When A Co-Worker Is Down, Do YOU Step Up?


Any organization will from time to time experience situations where staff are not able to perform their job responsibilities at their usual top production rate. Why? Well the reason is of course because organizations are made up of people, and life events outside of work influence how people perform. When those outside influences impact on us, we expect that the employer will make provisions to have our work completed by someone else, or a rotating group of people. When one of your co-workers isn’t operating at 100% efficiency, how do you personally respond when you are asked to pitch in?

Okay so imagine you are arriving at work and just settling in for the day. You’ve got your favourite beverage at arms reach, your to-do list is out and you’ve just started working on whatever is at the top of your list. About 5 minutes in, your Supervisor pops by to inform you that one of your co-workers has called in and won’t be at work today, and you’re needed to cover off on whatever they had to do. What do you say, and more importantly, what non-verbal body language do you immediately and reflexively portray that indicates your true reaction to this news?

Sure what you had planned to do may not get done immediately, and your own workload will suffer a little. On the other hand, the Supervisor has to be given some credit for having considered who would best be suited for filling in during this employee shortage, and you’re at the top of their list. Say it’s no problem, and you’ve just eased a stressful situation away from the Supervisor and demonstrated to that co-worker that you can be counted on to have their back. You just made a deposit in the old, “I’m a team player” bank account. This is a future story that will demonstrate your commitment to the organization, your flexibility and teamwork, and can be brought up during some future interview.

Another benefit is that your Supervisor comes to depend on your positive and co-operative attitude when in a pinch. Maybe you won’t get written up in the company’s newsletter or find a bonus on your paycheque, but your behaviour and response to a small crisis will be noted.

Now suppose that another situation comes up whereby your co-worker isn’t away at all, but nonetheless is so impacted by some external event that they are just not capable of performing their job at their best. Say it’s a death in the family over two weeks ago, marital discord or extreme dental pain. How willing are you to extend an offer to essentially take over someone else’s role and responsibilities for an afternoon while they close the door to their office and just take some time to work quietly in isolation? Essentially, how much empathy do you have for someone who reacts to something in a way that you yourself would react differently to?

Extending an offer to someone to another co-worker in such a situation shows true compassion and caring. Your thoughtfulness may be very much appreciated and may or may not actually go noticed by a Supervisor if you extend that offer directly to a peer and on your own initiative. Of course hopefully you aren’t just helping out a co-worker to be seen to do good deeds, you are doing a good deed because you truly see the need and respond out of honest concern.

I have known at least one person in the past who actually took this caring and empathy too far, and their job performance went from good to poor because they were always pitching in helping others do their work and their own responsibilities became neglected. There is that balance to find where your first responsibility is to pull your own weight and live up to your own duties, and at the same time, assist others to complete theirs when and as you are able.

Can you be counted on to pitch-in and help out your co-workers? Do you step it up when someone else is experiencing a drop in their normal performance? And as previously mentioned, do you undertake this teamwork with any enthusiasm or do you do a slow burn where your body language gives away your total annoyance with having to do somebody else’s job? At the end of the day, you will still get a paycheque from the organization and you’ll have done work to earn that money; be it your work or work for another person. That work however, is work completed for the same employer. The best advice I can offer is to accept the shared workload with genuine readiness, adapt as quickly as you can, take a moment or two to best adjust your plans, and get a quick start on whatever needs to be attended to first.

Working together is so much more than just taking your breaks and lunch with your favourite co-workers.

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