How to Approach a Coworker Who May Need “Help”


A coworker giving off the signs of addictive behavior can be a tricky situation for a fellow employee willing to try and help. Many times men and women in the office will resist the urge to offer advice and support to another employee with a mental health dilemma, believing professionals to be the only ones qualified for such a task. However, this is far from the truth. While the practical and effective methods for addressing the specific issues of addiction are best left to the experts, helping someone to come to terms with their own addictive behavior is a role friends and family have to play on the ground. Otherwise, the professional help will never be sought in the first place.

How though? Here are the steps for approaching a coworker who seems to have an addiction problem to maximize effectiveness and reduce nagging:

Have a conversation

The value of real-time communications is perhaps no more evident than when personal issues like addiction come into the picture. Seeing if a coworker needs help starts with a conversation. Talk about anything and everything except the problem at play. Allow for a conversation about work, life, and everything in between to tell part of the story itself. Men and women reveal volumes of information about themselves through seemingly meaningless banter. Pay attention to gauge your coworker’s self-awareness over the addiction and what may be the causes of it in the first place.

Offer solutions

Get a feel for his or her own sense of their problem, but don’t dwell on the negatives too much. Men especially like to focus on the problem without an equal amount of time spent on solutions. Don’t assume your coworker has tried everything. For example, a men’s addiction treatment program could be something your cubicle buddy never stopped to consider until it was brought up by you. With that said, don’t get yourself in an endless loop of advice. Constantly bringing up rehab like a salesperson will diminish its potential as an option. Answer questions, but don’t press the issue.

Stick with it

Don’t be surprised if the first round of pep talks go nowhere, but don’t give up trying to help your coworker. Harping ought to be avoided, so make note of the last time the issue was brought up and wait a week or two before fishing again. Allow for entire conversations to flesh out without any progress toward your coworker getting help. Patience is the most important factor when trying to approach someone about their addiction problem. Whether they consciously acknowledge it or not, folks suffering from addiction are usually pretty cagey about it, so keep that in mind. With that said the kid gloves eventually need to come off if this person is constantly dodging the issue and the issue is affecting the workplace in a negative manner.

Be discrete

If your coworker has shared sensitive personal information with you then it’s safe to say it’s not for everyone in the office to know about. Avoid bringing the issue up within earshot of anyone – even “code talk” and whispering is not recommended. It all breeds gossip and attracts attention. The bottom line is that this is your friend’s issue, not yours, so allow him or her the courtesy of keeping things as public or private as they want.

Do not enable

You can’t have it both ways. Asking a coworker whether he or she has problems with alcohol and if they should get help isn’t very effective if you’re going out for drinks three days later. Avoid enabling if you’ve made the decision to try and help your coworker with addiction.

Statistically speaking just about every office is going to have a handful of employees undergoing problems with addiction, especially to alcohol. If the signs of alcohol addiction are observed in a fellow employee, the worst thing you can do is to do nothing. Approach with an open mind, patience, and sensitivity. It may just be the lifeline they need.

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