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How to be a supportive colleague

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

Having a supportive working environment is good for everybody. In the UK, we spend an average of 1,877 hours a year at work – that’s over a quarter of your waking hours! Feeling like you can rely on your colleagues makes a huge difference to your experience at work and can have an impact on your physical and mental wellbeing as well as your performance and that of your team.

The benefits of a supportive work culture

You have a deadline looming and you’re running behind, you can feel your stress levels rising sharply. In one scenario, you and your colleagues only ever focus on your own work and don’t get involved with each other or even talk much. In the other scenario, you regularly check in with each other and offer support when it’s needed – whether it’s simply a listening ear, or a spare hour to help.

A man sits at his laptop while a woman sits next to him pointing at something on the screen and talking
Helping and supporting others can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing.

Feeling supported at work is good for your psychological wellbeing. Humans are social creatures who need healthy human connection to thrive. Without this connection, we’re much more likely to suffer from depression and poor mental health, as well as unhealthy levels of stress which can affect physical health and productivity.

Conversely, having supportive relationships helps us feel secure and can reduce those feelings of stress. Also, helping and supporting others can have a positive effect on mental wellbeing, so actively playing a part in supporting your colleagues can give you both a boost.

How to be a supportive colleague

Be a cheerleader

Pom-poms aside, celebrating your colleagues’ achievements is a great way to show your support. It’s likely to give them a confidence boost too, and demonstrates that you care about them enough to notice their hard work.

Check in regularly

To build healthy connections, you need to connect in the first place. Check in with your colleagues regularly by whatever means is most appropriate – face to face, by instant messenger, by phone or video call. Just a friendly ‘how are you’ is often enough to get the conversation going and it’s this small talk that’s so important for strengthening relationships.

Learn to listen to problems instead of fixing them

You don’t have to fix everyone’s problems to be a supportive colleague. Most of the time, listening is and should be enough. Taking the time to listen to your colleagues lets them know that you value what they have to say and, importantly, gives them the space to come up with their own solutions and conclusions.

Be honest

Trust is important in creating healthy and supportive relationships. Of course, honesty sometimes means disagreeing with someone or giving critical feedback. Even this, though, is important, and as long as it is done in a compassionate way, can actually strengthen bonds. When colleagues know that the feedback they get will be honest, regardless of whether it is good or not, it removes the worry that people are thinking something other than what they say.

Offer your experience

We all have experience to offer, and helping others can give you a boost as well as the person you’re helping. Offering your time and expertise, even if it’s something small, shows your colleagues that you care about their success and are willing to put yourself out to help them. It will also encourage them to help you in return when an opportunity arises.

Respect boundaries

Everybody is different and it’s important to recognise where your colleagues boundaries are. Some teams are so close they meet up at the weekends, whilst other people prefer to keep work and home more separate. There’s no right answer, and everyone has different reasons for their own stance. Avoid making assumptions – just because one member of the team doesn’t enjoy socialising, for example, doesn’t mean they don’t value your relationship with them at work.

Being a supportive colleague can lead to positive outcomes for you and your colleagues in the long run. You can lead the way in creating a supportive workplace culture by demonstrating what it means to be a supportive colleague and inspiring others to do the same.

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