I recently wrote an article about what lies beneath our family and friends’ surface appearance over at the Change Blog.  That blog centered on close relationships, but I feel this topic is worth touching on for business relationships as well, especially in an office where you see the same people day-in and day-out.

Photo by maveric2003

First, you’ll never really know what your co-worker’s home lives are really like.  No matter if you’re Facebook friends, no matter if you are friends enough that you share off-color jokes.  What happens at home often stays at home.  While I was going through my divorce, I was happy and smiling all the time at the office, but I spent most of my evenings withdrawn in bed.  So you should try not to make assumptions about what your teammates’ lives are like.

Second, it doesn’t really matter if you know everything about your teammates.  What matters most is that you are there for them as much as you can be.  If you create an open environment at work, you may create a place where that person can find rewarding work away from problems at home.  If you’re really lucky, you might create a place where they can find a friend or two to help them solve their problems.  That’s not the goal of work, but from someone who’s leaned on an office friend before, it’s a nice perk when it happens.

Finally, if you do suspect something very bad is going on with a teammate’s life at home, it’s okay to talk to HR about it.  Let them know what you suspect and that you are worried about your co-worker.  Your HR rep should be able to talk to that person and give them advice on how to get help.   If you’re not comfortable talking to someone at work, look outside of the office for people who might be able to give advice on how to approach your teammate.  Depression helplines, AA, and many non-profit organizations not only support the people who need their services, but the people supporting those people.

Again, I’m not advocating that the workplace become a counseling center.  I do think, however, we make all of our lives easier when we create more open environments that are accepting of people.  I can’t think of a better place to have that happen than at work, where we spend most of our day.

-Deborah Fike

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