(MoneyWatch) Supporting a professional colleague through personal struggles can be a difficult situation, whether you're equals, their boss, or even their direct report. Depending on the nature of your relationship, the type of work you do and your company culture, you may not be sure of the best way to help them. But here are five tips that may help in most situations.
Drop them a note
Simply expressing your support may be helpful, and doing it in writing may be easier, and more meaningful, than saying something in person, says Mike "Dr. Woody" Woodward, PhD, author of "The You Plan." "A simple way to broach a tough subject is with a card or note (physical or e-card)."
Offer specific help
Reaching out and offering aid is great, but be specific about how, and when you might provide this help. "Think about the type of challenges he or she is facing and consider what you can do to help move the ball forward," says Woodward. For instance, if your colleague usually presents at a Monday morning meeting and you know that's when he needs to accompany a family member to a doctor's appointment, offer to take that off his plate and present in his place.
Avoid projecting your own experience
Grief is a very personal thing, and although you may have experienced a similar challenge, everyone grieves in a different way. "Most likely you don't know exactly how the challenge is affecting the other person and it can seem that you are redirecting the conversation to a monologue of your life," says executive coach Stephanie Somanchi, MBA, PhD. "For example, how you felt about your father's death or your own divorce may be very different from how your co-worker or friend feels."
Offer to allow them to work from home
If you're in a position of authority where you can grant permission for the grieving person to telecommute, do so. "Giving the grieving employee the opportunity to work from home whenever feasible [allows them] to process their emotions in a safe environment, rather than at the office," says career consultant Debra B. Davenport, president of The Davenport Institute. Not only will they be more comfortable, they'll probably be more efficient with the work they do. The rest of the team may also be less distracted.
Give a joint gift
If a person on your team is grieving an event that will clearly result in financial hardship, such as the sudden death of a young spouse, consider collecting money to aid them. "Consider making an anonymous payment of the employee's childcare, mortgage, or car payment," suggests Davenport. "Pooling resources can raise a significant amount of money that can really help a fellow employee who's going through a rough time."