Your coworker's behavior is concerning of late.

Usually they're organized, calm, and on top of things but lately, they've had unexplained absences, showing up late, and having random outbursts at work. Handling collaborative projects with them is beginning to take its toll on you. What's really going on?!

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It's important to take note of these signs at work and recognize mental health issues because mental health struggles can affect anyone and significantly impact the workplace. Be careful of how you handle the situation.

Think before you speak.

Before The Conversation

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  • Examine the boundaries of your relationship. If you're close, the conversation will be easier and more comfortable to initiate. If you're their manager, you have to speak up. As a distant peer though, it may not be your place to initiate the talk. Check with your manager about how to best proceed.

  • Don’t judge or draw conclusions about what's going on from the outside. Every person and situation is different. Be open and get your facts straight before acting.


Your co-worker appears to be distressed by something and it's affecting their work. What should you do?

Assume that it's about home life.

Consider your relationship first.

Say nothing even as their manager.

Confront them directly & harshly.

During The Conversation

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After carefully considering your role and closeness, you talk.

  • Ease in to the conversation. You can ask them how they're doing or make an observation out of concern (eg. "You don't seem like yourself lately."). Ask them if they want to talk about it, then allow them to lead thereafter.

  • Be respectful and understanding to make them more comfortable. Mind your approach and language. Don't be pushy. They may not be ready to share.

  • Listen actively as they speakand ask suitable, open questions to make sure you're not misunderstanding anything. Ask how you can help them.


You finally think it's time to talk to your coworker. What should you do?

Ask them straight what's going on.

Ask them very personal questions.

Talk about your unrelated experience.

Gently ask them to share how they feel.

After The Conversation

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  • Keep it confidential. However, you may have to talk to someone else (such as HR or a trusted third party) if they're becoming a danger to themselves or others.

  • Maintain boundaries. Lead them to appropriate resources at work like HR & employee wellness programs. There are also professionals outside of work. Remember that you're not an expert/therapist and have your own mental health to consider.

  • Encourage them to take steps to get back on track such as speaking to their supervisor in order to prioritize their tasks and cope better.


You finally know what's going on with your coworker. What should you do?

Encourage them to get expert help.

Become their office therapist.

Ignore them. It's not your problem.

Run to tell your office bestie.

Create A Culture Of Caring

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on UnsplashPhoto by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
  • Share other resources or information you might have about mental health. Learn more about the topic. Do your part to make things better for everyone, not just one person.

  • Create a safe space by encouraging empathy, sharing personal stories, and advocate for positive mental health practices. Reducing stigma around mental illness is vital. Check out this Byte to learn more about smashing the stigma.

  • Observe the energy around you at work. Energy is contagious and everyone is connected. Watch out for warning signs.

Photo by Emily Underworld on UnsplashPhoto by Emily Underworld on Unsplash

Take Action

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To support a mentally struggling coworker:


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This Byte has been authored by


Khethiwe Gumede

Multimedia Lecturer