How can we support co-workers who are going through difficult times in their lives? Sometimes we prefer to take the ostrich approach: if I don’t talk about the divorce or the surgery or the child on drugs or the death then maybe they won’t bring it up either. Or we opt for the awkward quick sympathy: I’m really sorry to hear about (blank). Now, how about that project?
It’s natural and understandable to want to avoid getting into the depths of another’s troubles. Who wants to hear all the gory details when there is work to be done? (Or even when there isn’t work to be done!) However, as followers of Christ, we are asked to do a little more and be a little more than ordinary workers.
Having gone through several difficult situations myself and having had colleagues go through many, I have a few suggestions on how we can be of spiritual support to our co-workers.
Don’t be afraid to bring it, whatever it is, up. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give another person is to be able to talk about something that is weighing heavily on heart and mind. If we end up getting too much information for our own comfort, well, maybe we need to consider that a small sacrifice for another’s pain.
Cut a little slack. People under stress mess up. That’s just a fact. Memory in particular is impaired when people are worried. If a co-worker is having a rough go, don’t come down on every mistake as if it is the end of the world. Of course, we need to maintain standards, but there is a way of correcting problems which is supportive and a way that isn’t. Choose the higher ground for the time being.
Offer concrete help. Ask if there is something you can do to help with a project. See if you can do some routine tasks like filing or making routine calls. Chances are the person will refuse because they don’t want to be seen as weak or lazy, but just knowing that help is available can take a lot of strain off.
Give a token of support. Does your office mate love chocolate? Then drop a piece of good chocolate on their desk. Bring them a cup of coffee from the vending machine. Take them out to lunch. It doesn’t have to be huge; just enough to let them know someone cares.
Remind the person that you are keeping him or her in your prayers. Even if you are sure the person knows you are praying, say it aloud. It makes it more real for the person who is struggling. Be sure to actually pray! It’s the greatest good you can do for another person who is suffering.
Since we spend so much of our time at work, learning how to be a support to others is a concrete way to put some of the Beatitudes into practice. We may think we are doing these things for the good of others, but in the end they will benefit us just as much as the other person.
That’s always the way of spiritual growth, isn’t it?