How to be a more supportive co-worker

We’ve all been there. A team member tells you they’re stressed out about an upcoming performance review. A direct report approaches you about a conflict they’re facing with another employee. A work friend pulls you aside to fervently vent about their boss.

While there’s no shortage of issues to navigate in the workplace, there are few resources to help employees grapple with their experiences. In a survey we ran last year, over 95 percent of respondents said they’ve experienced a difficult work situation. Half of them left their job as a result.

While there’s no shortage of issues to navigate in the workplace, there are few resources to help employees grapple with their experiences.

Women, and other minorities in tech, often face a unique set of challenges in the workplace. A national study that examined why people voluntarily left their jobs in tech found that nearly 80 percent of employees reported experiencing some form of unfair behavior or treatment. Unsurprisingly, this most acutely affected underrepresented professionals. This unfair behavior can manifest in many forms including microaggressions, bullying, and harassment — just to name a few.

Navigating these complex issues — particularly in environments where people don’t feel heard and respected — can feel confusing and isolating. During those challenging moments it’s more important than ever to show up for each other. While we can’t change the culture of a company overnight, there are a few simple things you can do to create space and help co-workers feel supported and heard.

Navigating these complex issues — particularly in environments where people don’t feel heard and respected — can feel confusing and isolating.During those challenging moments it’s more important than ever to show up for each other.


Check your bias.

Understand when your lens and experience can be an asset, and when it can get in the way. Just because you’ve experienced the same problem as someone doesn’t mean they will want to handle it the same way. Don’t let your narrative cloud the conversation.

Listen. Ask. Support.

It’s harder to listen than to give advice. When someone’s in distress our first inclination is to tell them what to do — often in the form of a solution. But often the most helpful and meaningful gesture is to simply hold space for your co-worker. You can do this by remembering to listen, ask, and support. Here are some handy prompts you can use to help support rather than advise: 

  • It sounds like….

  • I hear you saying…

  • Tell me more about…

The best coaches, managers, colleagues, friends, and even partners ask short questions that get to the point and help move the person toward their own solution.

Know your resources.

It’s always a good idea to have a few trusted resources in your back pocket. They can be internal resources like an employee assistance program (EAP) — which provides counseling and other services to employees — or an employee handbook. 

Some situations may require support outside of the workplace. National Women’s Law Center is a fantastic resource for understanding your rights as a woman in the workplace. Additionally, BetterBrave provides a wealth of information about sexual harassment at work — including this toolkit. Their allies guide is indispensable for anyone looking to be a stronger ally and upstander.

Take care of yourself.

After the conversation, be sure to create space for yourself. It’s easy to take on the issue as your own and absorb the burden. Additionally, just because someone has experienced something in the workplace doesn’t necessarily mean that you will too. To prevent a game of “emotional bumper cars” take time to decompress, reflect, and take care of yourself.

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Many of us can recall a time when someone was there for us during a particularly tough time at work. Pay it forward by simply listening, empathizing, and creating space for co-workers during their most challenging moments. These small gestures can make a world of difference. 

If someone you know needs additional support, Empower Work provides confidential, 1-on-1 counseling for anyone facing a work issue. Text 510–674–1414 to connect with a trained peer counselor on weekdays from 8:30am-8pm PT. To learn more visit: www.empowerwork.org.




Lauren Brisbo