One of the hardest things I’ve come to realize recently is that sometimes, when I’m overbooked and stressed, I’m not the best friend or colleague. As I struggle to balance my hectic life, I find myself distant or half-listening when people are talking to me, cutting others off to discuss my own stresses, or not showing up to meetings I’m expected to be at.
And it pains me to see myself acting this way, because I care about the people I work with—not just as fellow employees, but as individuals whom I respect. Plus, I work hard to be a good co-worker and I’d hate to lose that reputation over a couple stressful weeks.
Is there a compromise? How can we be there for our colleagues when the world seems to be revolving (and falling apart) around us at the moment?
After reading this great Fast Company article on how to be a better friend when you’re swamped at work, I was inspired to come up with some easy solutions for busy co-workers as well. After all, you don’t just want to be a good co-worker because it’s the right thing to do, but because when you reach out to someone for help, you want him or her to enthusiastically say, “Yes!” Not to mention, it’s pretty nice to work alongside people who like you.
1. Really Be Present During Breaks
I have a horrible habit of doing work through lunch, or worse, bringing my work to lunch. And it usually leads to me going through my inbox on my phone, unaware while others are chatting and laughing around me.
But this time is supposed to be a break, so take it as a get-out-of-jail-free pass to set aside your assignments and your technology (yes, leave your phone on silent for 10 minutes—I promise nothing will implode while you’re gone) and spend time with your co-workers talking about something unrelated to your to-do list. Give them your full attention and really listen to what they’re saying and how they’re feeling, and you might just pick up on some things you didn’t notice before when you were distracted.
Don’t have lunch breaks? This goes for when you bump into someone in the kitchen or other common spaces, too. No matter how short your breaks are, use them.
2. Take a Few Seconds to Check In
I have a friend who checks in on me daily with a simple “Hey, how you doing today?” text. Some days I message her back a long paragraph explaining my issues with several sad emojis, and other days I send a quick “fine” and the conversation ends there. But just having that reminder that someone is thinking about me and hoping I’m doing OK is extremely reassuring, and I am grateful she hasn’t stopped doing it yet (in fact, I look forward to it every morning).
And this is why technology’s a great thing: Even if you’re glued to your desk trying to complete some assignment, it takes you next to nothing to open up your company’s group chat or send a quick “Saw this article/GIF and thought of you” message.
3. Take Your Casual Moments More Seriously
When I put something into my calendar, I’m deciding for my future self that I must complete it. So, when I’m really swamped but haven’t talked to someone in a while, my best bet is to schedule a time for us to sit down and grab a cup of coffee, or take a walk around the block, or meet for drinks after work. Maybe it’s only five minutes, or maybe it’s 30, but once I make that official, non-negotiable plan for myself, it’s easier for me to schedule around it like it was any other important meetings.
This is me giving you permission not to feel guilty putting “spend time with co-workers” on your to-do list, schedule, or calendar.
4. Practice Random Acts of Kindness
Even on my worst days, if one single person smiles at me, it can turn my whole day around. That’s it, and that’s completely free. Random acts of kindness don’t require you to buy someone a three-course lunch or a puppy (although a puppy is never a bad idea). It just means that you maybe pick up a coffee for your colleague when you go to get yourself a cup, or draw your friend a cute picture on a sticky note and tape it to his computer monitor, or say hello to the new guy. And the best thing is that kindness is scientifically proven to be a two-way street—you’re making someone else’s day while also adding to your own sense of well-being.
5. Only Make Promises You Can Keep
One mistake we often make during these stressful periods is to throw out vague promises for the future: I’ll see you at next week for drinks I swear! You’ll definitely get to tell me more about that meeting later, just not right now. I’d love to help you on that, but how about possibly tomorrow? But what ends up happening is we don’t follow through on them, usually because what we say is pretty noncommittal and therefore can be pushed off for a later time.
Instead of just saying something to make someone happy, try to make promises you can actually keep—even if it means making a lot fewer promises. If you say you’ll go get drinks with someone, know a specific date you can actually go to happy hour and mark it into your calendar. If you can only afford to help a co-worker on a project for an hour, let him or her know that’s how much you’ll be willing to do. People will forgive you if you can only give so much out of your day, but they are less likely to forgive you if you’re constantly flaking.
6. Pick and Choose Who You Spend Your Time On
There’s no way you can be a true and constant friend for every single employee in the office, but you can pick and choose who you want to be there for. And offering help and support to people who won’t appreciate it or will brush you off is exhausting and unproductive, especially when you have so many other things to do, so be honest with yourself and decide how and with whom you’ll spend whatever leftover energy you have.
Being a good co-worker doesn’t mean you have to drop everything. But, if you care enough about it, it can be worth it to take some time out of your day to let others know that your relationship hasn’t gotten lost in the pile of to-dos.
TopicsLifestyle , Friendship , Relationships , Work-Life Balance , Co-Workers , Syndication , Career Advice , Work Relationships , Communication
Photo of co-workers courtesy of Shutterstock.
As Editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., Motto, CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author