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Worried About Someone’s Wellbeing at Work? A Do’s and Don’ts Quick Guide

Worried About Someone’s Wellbeing at Work? A Do’s and Don’ts Quick Guide

Have you noticed a change in someone’s mood or behaviour at work? It could be their drop in performance or a reduced capacity to manage day-to-day stress at work. They may not be their usual selves, seem more stressed than normal, snap at colleagues, or have become more withdrawn from team interactions.

With so much on our plates in our mahi (work) and beyond, it’s easy to overlook the wellbeing of our colleagues or even our own. However, employee wellbeing is one of the foundations of thriving businesses. With an increasing number of people suffering from mental health concerns, identifying poor wellbeing in your employees or coworkers is crucial.

Signs to Look Out for of Poor Wellbeing

Recognising signs of poor wellbeing in ourselves and others can be challenging, as these signs can be subtle and easy to overlook or dismiss. Regular check-ins with yourself and others, practicing active listening and empathy, and creating an environment where people feel comfortable sharing openly about wellbeing are essential if we want to protect and improve our mental health.

Recognising signs of poor wellbeing in your coworkers and being willing to have a conversation is one of the first steps toward creating a mentally healthy work culture. When we experience mental illness, we commonly feel hesitant to share this with others because we worry about being judged, discriminated against, or even losing our job. This can prevent us from seeking help early, which in turn can lead us to become more unwell and perform more poorly at work.

Mental ill health is not a sign of weakness, it can happen to anyone! Also, just like a physical illness or injury, most of the time when we’re unwell with a mental health condition, we can still do our jobs or need only brief time off or temporary adjustments while we recover. Therefore, to combat stigma and increase staff wellbeing, it is critical to know indicators of emotional distress, support individuals to feel comfortable discussing their mental health, and know how to signpost them to the right supports.

Here are the most common signs of poor wellbeing to look out for:

  • Anxiety: A person may seem edgy, overwhelmed by work tasks, or unable to say ‘no.’ They may experience complaints about pains and aches, have difficulties focusing, and struggle with negative thoughts about their value or competency.
  • Signs of exhaustion and burnout: A colleague may complain about feeling empty, overworked, exhausted, and unable to rest. They may also look physically drained or seem detached from their work.
  • Insomnia and other sleep issues: A coworker often complains about sleeping poorly, running on caffeine, or zoning out at work.
  • Mood swings or unstable emotions: It may seem like you’re walking on eggshells around some people at the office. One minute, they are fine, only to snap at you for the smallest reasons the next.
  • Loss of confidence: A once confident and authoritative person may lose self-assurance, complaining about feeling like an impostor or procrastinating at work. They may begin second-guessing every decision they make or shying away from tasks and responsibilities at work.
  • Difficulty concentrating: A team member might uncharacteristically keep losing track during meetings, not remember important details or struggle to keep up with deadlines.
  • Reduced performance: An employee might show a drop in the quality or quantity of their work. They could miss deadlines, start turning in incomplete work, or seem to accomplish less and less despite working a full day.
  • Absenteeism: A team member may start avoiding work, start coming in late and being the first one to leave, or start taking many sick days.
  • Low mood: A colleague shows little interest in work or social interactions. It’s more than just having a bad day; they persistently feel down.
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt: A team member could constantly be blaming themself for the team’s setbacks, feeling responsible for things that are not their fault.

4 Steps to Approach a Conversation

So, what should you do next once you spot orange or red flags? How do you sensibly approach the situation when concerned about someone at work? Here are four guidelines for managing this conversation without overstepping boundaries or worsening things.

The Appropriate Place
First, choose the appropriate setting for this conversation to support the person to feel at ease. You can ensure this by selecting a private place to talk without being disturbed or distracted. Somewhere neutral, such as going off-site for a walk or coffee, can also be helpful.

Active Listening, not Assumptions
After you’re settled, share what you have observed and ask if they are OK. Listen actively, refraining from making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, or offering unsolicited advice. Use open-ended questions and reflect on what the person is saying to encourage them to express their feelings and experiences openly.

Assure them that you appreciate and value their privacy and won’t share their personal story without their permission. Usually, you only need to involve someone else, such as their whānau, crisis support services, or HR, when you have concerns for their safety or the safety of someone else.

Encourage and Signpost to Support
If there are wellbeing concerns, ask what supports they already have in place. If they haven’t already talked to their whānau or other loved ones or used the strategies they normally use to care for their wellbeing, this is a great start. Also, suggest they check in with their GP unless they need more urgent support. Be ready to direct the team member to other appropriate services, such as mental health supports, employee assistance programmes (EAP), or clinical experts like MindMatters Clinic.

Address Contributing Work Factors

Work takes up a large portion of our lives. Most of us spend one-third of our lives at work. Many employees work long days or in high-stress or hazardous work settings. Workloads and job insecurity are on the rise, and bullying and discrimination can be rife in some work environments. Because work may be a source of stress and burnout, having strategies in place for identifying and addressing factors at work that impact employee wellbeing is critical.

The Health and Safety at Work Act (2015) recognises that employers have a responsibility to ensure a healthy and safe working environment for kaimahi (employees), and this includes their mental health. Taking steps to eliminate or mitigate these “psychosocial risks” helps to ensure a healthy and happy workforce.

When there are Safety Concerns

If you are concerned for a person’s safety, call emergency services (111) or, for significant mental health concerns including suicidal thoughts, the local mental health crisis assessment team. These are best equipped to provide the necessary support and intervention in crises.

Try to stay calm, but take action straight away. It’s also important to try to work collaboratively with the person on addressing the risk: Usually, they will understand and appreciate the concern for their wellbeing. In the very rare situations that the person declines, breaking confidentiality is justified when you are concerned about their safety.

Here are some other guidelines on how to address safety concerns at work.

Involve Mental Health First Aiders
Mental health aiders at work are people trained to recognise the signs of emotional distress, mental illness, and common triggers in the workplace, provide practical skills and tools to support psychological wellbeing, and build a healthy and supportive work atmosphere. Bringing mental health first aid training into the workplace helps people discuss their mental health difficulties more openly.

Have a Documented Wellbeing Recovery and Safety Plan
Businesses should consider creating a collaborative safety plan that outlines steps put in place to support recovery and what to do if the employee’s situation worsens.

Including Whānau if Needed
Support from our social network is essential when navigating significant stress or mental health difficulties. See if the employee is open to having a trusted support person in kōrero (discussion) about their wellbeing at work.

After resolving any immediate concerns, continue to follow up with the colleague to ensure their wellbeing and continued support. Remember, empathy and understanding can go a long way in making someone feel seen, valued, and heard.

Remember to Care for Yourself

Self-care means caring about your emotional, physical, and mental health. It is a pillar of your wellbeing and easily forgotten, especially for those in roles that involve supporting others. Here are some self-care ideas for resilience and wellbeing:

  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Journaling
  • Gratitude
  • Engaging in hobbies
  • Breathing practice
  • Digital Detox
  • Setting healthy boundaries
  • Eating healthily
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Spending time outdoors and connecting with nature
  • Celebrating your culture and beliefs

Taking care of yourself, particularly during stressful times, may help you relax, strengthen your resilience, boost your self-esteem, and increase your optimism. Regular self-care practices help you face daily challenges and support others around you.

Click here to download the MindMatters Addiction in the workplace RESOURCE.


NZ’s leading clinical experts in workplace mental health and wellbeing, contact us today to be connected to the best psychologist to meet your specific needs. MindMatters Clinic provide individual executive coaching and psychological support to businesses, as well as working with organisations to manage mental health and psychosocial risks. We also do speaking events.

Visit MindMatters online:

Do you need help now?

If you, or someone you know, requires crisis or emergency support, please reach out for help via the links below. You are not alone; there are FREE professional resources available to help you.