and listen actively to your colleague, showing that you care about their well-being.

Step 2:

Offer to accompany your colleague when they speak to your manager. It can be difficult to handle these conversations alone, and your support can make a big difference.

Step 3:

Suggest seeking professional help from a psychologist or stress counselor if needed. You can research available treatment options within your workplace or suggest private treatment services.

In conclusion, <hl>it's important to recognize that everyone faces pressure and stress at some point, and being a supportive colleague can make a significant difference<hl> to someone who is struggling.

By taking the time to observe, listen, and offer support, you can create a safe and supportive environment for your colleague to share their experiences and navigate the challenges they are facing.

Remember, it's okay to feel unsure or uncomfortable about starting a conversation, but taking that first step can make all the difference. So be there for your colleagues, listen with empathy, and offer support in a way that works for them.

Together, we can create a culture of care and support in the workplace.


Kingston, M., 2020: Førstehjælp til stressramte. Forlag: Klim

Wärn, B. (2019). Et liv uden stress. Forlag: Wärn Kompetenceudvikling.

Wärn, B. (2019). Konfliktløsning i grupper og organisationer. Forlag: Wärn Kompetenceudvikling.

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