A Small Question Can Go a Long Way

When we spend most of our waking hours in a workplace, one would think that we would pay attention to every aspect around us. More often than not, if someone is quiet, introverted or keeps to themselves, they are not given much attention. We tend to pay attention to the extroverts, the ones who are the life of the party or even the bullies. We ignore or make assumptions that the quiet ones are different, weird or odd. Who are we to make those negative assumptions? Yet it happens all the time.

What about the funny folks who start to change behaviors, maybe start coming in late or don’t seem themselves? Do we engage or do we keep distant thinking that this will pass. Again, we assume something is wrong or that they are “screwed up”. Maybe if we took a few minutes to simply ask “how are you?” and be willing to stop long enough to really listen to what they have to say, it may be an opportunity for that person to reveal something that is heavy on their heart.

I know sometimes we don’t want to engage too deeply because “we don’t want to get involved”. Considering that this simple question might save someone’s life, wouldn't you ask it? I recall a story of a college graduate who was giving his valedictorian speech and acknowledged a friend for helping him on a particular Friday with a towering stack of books. The boy was planning to commit suicide over the weekend and didn't want his mom to experience the sadness of cleaning out his locker. On the way home, a classmate took the time to talk with him and carry his books home. That simple act of kindness had the depressed boy see his life differently in that moment. A life was saved, the friendship blossomed and an amazing young boy grew into a successful man.

When Robin Williams committed suicide, the world was shocked. I was shocked. How could this amazing comedian who appeared to have it all, take his own life? We grasped for answers, we mourned with his family and the issue of depression was getting closer to home. Last month a Germanwings pilot deliberately crashed his plane taking his and 150 innocent people’s lives because of his mental illness. Though doctors diagnosed him with forms of mental illness, the pilot was able to keep it from his employer. How can no one he worked with not see that he might have been struggling with something? Do we have to run through the halls screaming or have such over the top attention getting behaviors for others to know something may be wrong?

As an employer, I have had incidents over 25 years where changes in an employee’s behavior were cause for concern. I learned in the first year of opening the company to take nothing for granted and address any concern. At that time I was 28 and quickly learned how to probe in a professional manner where trust was built and I could either help the employee or refer them to a professional.

I don’t have an answer here, I just know that we have a human responsibility to help each other and if we are sharing a workplace, reach out and engage with co-workers. We can still keep healthy boundaries while being compassionate. A simple interaction can help to put someone back on the right track. Isn't another person’s happiness worth it, aren't we worth it to take care of each other and wouldn't we want others to care of us in times of pain? We are in this world together and whether or not you believe it, we are all connected. That connection could be someone’s life line.