6 signs someone is struggling at work


We’ve all gone through a patch when we’ve been struggling at work. But do we take enough notice when somebody else is struggling? We know the signs in ourselves, but do we recognize them in others?

Give some thought to the people you spend time with every day. Reflect on people at home, clients you work with, service providers and any other person you regularly interact with. Reflect on their happiness and wellbeing… how sure are you that you know how they are? How well do you observe these people and see when they are struggling? Each of us being aware, taking interest in the wellbeing of the people we work and live with is essential to our ability to deal with the challenge that is mental illness in our society.

According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) depression and anxiety affect one in seven and one in four people respectively at some point in their lives. However a staggering 65% of people with mental illness do not get the help they need. Every day at least six Australians die from suicide, a further thirty attempt to take their own life. Changing these numbers will take each of us doing our part. We each need to take responsibility for looking out for one another and helping those around us who are struggling. This will not only make for a better business environment, but better business relationships.

No matter the nature of your relationship with someone you should never hesitate to ask how they are. Simply asking ‘are you OK?’ tells someone you care and invites them to talk to you. While of course it matters that we maintain appropriate professional boundaries in our client relationships, acting with compassion when we see anyone struggling is simply the right thing to do. By showing a little care we can each make a positive difference to supporting the people in our communities who need us.


Six signs someone might be struggling

  1. Extended period feeling ‘down’

Feeling depressed most of the time for any more than a couple of weeks is a clear sign something is wrong. Constantly feeling sad, down or miserable isn’t normal and an obvious indicator that the person may need help. Depression is often also evident when people regularly feel overwhelmed, guilty, disappointed, irritable, and frustrated.

  1. Lost interest and resignation

Keep an eye on the person who no longer wants to do the things you know they love. Losing interest in playing cricket for example may not simply be a case of moving on to new interests. Observe when someone has disengaged from their interests and resigned him or herself to living in a state of unhappiness. When people are depressed they are more likely to put off work tasks, postpone appointments and give up easily.

  1. Becoming withdrawn

Withdrawing from close family, friends and colleagues is another sign someone is struggling. For example a colleague who in the past was keen to socialise suddenly having no interest in interacting with other people may well be unhappy. While of course this example on its own isn’t enough to give you full insight to their mental wellbeing, it is all the insight you need to know its time to ask if they are OK.

  1. Lost Productivity

Take notice when someone who is typically productive starts to regularly miss deadlines and appear disorganised. Observe when people are unable to concentrate or become unusually indecisive. Being tired all the time may be another sign someone is struggling.

  1. Lost confidence and self respect

The way people talk about themselves can be revealing of the state of their mental health. Look out for people who often say things like ‘I’m a failure’ or ‘I’m worthless.’ Constantly hearing someone say ‘I’m sorry, it’s my fault’, particularly when they are not at all or only partially responsible, is a cause for concern. People who are struggling often express their unhappiness by saying things like ‘nothing good ever happens to me’ or ‘I don’t see the point in trying’.

  1. Physical symptoms

Our physical health is unquestionably impacted by mental wellbeing. Feelings of stress, anxiety or depression have the potential to adversely impact our bodies.  Headaches, sleep problems, loss or change of appetite and even significant weight loss or gains are telling indicators someone who is struggling with depression. Increased aches and pains occur in about two out of three people with depression.


Karen GatelyKaren Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately, a specialist HR consultancy practice. She is also the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical guide to getting the best from people and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people. For more information visit or contact [email protected]

About Karen Gately

Karen Gately, founder of Corporate Dojo, is a leadership and people-management specialist. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical guide to getting the best from people (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving extraordinary results through spirited people. For more information visit or contact [email protected]

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