Career advice

When a colleague needs your support

What do you do if a colleague is having a bad day every day? Resist the urge to judge, assess the situation - and report any concerns about safety immediately.

What do you do if a colleague is having a bad day every day? Resist the urge to judge, assess the situation - and report any concerns about safety immediately

In an average week you may see more of your workmates than your family, so it is natural to support each other through everyday work challenges.

Sometimes, though, you may get a hunch that someone in your team just isn’t themselves; perhaps they seem distressed or constantly distracted and unable to concentrate fully.
In these situations, it can be hard to know what to say or do, especially if their performance is being affected.

Here are tips to help you be a supportive colleague and still maintain your own professional responsibilities

More than a bad day at work

If you notice one of your colleagues seems to be having continual ‘bad days’ try not to judge them as there may be something else going on – either at work, with their own health or at home.

Take a step back

As a nurse your job is to care for people and offer help. But before you jump in and approach your colleague, stop for a minute, assess the situation and think about the best approach.

• Don’t assume your colleague will want to talk at work. He or she may be trying desperately to ‘hold it together'. If you think it can wait, chat at the end of the shift or text or call them.

• Respect privacy if he or she doesn’t want to talk to you. There may be lots of reasons for this so don’t take it personally – even if you consider your colleague to be a friend.

• Don’t diagnose or make assumptions. Instead, listen to what is being said. Don’t finish sentences or offer advice unless you are asked for it.

• Don’t offer false reassurances especially around work performance. Where practical, see if there are ways that the team can help with your colleague’s workload.

• Show your colleague that people care. Being in the midst of distress can be a lonely place. Sometimes even small gestures like sending a ‘thinking of you’ text can make a huge difference.

It is also important that you look after yourself – be realistic about how much support you can offer and establish boundaries.

Safety first

In accordance with the Code, you must balance being supportive of colleagues with preserving patient and public safety.

Follow your intuition. If you have any concerns surrounding a colleague’s ability to keep either themself or anyone else safe then you must report this immediately.

It is usually best to talk to your line manager or a senior nurse who can start the process of assessing fitness to work. This isn’t telling tales – you are simply being professional and acting in everyone’s best interest.

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance health writer and life/health coach

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