Real life happens all the time and work is only one component of it. We’re born, we die, and a lot of stuff happens to us in between, good and bad alike. A lot of it even happens to us while we’re at the office.
Rocky moments, from the romantic and emotional to the medical (or maybe even criminal) can manifest in a flash to derail an otherwise productive employee or colleague. What do you do when the personal meets the professional in an unavoidable way?
Determine if any action is needed. How well do you know this person? Just answering that question allows you to determine the spectrum of appropriate action. Are you close enough to drive them home? Are you friendly enough to pay for a couple beers after work? The personal-professional line can be blurry as ever, but this is to your advantage in someone else’s hard situation. As you are members of a team, you ought to be able to find reasonable ways to help each other when the going gets tough on a personal level.
Avoid the empty sentiments. These are phrases like “Let me know what I can do” that suggest personal interest or care in another person without actually achieving anything. It’s a cop-out, a gesture at best that won’t really do much. Instead, focus on actions. What can you do to make this person’s life better right now, today?
Err on the side of not asking questions. Let this person share only what he or she is comfortable sharing. Your job is not to babysit or tease out some gossipy story, but it can be to serve as a sounding board. Let this person disclose specifics at their own rate.
Start some sort of support system if it gets bad. Find one or two other people in the office who are humanly friendly enough to help shoulder a burden. With more people working together for the benefit of another, it’s easier on each individual. There is still the daily business function to attend to, but focusing all attention on this can be unhealthier in the long run. Drive a happy balance between formality and friendliness.
Know when you can’t solve another’s problem. If a situation gets especially bad, to the point that someone else’s life is in danger, it’s time to back off and find some professional help. Whatever the source of the problem is, its solution is not going to be found at work.
In summation, you ought to opt for being friendly and available your coworkers who may be struggling. But only to a point. It’s not only important to remember you can’t solve every personal problem, but it’s dangerous to think otherwise.